I’ve been very fortunate to have some fantastic newgens come through my youth academies in recent years. Defensor Sporting blessed me with year after year of incredible intakes, to the point where in 2030 I took Uruguay to the World Cup with four graduates in the squad, plus one who missed out due to injury. Then there was my short lived FC Volendam save that produced Omar Galbed, an excellent looking Somalian full-back. In Football Manager 2023 I had one of my biggest youth intake regrets. In an offline save with Lille I developed Jean-Marc Blaze-Francillonnes, who apart from having a fantastic name also came third in the NXGN at the age of 19. My regret was not playing the save beyond his breakthrough year, thus robbing myself of the chance of seeing him undoubtedly develop into a world class full-back and French international. 

We’re only at the start of season five with Tokyo Verdy, but I am already reaping the rewards of some incredible youth intakes; combined with a couple of young players we’ve scouted and signed, we have a literal smorgasbord of talent at our disposal. 

This feels like a bit of a crunch time for the save, too. That seems strange to say when we’ve just secured an unlikely league title, but this feels like a transitional period for the side. We’ve let a lot of our dead wood leave at the end of their contracts so the squad is thin in places, but there is also transfer interest in almost all of our best players. We’re going to have to reshape our squad while also maintaining our quality, and I feel the pool of talent we have assembled will be a key component. 

This post will cover my approach to integrating young talent; from assessing gaps in the squad, to my thought process on deciding who’s ready for integration, to deciding what is best for the development of the rest, we’ll look at it all here.

The State of Play

The first action is to take no action. We need to take stock of where we’re at before we figure out how best to proceed. To this end, I’ve made use of the in-game squad planner to take a look at our depth, only taking into account where I would actually use each player, rather than their listed versatility.

It’s not a very pretty sight, with some glaring shortcomings that need immediate attention. 

Goalkeeper is the pressing priority. At the end of the season we took a risk and let three keepers leave on a free. Ryosuke Kojima was on high wages but always flattered to deceive, Masato Sasaki was our cup keeper but often played poorly and was not developing as we hoped he would, and Hisaya Sato was a homegrown emergency backup who was finally allowed to go and get some first-team football at 27. Added to this, we had an early loan offer for Jack Bradley from Wellington Phoenix that we felt we couldn’t refuse. It’s likely I would have come to the conclusion that I wanted him to develop elsewhere this season anyway, and A-League football seems the perfect fit. 

This does just leave us with one senior keeper though, Santiago Mele. I have huge faith that Mele will be a key player for us, but we now need depth around him.

Left-back is also an immediate concern. Ryoya Ogawa has been sensational since we signed him, but his backup Ko Matsubara has now left and we would only have makeshift replacements if Ogawa couldn’t play. 

Central midfield is the last major worry. We have a bit more depth here, but because we use two quite specialised roles in the Segundo Volante and the Regista, rotation players with the right skill set are more difficult to find.

As I mentioned above, the squad is very thin in general. We currently have 20 first-team players, so even in areas that we feel we’re pretty well covered, ie. attacking areas, we probably still need extra depth to cover for injuries plus to fill the extra bench spaces for Asian Champions League matches.

The last thing that we need to do before we look at filling out the squad is to re-evaluate the current squad’s agreed playing time. This will help us to make sure players don’t get unhappy, as well as seeing where we may not have a primary player and there may be an opportunity for a youngster to break in.

Playing Time Changes
Hikaru Nakahara – Star Player > Squad Player
Kazuya Miyahara – Important Player > Impact Sub
Shoga Asada – Regular Starter > Squad Player
Hiroyuki Nakamura – Squad Player > Impact Sub
Hidemasa Koda – Squad Player > Impact Sub

Thinning the Herd

A screen that I always find interesting and keep coming back to is the Development Centre overview, and more specifically the First Team Candidates list. We have an astonishing 15 players that our Head of Youth Development Shun Tabata believes are capable of making an impact, but now it’s time for me to take a look and see which players I think are ready for the step up.

There’s a massive amount of both ability and of course potential in this group, but it isn’t as simple as just promoting everybody and giving myself a massive squad to choose from. We need to make sure that we find the right balance, to both compliment the squad but also ensure that the best development path for each player is taken.

