For those who haven’t seen over on Twitter, I’ve decided to end this save after six seasons. A large part of the reasoning for this is the constant threat of Saudi money. Being able to offload fringe players to Saudi Arabia from European sides for big money is an excellent way to aid recruitment, but managing in Asia where even the lower reputation Saudi sides have the money and reputation to poach any player they please makes transfer windows a nightmare. As our calibre of player has increased over the seasons, so has my frustration at the upheaval we’ve had each year. This, combined with my desire to explore other saves before Football Manager 2025 means that the time feels right to wrap things up. 

With that being said, we still had one more season to go, and after narrowly missing out on a second league title of the save there was some big money spent in the transfer window.

Transfers

Rio NittaST C, 0(4) apps, 0 goals, 1 assist, 6.77 avg rating.

Rio Nitta is going to wish he’d never heard of Tokyo Verdy. I agreed a pre-contract deal to sign Nitta mid way through season five to provide cover for Amang, but due to circumstances that I’ll discuss in a moment another striker became available to me and Nitta became nothing but an afterthought.

Naoto HoshideAM L, 41(6) apps, 14 goals, 11 assists, 7.21 avg rating.

Unbelievably, Urawa Red Dragons were relegated in season five. Naoto is the first of three players I’ve taken from them due to relegation release clauses. £1.6m for a player who I was calling up to Japan squads before I’d ever considered signing him is a bargain in my eyes. An unbelievably quick and agile winger, he settled immediately and offered an unexpected level of goal threat as well as his creativity and under-rated defensive effort. Definitely the signing of the season.

Takaharu TodaD R, DM, 45(5) apps, 3 goals, 9 assists, 6.91 avg rating.

Takaharu is a player I’ve dreamed of signing since he was 17. He was a full international at 18 and has been in every Japan squad I’ve named. He’s attracted interest from Manchester City and PSG, and when I finally had the money to make a move happen, I spent £3.8m to match his release clause and prize him from Kyoto Sanga. He came in to finally add some real quality at right-back (a problem area for the entire save) and despite a quiet start he really came into his own towards the end of the season and started to offer some real quality on the ball from the back.

Rei HashirataniD/WB L, 33(1) apps, 0 goals, 9 assists, 7.07 avg rating.

The second signing from Urawa Red Dragons, Rei cost £1.7m and was brought in to be the long-term option at left-back. Early in the season there was a genuine battle between himself and Ryoya Ogawa for the spot, but as the season rolled on Rei established himself and had a really impressive debut season.

Masahiro KideraST C, 27(22) apps, 13 goals, 5 assists, 6.92 avg rating.

Ah Masahiro. The most frustrating talent I’ve had on Football Manager in many a year. The last of three signings from Urawa Red Dragons, and the most expensive at £3.3m. If you read the last post you’ll know all about Kidera’s goal woes, although it would be unfair not to point out his dramatic upturn in form towards the end of the season as I mentioned in the below Twitter thread.

I honestly feel I found the way to get the best from Kidera long-term, but obviously will not have the opportunity to put this into practice. With this being said, he was attracting interest from Saudi so I probably wouldn’t have anyway.

Yoshitaka Tagami – DC, 24(2) apps, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.79 avg rating. 

Tagami cost a princely £3.5m and was brought in to be part of a brand new central defensive partnership. Unfortunately he struggled to play well and in the second half of the season lost his place, having to make do with occasional cup appearances. If I was going to continue the save I think I’d have been able to sell Tagami on for a profit, rather than persevere with below par performances.

Tomokazu WatabeAM RC, 30(11) apps, 9 goals, 11 assists, 7.17 avg rating.

Watabe was a £2.8m signing from Kyoto Sanga and actually felt like a bit of a luxury signing, made because we had received a good amount in transfer fees (more on that later). He started the season fairly slowly as he competed for minutes on the right wing with Irankunda, but as we started to shift towards a 4-2-3-1 Watabe was afforded more opportunities and grew into his role in the side.

Naoya SuzukiDC, 30(2) apps, 3 goals, 0 assists, 7.12 avg rating. 

