Although there was a small degree of controversy over Oita Trinita’s winning goal, as Lucas appeared to be felled in the build-up, the real reasons behind Gamba Osaka’s defeat on Saturday were entirely predictable following Bare’s sudden departure in midweek. Just as in the game against JEF United Chiba the previous weekend, Gamba blatantly lacked a focal point to their forward play, and even though two changes at the break did help them raise their tempo a little, the team still struggled to create many real clear-cut chances. Unused to the scenes unfolding before them, the home supporters angrily called on the manager to change things, but with a bench full of inexperienced youngsters, there was no obvious solution. If this were Football Manager, it was the kind of match you would want to reboot and try again until you happened upon a formation and line-up that actually did the trick.
The combination of Bare and Lucas had ultimately less than six months to develop and was still far from perfect, but with promising signs being shown of late, the mid-season timing of Bare’s decision to leave has not helped Gamba at all. Both players had started each of the 18 league games up to and including the JEF United match, combining to score 16 goals between them, and of the six goals contributed to this total by Lucas, four had come in the eight matches since Yokohama F Marinos were Gamba’s opponents on matchday 12. Lucas was the newcomer at the start of the season, but in the absence of his striking partner and fellow countryman, he will now be forced to play a more pivotal role in the attack.
The close season this year saw an unusually high number of personnel changes for Gamba, meaning that moulding the side together would be an issue from the outset, but the need to compensate for the loss of Bare presents an altogether unexpected and unwanted problem. Masato Yamazaki may have saved his team at the death in Chiba, but his record of just five goals in five years as a professional will not suggest to his manager that he should be the one to lead the line, and indeed he was back on the bench against Oita. Shoki Hirai, who was brought into the starting line up for this game, has only 97 minutes of league experience to call upon even if you count the 45 he gained before his withdrawal on Saturday. Injuries, illnesses, and Olympic duties have meant that Gamba have had to rely on their young players more than Akira Nishino will probably have hoped to this year, and while the success of the youth system should be a great source of pride for the club, the manager’s decisions in the coming days will be extremely important as Gamba continue to battle for honours in the league and Asian Champions League.
For an attacking team with a generally quite stable roster, Gamba have seen a surprisingly high turnover of striking personnel over the last few years, which has given Nishino a degree of experience in this market. Four of the forwards (Araujo, Masashi Oguro, Kohta Yoshihara, and Masanobu Matsunami) all left the side after contributing to a record of 82 goals and a title success in 2005, but the addition of Magno Alves and Ryuji Bando to the ranks saw Gamba record an almost identical total – 80 goals – the following year. Even when Fernandinho then left for Shimizu S-Pulse, Bare was brought in from Ventforet Kofu, and came second in the league’s scoring charts with 20 goals in his first season in 2007. Nishino has proven himself in the past to be adept at selecting Brazilian strikers with J League experience, but with an unusual struggle for goals added to the existing problems of formation and getting the best out of this year’s new additions, it is vital that he makes the right choice on this occasion as well.
With a transfer to Al-Ahli of the United Arab Emirates set to be confirmed, Bare will become the second Gamba player after Magno Alves (now with Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia) to be lured by the finances of the Middle East. It is easier for supporters to accept when players leave clearly for the sake of their careers, such as when Oguro went to Europe and Araujo returned to Brazil, but it is rather more nonplussing when their destinations do not represent an obvious step up from the J League. Japanese football may not be blessed with riches that can attract world-class players as was the case 15 years ago, and as the contrasting attitudes of Cristiano Ronaldo and his English teammates at Manchester United display, it is perhaps harder for a player to develop deep loyalty to a club outside of his home country. However, with Gamba receiving offers from two French Ligue 1 clubs last summer, Bare was certainly not without more competitive options, and this trend we are beginning to see is somewhat disappointing.