The 2013 season saw us complete our mission by returning back to J1 within one season and we topped it all off with the only trophy that evaded us up until this season – the J2 title. I managed to see 6 games in person this season for the first time ever in my life and had a ball. This review will be my own thoughts but you are more than welcome to tell me your opinion if you so wish.
Player of the Season
This is an easy choice for me personally. I think that if Shu Kurata had not got injured at the end of June, he would easily have made 15 goals this season and he would have won this award. Unfortunately he does not get it, but neither does Usami. Instead, I believe Hiroki Fujiharu was our best player this season. He played every minute of all the 44 games we played this season and to be honest, he never made a mistake. A consistent left-back who will never shirk his defensive duties but more often than not he was found as in the opponents half tearing up their right-side. He pitched in with 4 goals as well as 10 assists to boot. What makes him such a great player is his professionalism, his stamina and his level-headedness. To be the only outfield player to play every minute is testament to his great character and superb physical state. This guy can only get better and I hope he sticks around for many a year to come. Wonderful, just wonderful.
Young Player of the Season
This season saw some exciting young talent get their real first chance to play for a consistent time for Gamba. This category is for any player who was 21 or younger from the first day of 2013. But for me, Takashi Usami gets this award. He came back from 2 unsuccessful years in Germany but blew us away with his quality and goal scoring ability, netting an incredible 20 goals in 20 games. His hat-trick plus one against Vortis was mind-blowing and to say that he replaced Leandro and bettered him is too light an accolade for the young man; his contribution to Gamba towards the end of the season was invaluable and we will need him to be on form again in J1 next year. He needs love to produce his best and the only place he will get that is at Gamba, so I cannot see him playing anywhere else for a long time, which is great for us.
Best Breakthrough Season
A fair few players got their breakthrough season. Kenya Okazaki had a decent first season in professional football whilst Tatsuya Uchida nailed his spot in the centre of midfield after converting from a defender. Kotaro Omori got his debut against Vissel Kobe and never looked back and he will be excellent in J1 next year. Nevertheless, Takaharu Nishino was the one who really stood out from the crowd. Coming into a team with a historically terrible defence and a keeper who leaves a lot to be desired is a test for any player let alone a then-19 year old; Nishino played 31 games this season and got 16 clean sheets and he even made Daiki Niwa look good when they partnered up. His reading of the game is excellent and his leadership skills were needed particularly when he had to play with Konno. What I like about Nishino is his calmness at the back and desire to improve on every game. When he did not play, we only managed 1 clean sheet from 13 games and that speaks volumes on how important he is for us now. I cannot wait to see him test himself in J1 and improve game after game. He had some tough times this year but he passed it with flying colours.
Biggest Disappointment of the Season
Another incredibly easy choice for me – Yasuyuki Konno was pretty terrible. Whenever he played in defence, he always looked so out of place and so mystifyingly rubbish. The level of performance he put in as a centre-back was really dreadful considering he is a constant national team player and should technically be the best centre-back in the league. Even with Nishino next to him, he could not get it right as was at fault for so many goals he could have easily prevented if he actually tried. What is worrying about Konno is his lack of communication, regardless of where he plays. Coming in as a big signing in 2012 to looking quite rotten in J2 shows only the true abilities of the man. He even moved into central midfield but still made silly errors. He is much better in that position and should stay there but going coming in to steady the defensive weakness of Gamba, I think he only made it worse. Let’s hope he stays in midfield next year and lets Nishino grow without worrying about what Konno might do next.
Worst Game of the Season
Another simple one and I will get it over with quickly because I do not want to remember how I felt when watching at the Fukuda Denshi Arena. JEF United Chiba 3-0 Gamba Osaka.
Goal of the Season
104 goals in 44 games I have to pick just one. And there were some really excellent goals but for me, Rocha’s second goal against Gainare Tottori wins it by a mile. The passing football was superb by Gamba throughout the match and for this goal, we must have kept it for a fair few minutes before Fujiharu crossed from the left for Rocha to hit his shot on the half-volley, over his shoulder and get it over Kobari in goal to score quite a sensational goal. I loved it and I knew when he scored it, nothing would beat it. Check the video out below with the goal at 1:30 (which unfortunately cuts off that passing football…)
Game of the Year
There were so many wonderful matches that we were part of. Be battered Gainare Tottori 7-1, destroyed Tokushima Vortis 5-1 and saw off Vissel Kobe 3-2 at Banpaku right in front of my eyes. But going to FC Gifu and taking them down 8-2 was a game I will never forget, and not just because of the scoreline. The rain, oh the rain. It started to hammer it down shortly before kick-off and with no roof, I got soaked. My bag had a hole in it so the water got in and destroyed my passport that I had unfortunately left in there when rushing from my hotel. Like it mattered. Braces from Konno!, Futagawa and Paulinho, as well as goals from Abe and Kawanishi sealed a record-breaking scoreline in J2 and whilst Gifu managed to net twice, I was genuinely singing in the rain. The atmosphere, the fans, the weather, the score, the signing was just perfect in their own wonderful ways and my first away day was a superb one. It also happened to be Gamba’s best probably. I might be bias on this one but I should be afforded this one.