The other half of the new centre-back partnership with Tagami, Suzuki settled far more quickly and established himself as one of the best defenders in the league. Natural left-footed centre-backs aren’t easy to come by in Japan so snapping up the best at 20 years of age was a great piece of business, even at £3.5m.

Andoni SerranoDM, AM LC, 35(7) apps, 9 goals, 4 assists, 6.98 avg rating.

Andoni was a deadline day signing from the Spanish youth divisions. He was attracting interest from the world’s biggest clubs, but since they were reluctant to make a move outside of their transfer window I took advantage and snapped him up. Securing a player of his quality for £5k per week with no release clause was a no-brainer and would have undoubtedly led to a future profit. His numbers look slightly underwhelming as he split his time between his best role as the number 10 and learning how to play as a Regista, but he started to improve towards the end of the year.

Ayumu SekoDC, 20(2) apps, 2 goals, 0 assists, 7.02 avg rating. 

I had a pre-contract agreed for Seko for a long while before he eventually joined mid-season, in fact it was in place before our signing of Tagami. The aim was for Seko to provide an experienced rotation option, but due to Tagami’s poor form he came straight into the side upon arrival and stayed there all season. He offers more aerial dominance than Tagami (and Suzuki for that matter) which is something we’d been lacking compared to last season. A close second for signing of the season.

Logi Hrafn RóbertssonDC, DM, 15(3) apps, 2 goals, 1 assist, 6.92 avg rating.

Logi was signed on a pre-contract to join midway through season seven, but since I could have him join immediately for £48k I felt it was worth doing. The original plan was actually to play Logi as a CB, again due to his aerial prowess, but he actually found his place rotating with Sekine as our primary DM. I always felt relatively safe with him at the base of the midfield, although the occasional sloppy pass did cause us some trouble.

All of these deals, plus a few others not mentioned as they haven’t been first–team regulars, cost us a touch short of £22m. The deals for Toda and Kidera were secured with the money raised by selling Qashi and Bobb last year, but our transfer budget didn’t cover the rest, so now it’s time to talk about the players we lost that covered this cost.

The big three were Takui Fukui (£8.5m rising to £9.5m), Noah Flores (£3.3m rising to £4.1m) and Omar Sonko (£4m). These three were undoubtedly our best players and the spine of our side, and as soon as I started getting offers around their release clauses I knew I was in trouble. The signing of Akinsanmiro mitigated the loss of Fukui to a degree, but there’s no doubt he was a downgrade in the role, but our centre-backs were a literal head and shoulders above any others in Japan, and this hurt us big time. 

We managed to raise more funds but selling off some fringe players and young talents who I wasn’t sure would make the grade. Takuma Konno (£175k rising to £375k), Tsutomu Mutaguchi (1.3m rising to £1.6m), Norikazu Askue (£450k rising to £725k), Kenta Kikuchi (£525k), Hikaru Nakahara (£100k), Hiroto Yamada (£125k) and Seiya Baba (£700k) were all moved on to trim down the squad and bring in valuable finances.

League Performance

I didn’t know at the start of the season that this would be our last campaign, but I did go into it with a feeling of trepidation. I knew I had brought in some of Japan’s most talented players, but I wasn’t sure how they were going to gel or fit the system. My fear was exaggerated by the fact that the board expected a top two finish, we were the bookies’ favourite to win the league and the media dream eleven included five of our players, including three of the back four.

We got off to a good start, although the away draw to Tokushima Vortis was disappointing. Amang started the season with his usual good form, and Akinsanmiro was so impressive that he had me prematurely bragging about not missing Fukui!

Then came the horror run. If you’ve read the last post or been following me on Twitter you’ll know I’ve already talked about this at length, so I’ll just recap here. 

April saw us face what I’ve dubbed ‘the league of extraordinary goalkeepers’ as we gained one point from five games without a single goal scored. The ten games that followed were slightly better as we won four, lost four and drew two, but at the end of this run we had still only scored more than one goal once in fifteen league games.

At the end of this spell we were languishing down in eighth, a massive eighteen points away from our target of a top two finish and nine points away from my revised target of a top four finish to secure ACL football.

