S.League Club Preview: Albirex Niigata
What happened last season?
It was again a case of so close, yet so far for J-League side Albirex Niigata's satellite team. Despite starting well and delivering their brand of aesthetically-pleasing football under former head coach Koichi Sugiyama, a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal ultimately scuppered their silverware ambitions.
ALBIREX NIIGATA (S)
Home ground: Jurong East Stadium, Singapore
Nickname: The White Swans
Last Season: 3rd
League Cup: Semi-finalists
Singapore Cup: First Round
While there has been the usual influx of fresh faces to rejuvenate the squad, the promotion of Tatsuyuki Okuyama to the head coach position after spending last season as assistant could prove pivotal to their fortunes this season.
The young Japanese players are likely to begin their campaign in customary transitional fashion as the new coach tinkers with his tactics and best eleven. While they will be competitive, they will probably only get into full gear in midseason. Depending on how well they adapt to their Okuyama's strategy, a respectable league placing might be the most they could hope for.
The Japanese are renowned for their technical soundness and comfort on the ball. Their high accurate passing rate often lead to opposition teams resorting to rough challenges, which in turn result in set pieces in the White Swans' favour. They are often taught to cope with varying tactical formations implemented by their coaches, giving them the mental versatility to adapt to game situations.
Fans from previous seasons have witnessed tactical sterility from former head coach Sugiyama, who insisted on playing the same style and formation, albeit with an increase in tempo. This made the team predictable tactically.
A more chronic issue is the over-reliance on starters and the under-reliance on fringe players, particularly those who do not have prior playing experience elsewhere. It is unlikely the mould will be broken in the club's continuous pursuit for a good league position.
Did you know?
Albirex Niigata (Singapore) is the first satellite club set up by a professional club in Japan. Their 11-year success story in the republic has since seen Albirex branch further with new feeder clubs in Barcelona, Spain and Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the past two seasons. It has also seen Japanese side Yokohama F. Marinos do likewise with a Hong Kong branch team, Yokohama FC Hong Kong in recent years.
The Boss - Tatsuyuki Okuyama
The 38-year-old Japanese coach is taking up his first senior men's position in his coaching career, having previously coached the Albirex Niigata FC's women's team. Without a distinguished playing career like his predecessor, it remains to be seen whether his shift to an attacking ethos where strikers are unafraid to try shots from varying distances will be heeded fully by players.
Players to Watch
- Kazuki Sakamoto
The 23-year-old striker is one of the league's most natural finishers. With an eye for goal and a knack of being at the right place at the right time, he stands out as one of the most feared forwards in the league. An increased emphasis in attacking mentality over technical finesse could increase his overall goal tally for this season and put him in serious contention for the Golden Boot once again.
- Kento Nagasaki
In his third season at the club, the 23-year-old is expected to play a key role in midfield. Adept in all positions in the middle of the park, his high work rate and local football experience will be the key qualities as the midfield general attempts to lead his less experienced colleagues in the new season.
- Keisuke Ota
Will this player be a hit on the wings? From his displays in preseason matches, the new Albirex No. 7 is going to take some taming. His darting runs pose questions for opposing defences and should he continue to impress in the season proper, he could put himself in the transfer window. This follow the examples of previous No. 7s in Bruno Castanheira and Tatsuro Inui, both who moved on to local clubs in Singapore.
Gary's 2014 season prediction: 4th