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Out with the old – Part 2

10 Nov 2010(Wed)

An opinion piece on the always informative Go! Go! Omiya Ardija blog this Monday suggested that Gamba Osaka are too unlikeable to root for in the title race, in part because “Their fans are hyperbolic in their exploits, going waaay (sic) over the top in not only celebrating good moments and condemning bad plays against them, but also being overly dismissive of good performances by opponents”. Having conducted a certain amount of research into the attitudes of the Banpaku public myself, I would refute the accusation of arrogance as a general rule, and perhaps any perceived hyperbole could be excused as compensating for a ‘stadium’ that is far from imposing. That said, a particular dichotomy has doubtlessly emerged in the stands at Gamba over the past five years.


Any club enjoying a sustained era of trophy success will inevitably attract a number of Johnny-come-latelies, to which a broadly unattractive ‘big club’ mentality will sadly often be inherent. Gamba is no exception, but by contrast, the fans that were there before the 2005 title-winning campaign – let us not forget that the (then) 23,000-capacity Banpaku was seldom even half-full until the mid-2000s – have retained decidedly more of a ‘small club’ mindset. Referees will always be against ‘us’, the media remain unashamedly biased towards the Kanto region (this might actually be true), while the most Gamba-like thing the team could ever do for its most loyal supporters in any given match or season is to let them down.


Most telling, however, is the manner in which these supporters’ expectations have manifested themselves throughout this time. There is a genuine fear, or even sense of resignation, that the club have not done enough to capitalise on their achievements such that they might truly become one of the big boys. This refers not only to delays with the new stadium and in establishing proper social roots that might draw in more than just fair-weather fans – both well covered on these pages – but also in terms of the playing personnel.


Akira Nishino has overseen all six of the major trophies in the Gamba cabinet and deservedly won many plaudits for his faith in youth, but nonetheless remains astonishingly unpopular with large sections of the Banpaku support who question his transfer activity, alleged tactical naïveté, and regular failure to make effective use of substitutions. As such, they assert that success has occurred largely in spite of Nishino, rather than because of him, thanks to a golden generation of midfield talent that he happened to luck upon. Silverware should, therefore, have been more forthcoming – especially in the league, where Gamba have never once reached (dare I say) Kashima-like consistency despite that 2005 crown. Where there might have been a sustained dynasty now exists growing concern over what happens next, when the current era ends.


At least the critics on the terraces probably won’t have to wait too long to find out. After losing 3-1 at runaway J1 leaders Nagoya Grampus in late August, Gamba wrestled themselves back into contention for this year’s championship with six wins from their next seven, only to then drop five points to relegation-threatened Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo in their two most recent fixtures. Few in Osaka were overly shocked, however, for the run of victories had been borne rather from reserves of experience than out of actually playing well.


Winning goals at Albirex Niigata and Kawasaki Frontale arrived, respectively, in the final minute and from a long-range deflected effort. The 3-2 derby win came only after Cerezo had somehow been allowed to fight back level from two goals and a man down. Even the 5-1 thrashing of Omiya (and I say this not only for the benefit of those associated with Go! Go! Omiya Ardija) was pure good fortune on Gamba’s part alone – the visitors looked the better side at 1-1 even after the red card for Mato Neretljak, and it took a superb solo effort from Takashi Usami to settle nerves both on the Banpaku pitch and in the stands. The toils then endured in winning by the odd goal at Kyoto Sanga (they of the 16 points from 29 games) last month were the precursor to an even more embarrassing performance and result against Vissel.


A virtual constant throughout this spell has been Gamba’s reliance on the nous of that famed midfield triumvirate – Yasuhito Endo, Takahiro Futagawa, and Hideo Hashimoto – each of whom are into their thirties and whose collective experience in the Gamba first XI totals 34 seasons. While it may have been premature to question their desire last year, and Endo’s performances with the national team and prowess at set pieces suggest he will be around for a while yet, it is surely at least unrealistic to expect the trio to serve as the main source of drive and inspiration much longer. Throw in the 32-year-old Tomokazu Myojin, recently recovered from an ankle injury, and fast forward a couple of years, and you get a situation akin to Sir Alex Ferguson nursing not only Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes through the autumn of their careers, but Nicky Butt and David Beckham as well.


Privately, senior boardroom figures at Banpaku have shared similar views on the urgency of a generational transition. The emergence of Usami and Shoki Hirai has helped out in attack, but Nishino’s ability to confound his critics with intelligent defensive and midfield acquisitions over the next few transfer windows will ultimately be what determines his legacy.

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Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

Posted by: aerospace jobs | 11/12/2010 at 10:19 PM

Hi Ben, im Emiliano, Nª1 die hard supporter of GAMBA OSAKA in Argentina since 1995. Congratulations for your website, is excellent!!

Im very dissapointed about the delay of the construction of the Gamba osaka's New Stadium. The question is: Is Mr. Kanamori the only one responsable of this? I think, by the moment, the inminent solution is move the team to Osaka Nagai Stadium (at least for "big games" against Urawa Reds, Kashima Antlers... or "kansai derbys" like Kyoto Sanga or Vissel Kobe)

Im very interested to talk with you about the actuality of the club, please agend my e-mail/msn

A very big "saludo" from argentina!

Posted by: Emiliano Mister X | 11/21/2010 at 10:38 AM

Hi Emiliano, many apologies for the late reply. Saludo to you too!

I don't think the club is to blame as such - this is a very ambitious project, requiring a huge amount of financial donations and the securing of a suitably-sized site in densely-populated Osaka. This likely presents a paradox whereby the process of collecting donations cannot even begin until a site has been secured, but securing a site in the first place is undoubtedly more problematic for not having the funds in place to guarantee the quick progress of construction.

Perhaps a major problem, then, is that the club has been so public with its grand plans, given that supporters and other observers will always be impatient to hear the latest news. Having given us a piece of what's going on, everyone now wants to hear more than just delays and the same details repeated over and over.

Economic conditions probably don't help either!

I disagree, however, about the Nagai suggestion. I appreciate that using another team's stadiums for bigger games does happen in certain countries, but I doubt that many fans of either Osaka club would be too happy about Gamba borrowing Cerezo's stadium. It happened once, when Gamba took on Arsenal of your country Argentina in the Suruga Bank Championship in 2008, and while this felt strange for most Gamba fans, Cerezo supporters actually protested to their own club.

Posted by: Ben Mabley | 11/30/2010 at 05:19 PM

Writ more, thats all I hace to say. Literally, it seems aas though yyou relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence onn just posting videos to your blog when you could be givfing uss something enlightening to read?

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