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Having won the J-League title in 2010 and finished second in 2011, Grampus started the 2012 season as one of the favourites for the title.  

A reasonable start tailed off as Dragan Stoijkovic's men struggled to maintain consistency.  The side crashed out of the ACL in the early stages while home losses to Urawa Reds, Kawasaki Frontale and Cerezo Osaka, as well as a punishing 4-0 mauling at the hands of Vegalta Sendai away, left them facing an uphill task to get their title challenge back on track.  

Things failed to get any easier as the season trundled on, with a spate of injuries to key personnel, coupled with the absence of Kensuke Nagai, who had been whisked off to London on Olympic duty, leaving Nagoya with a threadbare squad, and little in the way of attacking options.  The predicament led to the unorthodox use of legendary defender Tulio as a centre-forward, a move which was greeted with widespread ridicule, yet somehow, quite miraculously, proved a moderate success.  

Despite carrying erratic form throughout the campaign, and losing heavily on a number of occassions, Grampus were able to claw themselves back to the point where an ACL spot was a genuine possibility, they were unable to take anything from their final two games, losing to both Antlers and Reds, gifting the latter the all-important third-placed finish that unlocks the door to Asia on the last day of the campaign.  



The headline grabbing transfers involving Nagoya this season were undoubtedly the departures of Mu Kanazaki and Kensuke Nagai to clubs in Europe.  

Kanazaki, a competent midfielder, was surprisingly released by the club in order to pursue his dream of playing in the Bundesliga, and has subsequently joined Hiroshi Kiyotake at FC Nurnberg.  

While the loss of the 24 year-old, who has thus far been capped five times by his country, could be significant, it is likely to be overshadowed by the exit of Olympic goal hero and frontline speed merchant Nagai, who was snapped up by Belgian aces Standard Liege, along with Yuji Ono of Yokohama F. Marinos, in a January J-League raid.  The 23 year-old hot shot provided a valuable ten goals in the J-League among other assets last season, and his contribution on the pitch is certain to be sorely missed in 2013.  

Another notable departure, although perhaps one that was slightly overdue, was that of World Cup 2002 star Alex, who drops down a division to join Tochigi after a season of limited opportunities.

Rather worryingly after last year's showing, there appears little in the way of top-drawer talent arriving at the club, with Kisho Yano arguably being the biggest fish of the close-season catch.  The forward had a torrid time in front of goal last season with relegation battling Albirex Niigata, netting just twice in 30 appearances after his return from German side SC Freiburg.  

Joining the former Japan international on the 'in' list is a little-known 22 year-old Macedonian, Nikolai Jakimovski, who has yet to feature for his country at full-international level.  Jakimovski, who can play up front as well as through the middle of the park, has been likened to Grampus' striker Josh Kennedy in terms of ability, although his goal scoring record from spells in Hungary and Serbia offers little hope that he will manage to live up to such a high billing.  

Another interesting addition to the first-team squad this season is that of defender Nikki Havenaar, the younger brother of Japan international Mike Havenaar.  And, yes, in case you are wondering, he is also very tall, measuring 197 cm.  


2013 HALF FULL: 

After a disappointing year for both the players and coach, they will be looking to take advantage of their rivals ACL participation and in the early stages of 2013 with a convincing start.  Assuming the consistency problems have been ironed out and all members of the squad stay fit and play to their full potential, there is no reason to think that Nagoya Grampus cannot finish in the top four this season.  

Given the success of 2010 is still reasonably fresh in the memory of those connected with the club, it is difficult to imagine that they will be aiming for anything less than title glory.  They might need one or two fresh faces to come in during the mid-season transfer window to give them that extra little bit of depth in certain areas of the park, but I certainly wouldn't rule them out of acheiving that goal.


With Kennedy out injured for much of the season Grampus really struggled in the attacking area at times last year.  If the Australian forward hasn't completely recovered from his injury problems, the team could have similar personnel problems up front again this year.  

Yano and Jakimovski are a couple of gambles, and as such there's a real chance that one or both of them fail to meet the grade, so don't be overly surprised if Tulio winds up as a reluctant striker again in 2013.  While Tulio did a fantastic job as a make-shift frontman last year, it's not a position he feels entirely comfortable with, and there is always a danger that if things aren't going swimmingly well that persisting to deploy him in this manner may provoke him to push for a move elsewhere.

Aside from a good start, Grampus need to iron out some of the inconsistency and sloppy mistakes that cost them last season.  Aside from the final day of the season defeat to Urawa Reds, Grampus dominated possession in all of their losses last year.  Quite an incredible fact when you consider that this includes the 5-0 thrashings from Gamba Osaka and Albirex Niigata, and a 4-0 drubbing from Sendai.  On far too many occasions last year Grampus squandered their hard work with a wanton carelessness, dropping points where they really shouldn't have, and allowing their heads to go down far too easily.  

As a team they need to show more of the ruthless aggression like that displayed on the touchline by their stoic coach Stojkovic, both at the back and in attack, or they could find themselves bobbing around in the anonymity of the mid-table area for much of the campaign.


Marcus Tulio Tanaka.  The former Japan was immense for Nagoya last season, and his tenacity is the beacon for younger players to follow.  His formidable presence was keenly felt throughout the park, with a number of terrific performances up front peppering his regular defensive heroics at the rear of the pitch.  

In 2012 he managed to bag a highly respectable nine goals, and is likely to contribute a few more this season.  He also competed in more aerial challenges than any other player in the J-League, aside from Yohei Toyoda of Sagan Tosu, and managed to block more shots on goal than any other J-League player, aside from Kosuke Kikuchi of Omiya Ardija.  

A phenomenal asset to the club, he will be the bedrock of any 2013 success.