December 29, 2007: The signing of spark-plug Tsukasa Umesaki by Urawa Reds from Oita Trinita had been on the cards for several weeks, and it became official on Wednesday.
Still only 20, Umesaki certainly stands out with his quick and clever playing style. He can also play in a number of attacking positions, increasing the options for the coach in the same way Yuki Abe did at the back and in central midfield after his move from JEF United a year ago.
Although Reds have a policy of not revealing the transfer fee they paid, the figure I read for Umesaki was around 200 million yen. This is a decent price for Oita, who should be able to bolster their squad in all departments for next season and stay out of relegation trouble.
So expect a good deal of transfer activity at Oita in the coming weeks, and also at Urawa, who are surely far from finished in the market.
At a recent Emperor's Cup match between Gamba and Trinita at Chiba I was chatting with a prominent Japanese agent who said Reds had money to burn this winter following their success in the Asian Champions League and huge crowds in the J.League. He believed their top three targets were Umesaki, Konno of FC Tokyo and Kashiwagi of Sanfrecce, as Reds were preparing for the departure of Hasebe and possibly Suzuki to Europe either during the January transfer window or next summer.
Other names linked with Reds are Komano from Sanfrecce and Edmilson from Albirex to replace Washington, so clearly there is a lot more business pending at Saitama.
Umesaki is a good start, though, and can add some zip and creative flair to the Reds attack. He has a similar build to Okubo, and makes things happen as he roams across the pitch, behind the forward line, looking for an opening. The injury to J.League MVP Robson Ponte gives Umesaki a chance to win a place in the starting line-up for next season, but he accepts it will be a challenge to make his mark at such a big club.
And don't rule him out of the Olympic squad yet, either, as I feel Sorimachi's team will continue to evolve in the run-up to Beijing.