After a couple of years of above-average performances, FC Tokyo came crashing down and finished ninth in 2021.
The year could not have gone any worse for the club. Having a good squad on paper and favoured by many Japanese football followers to finish in the top four, Tokyo instead dealt with distracting off-the-field incidents and injuries, ultimately massively underperforming.
Manager Kenta Hasegawa resigned in November after an 8-0 loss to Yokohama F Marinos, their worst performance of the season.
But a lot has changed at the capital-based side since Hasegawa’s resignation.
Tokyo Gas, which has owned FC Tokyo for more than 20 years, are no longer the club’s owners after IT Management giant MIXI became the majority stakeholder of the club.
MIXI has already declared its ambitions to improve the state of the club and bring a long awaited league title to the fans as soon as possible.
???????? Tokyo Is Now.
— New Balance Football (@NBFootball) January 8, 2022
The club has already shown many signs of positive intent under new ownership. They even asked legendary former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to become the technical director of the club.
FC Tokyo’s positive intent helped lead to the hire of former Barcelona youth team manager Albert Puig Ortoneda.
Puig most recently managed J2 side Albirex Niigata, where he introduced a Barca-esque, dynamic, tiki-taka style of play to the club.
This style of play helped the club achieve impressive results, such as a 7-0 dismantling of Tokyo Verdy.
In addition, Puig also helped unearth talented players like Shion Homma and has helped Takefusa Kubo develop into the player that he is today.
FC Tokyo followed up the appointment of Puig with good signings in the off season.
They signed arguably the best goalkeeper in the league last season, Jakub Slowik. They followed it up with the signing of centre back Yasuki Kimoto and attacking forward Keita Yamashita, both excellent depth players.
Most recently, they signed experienced centre back Henrique Trevisan, who has had experience playing in Portugal and scored a goal in the Emperor’s Cup final. Aomori Yamada High School wunderkind Kuryu Matsuki is also set to join them later in the year.
However, they did lose centre back Tsuyoshi Watanabe to KV Kortrijk in Belgium and centre back Joan Oumari has left the club as a free agent.
So, where does this leave FC Tokyo?
The team’s goalkeeping was below average last season with Go Hatano and Tsuyoshi Kodama. However, they signed Jakub Slowik and 2020 starting goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi has recovered from a long-term injury. FC Tokyo now have one of the best goalkeeping units in the league.
Their below-average defence was one of the main reasons that they finished ninth last season and they attempted to address it in the transfer window, but questions remain at right back as both Ryoya Ogawa and Takumi Nakamura have been known to commit mistakes.
Signing Trevisan allows FC Tokyo to move Masato Morishige to central defensive midfielder, or Trevisan and Morishige could be the centre back pairing in a back four.
Trevisan has experience playing in a back three, so that may be a hint that FC Tokyo play with three at the back – Yuto Nagatomo, Trevisan, and Ogawa will be the starters – this season.
They could end up playing in a 3-2-3-2, similar to how Barcelona set up a few years ago. Morishige and Shuto Abe will likely be the two starters in central defensive midfield.
Higashi doesn’t fit Puig’s mold of dynamic attacking football that well, so Hirotaka Mita, Leandro and Yojiro Takahagi will probably be the starters in midfield. FC Tokyo probably still need a bit more depth in midfield though.
The Brazilian duo of Adailton and Diego Oliveira will probably start up top. With the new manager’s focus on attacking instead of defending and counter-attacking, expect FC Tokyo to score significantly more goals than they did last season.
They also have great depth in attack with Kensuke Nagai, Kyosuke Tagawa, and Shintaro Yamashita, who can provide the Brazilian duo with some rest when required.
Overall, the squad has improved compared to last season, but not by a drastic amount.
However, many of the teams – Avispa Fukuoka, Urawa Reds, Sagan Tosu, Yokohama F Marinos and arguably Nagoya Grampus – that finished above FC Tokyo have become significantly worse compared to last season, which is the main reason FC Tokyo have a realistic chance to compete for a spot in the AFC Champions League.
Ultimately, how FC Tokyo perform this year will largely depend upon how long the players take to adapt to Albert Puig’s dynamic, attacking style of football and whether there are significant injuries in midfield.