Words by Martin Lowe
The fledgling career of Takashi Usami has been an eventful one so far, but he can surely look back on 2015 as one of his best in terms of personal performance. While he was unable to replicate his club’s historic treble of 2014, his influence domestically and on the continent continues to puts him above his East Asian peers in terms of attacking impact.
Usami, since his return from an unhappy spell in Germany has been a continual success back in Japan with his home club of Gamba Osaka. Almost 50 goals later, could we be set to see Japan’s most precious jewel setting sail again for Europe?
Usami returned from his stint on loan with Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga three years ago to a Gamba Osaka side in all sorts of trouble, languishing in the second tier.
Within a year, an Usami led vibrant attack saw Gamba return immediately to J1, only to go on to clinch the domestic treble (League plus League & Emperor’s Cup) the year after. 2015 was the next stage in the club’s plan of returning to the top, as they sought to compete back in the AFC Champions League, a title they won in 2008.
Usami was key to this assault, his influence was integral in 2014, but in 2015 on all fronts he upped his level especially in front of goal. Within the opening stages Usami had scored 9 in 8 matches (a better record than the European bound Yoshinori Muto), going onto finish as the J.League’s first stage golden boot victor.
While he was imperious domestically, his real class was on show in the ACL. While his record wasn’t exactly as devastating (4 goals in 11), in all truth he ran Gamba’s run to the semi-finals. He deserved most of the credit, for by the time they made the last four, pundits actually believed they could conceivably usurp eventual champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
While they were ultimately left frustrated, Usami’s personal performances will be hard to forget. His ability to run at speed, in control and able to either pass, shoot or change direction at any point leads to a devastatingly difficult task for opposing defenders.
Gamba’s front line on paper isn’t necessarily a stellar selection, however the likes of Hiroyuki Abe and Patric have flourished because of Usami.
In the end, a treble and dare we suggest a quadruple wasn’t all such a distance dream. Heartbreak in the finals of the League Cup and J.League playoffs, alongside a more than credible semifinal (Eastern final) exit in the ACL, left them with “only” one trophy, being their defence of the Emperor’s Cup win (which Usami embraced scoring 4 in 3 to end the year).
Did anything truly go wrong? Their over reliance on their attacking wizard probably saw them and Usami run out of steam. Fresh off the back of a hectic 2014, 2015 continued in the same manner, it proved one step too far.
On the international scene, 2015 was seen as Usami’s break back into the national team, a call which was frustratingly avoided for months. On his return the hype was high, and while the products have been good in places, we won’t be alone in feeling a little underwhelmed.
Usami’s trying to break into a secure attacking set up, competing with the likes of Muto and Haraguchi for the only real available slot in Halilhodzic’s plan. His real chance came in the strictly domestic based regional tournament, the East Asian Cup. As we reported in the summer, after great expectations Usami faltered to lead himself or his side to glory.
So still some room for improvement for now, which seems incredible given the honours he’s achieved in the last three years. What will the new year bring?
Highlight of the Year; A truly devastating run of form through April & May
Late spring-cum-early summer and Usami was at his peak. Across April he notched 8 in 6 matches, and into May where he scored another 3 in 4 ACL matches to ensure progression to the quarter final stages.
If you wanted one match to best assess Usami’s influence, Gamba’s Round of 16 tie with Seoul would be a good stsrt. While he influenced as a provider in the first leg, it was his devastating finishing in Korea that lit up social media. A truly devine double from Gamba’s integral superstar.