We also need to take into consideration things like foreign player status, homegrown rules, and the possibility that some of our best players may be taken from us by clubs with more financial muscle. Added to this, the Asian Champions League allows us ten substitutes, of which five can come on. I’d like to use a few of the extra spaces to give matchday experience to deserving youngsters if the opportunity arises.  We’ll split the youngsters into the following four groups:

Making an Impact

I don’t expect young players to come in and instantly be better than established options (although if we had a Kobbie Mainoo situation I wouldn’t be upset about it!), but I do want to see players who are ready to come in and make significant contributions, whether that be to offer a solid replacement when rotating, or to make a strong impact from the bench in tight games. 

Iván Acosta is the first. At 21 and with two loans back in Argentina under his belt it’s time for him to kick on and really become the player his potential has always said he can. It won’t be easy for him; as a foreign player he’ll need to take his chances when they come because he won’t always be able to make the squad. However, anybody who plays well enough will force their way in, and that’s the gauntlet that’s been laid down for Iván.

Next is Daisuke Doi. He had a solid loan in J2 last season and now looks ready to start repaying the transfer fee I shelled out for him. Although his passing needs some work, I think he could turn into an excellent Regista, and has the benefit of also being left-footed which suits our current system.

Junma Nishihata has already had first-team experience, but hit a blip last season and now needs to bounce back. An injury curtailed a loan spell in J2 that was going really well, but with the talent I know he has I’m hopeful that some first team opportunities will make him an effective goal scorer for us.

IVÁN ACOSTA > FIRST TEAM SQUAD
DAISUKE DOI > FIRST TEAM SQUAD
JUNMA NISHIHATA > FIRST TEAM SQUAD

Offering Depth

As I mentioned above, with Asian Champions League football to play plus the Emperor’s Cup and League Cup, there will be plenty of need for rotation throughout the season, so I’m keen to keep some players around who deserve the odd opportunity to gain some first team experience. However, with no guarantee, or even likelihood, of regular minutes, they will also need to be playing reserve level football to keep sharp and hopefully keep improving.

Yuma Nakamura is the most likely to get a decent number of minutes. He’s already made a couple of first team appearances including one start, and can provide a third option behind Yamamoto and Doi to play as the Regista. 

Yuki Sekine is a versatile young defender who could conceivably get minutes for us at right-back, centre-back and even defensive midfield. He played a few J2 games out on loan last season and was pretty solid, so I’d have no problem trusting him in a few cup games. 

Shogo Higaki is a very talented young goalkeeper and already looks a better prospect than Hayato Miyazaki, who came through our first youth intake and is two years Shogo’s senior. Shogo staying around to offer depth is essentially an emergency measure at this point, with Mele our only senior keeper and having missed out on our primary transfer target. Ideally we’ll find a solution that allows Shogo a loan move for the second half of the season, but he may end up being our bench filler if we need to fulfil homegrown restrictions. 

Tsutomu Mutaguchi is a new signing, having poached him on a free from Avispa Fukuoka. He actually has previous J1 playing experience, getting a few games for Avispa after coming through their first intake. He’s a very talented young full-back and would probably fit into the first category if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a completely different profile to what our tactic demands of our left-back. Ryoya Ogawa is given full licence to bomb forward and join the attack, and Tsutomu is very limited going forward. I’ll still give him the odd game, but I’d still like to bring in a more suitable left-back in the interim to compete with Ogawa.

YUMA NAKAMURA > FIRST TEAM SQUAD
YUKI SEKINE > FIRST TEAM SQUAD
SHOGO HIGAKI > FIRST TEAM SQUAD
TSUTOMU MUTAGUCHI > FIRST TEAM SQUAD

ALL TO BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR RESERVE MATCHES WHERE SUITABLE ✅

Out on Loan

These are players that I feel will be better served from getting proper first team experience elsewhere, either because they’re slightly older and therefore further ahead in their development, or because they’re caught between being too good for reserves football but not quite good enough for regular minutes with us. 

