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S-Pulse look to move forward

12 Jan 2009(Mon)

January 9, 2009: The Nabisco Cup final last season between Oita Trinita and Shimizu S-Pulse revealed a lot about both teams.

Trinita: well-organised, well-drilled, and three top-quality Brazilians to hold everything together.

S-Pulse: plenty of skill, capable of producing some exhilarating moments, but just lacking the experience for the big occasion, especially up front.

Result: Trinita 2, S-Pulse 0.

S-Pulse manager Kenta Hasegawa has gone a long way to correcting this deficiency with a couple of smart close-season transfer swoops for Frode Johnsen and Yuichiro Nagai.

The big Norwegian centre forward gave great service to Nagoya Grampus with his professionalism on and off the pitch, and produced goals on a consistent basis. S-Pulse know that Johnsen will provide value for money, and will bring a presence to the attack that has been lacking since the departure of South Korean World Cup striker Cho Jae Jin at the end of the 2007 season.

As for Nagai, he is a more mobile and versatile player than Johnsen. He has the pace and the athleticism to be effective on the right wing as well as up front, and his signing will give the manager several more options in his team selection.

Nagai has also proved he has the big-match temperament, notably with his displays for Reds when they won the AFC Champions League in 2007. Last season he did not see eye to eye with Gert Engels, feeling that he could have added some zip to Urawa’s plodding play, and now both Nagai and the German coach are out of the Saitama set-up.

I also thought Nagai scored one of the best goals of the season last year; his rapid counter-attack and cracking finish against FC Tokyo at Saitama Stadium 2002 – providing a rare moment of delirium for the Reds masses in 2008.

Johnsen and Nagai are very different players, and will increase the competition for places next season. Hasegawa could not have asked for anything more from Kazuki Hara last season, and the young striker’s efforts were acknowledged when he made the shortlist of three for the J.League Rookie of the Year award, but the manager appreciated that he needed more muscle and experience to keep S-Pulse in the top half of the table.

After all, Kenta knows a good forward when he sees one.


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