Our end of season form was much improved, with the goals starting to come again and Kidera finally looking like a threat. A couple of poor losses to Sagan Tosu and Avispa Fukuoka were reminders that we hadn’t completely turned the corner, but the chase was on. Was it enough?

No.

Japan actually lost an ACL spot this year, I’m not sure if this is due to coefficients or cup results, but either way we only managed to finish fifth, our worst finish since our first campaign in J1. The poor league finish was obviously a blow, but psychologically not qualifying for the Asian Champions League was huge, it left me feeling like we are a million miles away from achieving our aims, despite our fairly strong showings in the competition itself so far.

Cup Performance

J.League Cup

As holders of the J.League Cup, I was confident we could go deep into the tournament again. Despite being very impressive against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, these results actually annoyed me; they came right in the middle of our league woes, so to see us banging in goals for fun was frustrating. My complaints were short lived though, as our perennial whipping boys Cerezo Osaka dumped us out in the round of 16.

Emperor’s Cup

The Emperor’s Cup is the more reputable of the two Japanese cup competitions, but we’ve never done overly well in it, never progressing past the Quarter Finals.

In what turned out to be our last attempt, we finally showed up and reached the Final in emphatic fashion, eliminating three J1 sides and conceding just one goal in the process. The Final would see us face Kashima Antlers, a side against which we have an excellent record (six wins and a draw in our last seven meetings).

Click image for full match information.

We absolutely battered them, in what turned out to be a perfect send off in my final game in charge. It was the complete performance, with clinical finishing and defensive domination.

Asian Champions League

When we left off last time out, we had just topped a group consisting of Jeonbuk, Muangthong United and CA Ha Noi, but weren’t yet aware of our Second Round opponents. 

Amazingly, we were once again drawn against Bangkok United, in a repeat of last season’s tie.

We made lighter work of them than last time, with our more emphatic performance again coming in Thailand.

More familiarity came in the Quarter Final as we faced Jeonbuk, our group stage foes. In the groups we fell short in Korea with a 2-0 defeat, but when it mattered most we set the tone with a convincing 4-0 win in the first leg that we then followed up with an away 2-1 win.

Amazingly we then got our third familiar foe, as we were drawn to play Yokohama F. Marinos in the Semi-Finals. I felt this was a real opportunity, as although we had been in poor form domestically we know that Marinos are a side we’re capable of beating.

Once again we crash out in the Semi-Finals, and this one really feels like a wasted opportunity. Both games were unbelievably tight, but in honesty I felt we just edged both, which makes defeat even more cruel.

To make things worse, Marinos went on to secure their second ACL title in three years by beating Al-Jazira in the Final. Of course there is no guarantee that we would have won the final, but I do feel we’re a better side than Marinos when on form, and it will be the major regret of the save that we never gave ourselves the opportunity to see it through.

Quick Roundup

As the save comes to an end, I thought I would just take a quick look at some interesting screens to recap.

I end the save as the second best Japanese manager of all time, with a 61% win rate and a £4m profit in all of our transfer dealings. Five trophies and a promotion, plus two cups with Japan is a pretty pleasing haul in six seasons, and on the whole I can say that I’ve really enjoyed my time in Asia, I just don’t have the will to carry on and see the project out.

I don’t have too many arguments with the Team of the Save, although Omar Sonko is hugely unfortunate to not even make the bench. With one more season Janthapan-Sankammuan would almost certainly replace Kojima in the eleven, but it goes to show the amount of changing we’ve had to do between the sticks throughout the save. Despite it being comfortably our biggest problem position throughout the save, I’m so delighted to see Daiki Fukazawa make the side at right-back.

Finally, an overview of our achievements year on year. To go from a projected mid-table J2 side to an established title challenger and multiple cup winner in six seasons is a path I can be pretty proud of. I guess there’s just one thing left to do.

The final post of this save will be out soon, as we look back at the ‘Danny Birchall’ list we’ve formed over the years. I can’t wait to see how good some of these guys actually were, it should be interesting! 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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