The first two, Li Sai Kit and Denis Cardona, kind of fall into both categories but realistically are being loaned out because they take up foreign spots and won’t get the opportunity to play ahead of the other foreign players we have. I can definitely see both slotting into our current tactical setup if they develop well; Kit as the Defensive Midfielder and Cardona as a Segundo Volante, but they have a little way to go yet.

Akinori Shimizu is probably good enough to stay and be in and around the squad, but is unlucky that Nishihata showed more ability in the first team, and Hiroyuki Nakamura instantly looked like a first team quality player. I hope that a good J2 campaign will really help him along and see him in the first team picture next season.

Yuta Arai is another young forward who’s been exceptional in youth and reserve football but falls foul of the depth in front of him. Much like Shimizu, I can see him doing well in J2 and hopefully the right move will materialise for him.

Lastly there is young centre-back Haruto Ichikawa, who again is probably not far from the level needed to get occasional minutes, but centre-back is a position where I rotate less than usual, and with four really strong senior options I’d rather Haruto goes out and gets good minutes to grow as a player.

LI SAI KIT > LOAN LISTED
DENIS CARDONA > LOAN LISTED
AKINORI SHIMIZU > LOAN LISTED
YUTA ARAI > LOAN LISTED
HARUTO ICHIKAWA > LOAN LISTED

Staying Put

The last three players are going to stay in the youth sides and continue to develop with us. They may get the occasional bench spot in the Asian Champions League but I won’t be considering them as players likely to make any first team impact this year. 

Shunya Harigaya is very talented, but is only 15 and will be spending the year retraining to play at right-back, so there’s no way he’ll be doing anything other than just playing Under 18’s football and improving his game.

Suguru Someya is another centre-back who is similar to Ichikawa, but I think with another year he could actually surpass his peer, and then with some loan moves could develop into a really useful defender. 

Norikazu Asuke is an interesting case as he has really spiked in the last six months or so and suddenly looks like a really good prospect. When he first came through in 2024, the same year as Shimizu, Higaki and Sekine, he wasn’t even on my radar, but now if he has another strong year in youth football he could be on the brink of a breakthrough season.

SHUNYA HARIGAYA – REMAINS IN U18S
SUGURU SOMEYA > PROMOTED TO RESERVES
NORIKAZU ASUKE – REMAINS IN U18S

With these changes made, the squad depth suddenly looks far more healthy. The squad is by no means complete, but we at least have two players for every role, so the building blocks are in place.

We still have areas where we will need to make signings, though. A goalkeeper is the highest priority, but having already missed out on our top target Leo Kokubo we will need to make do with Higaki as the sole replacement for Mele until we can identify a potential new signing. 

Left-back is the next position where I feel we’re one light. Ryoya Ogawa is incredibly consistent and almost always available, but we definitely need a more established player to challenge him for starts while Mutaguchi devel ops.

Despite what look like weaknesses at right-back and our deepest defensive midfielder based on star ratings, I’m actually quite happy with the players we have in these areas as the likes of Fukizawa and Miyahara have always been consistent performers during my tenure. 

An area where I would like more quality if we can find it is on the left-wing, though. This would probably need a player to leave, probably Miyagi or even Acosta if we get a decent bid for him, but a position where we’ve had some of our best players now suddenly looks a bit uninspiring. 

With our shaky end to last season I definitely felt nervous coming into this transfer window, but with a thorough dissection of what we already have available to us, and a plan to enhance it I now feel confident we can go and identify the players we need to improve us and have another strong season. Until next time…

Author

  • adam_otbfm

    Adam, known in the Football Manager (FM) realm as @adam_otbfm, is a fervent gamer and content creator. With a penchant for football simulations, Adam delves into the intricacies of FM, sharing his findings on his blog "On the Break." His creative ventures include replicating football legends like Kaka in the virtual pitch, showcasing a blend of nostalgia and modern gameplay. Adam's musings extend to social platforms like Twitter, where he actively engages with the FM community, sharing his gaming journey with @SJK_Seinajoki. His insightful content and avid participation enrich the FM community, making him a valued member in this virtual football world.

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1 thought on “Tokyo Verdy – A Smorgasbord of Talent

  1. Really enjoyable read here Adam, some of the micro managing necessary to keep your your sides at their most efficient.

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