Here is a brief review I did for JapaneseSoccer.net on the 2009 season for Vissel.
A 10th place finish 2 years in a row might suggest that Vissel Kobe are a mediocre J1 team. But any fan will tell you that the performances throughout last year were neither average nor consistent. A season of highs and lows, 2008 saw Kobe topple many of the stronger teams while managing to lose to most of the weaker ones. In fact, the majority of losses were at the hands of teams that finished lower in the final J League standings.
Failure to achieve the targeted top 5 finish lead to manager Hiroshi Matsuda being given his marching orders in December, and the inevitable departure of Yoshito Okubo to Wolfsburg (Bundesliga) and the somewhat more unexpected transfer of Leandro to local rival Gamba signaled the beginning of a new era for Vissel. Matsuda’s replacement Caio Junior (former manager of Flamengo, Brazil) wasted no time in bringing in 2 of his fellow countrymen in Alan Bahia (MF) and Marcel (FW), albeit on loans, as well as Kazuki Ganaha (FW) from Kawasaki Frontale. Despite some promising pre-season form, it remains to be seen whether the new strike force can fill the void left by Okubo and Leandro, the top two goalscorers over the past two seasons.
The final and highest profile signing for Kobe came mid-January when it was announced that Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (former national defender and captain) had agreed to join the club from Red Bull Salzburg. Miyamoto brings a wealth of experience to Vissel and was the obvious choice to take on the captain’s armband from Okubo. Barring injury, he may be able to motivate the team to move to the next level, and provide the club with some nice revenue through shirt sales.
Vissel Kobe have never finished higher than 10th in the league, and the 2009 aspirations of an ACL spot (top 3 finish) have not been reflected in the off-season transfers. Owner Hiroshi Mikitani (Rakuten) continues to set unrealistic goals and has still not convinced the fans that he is serious about building a team that can challenge for the J League title. That being said, Vissel do appear to have finally cemented their status in J1 and one would like to think that the only way is up. Realistically, Vissel fans will be satisfied if the team can finish anywhere in the top half of the league in 2009 and beat Gamba home and away!