Wednesday, 02 December 2020

 


 

Montedio Yamagata is based in the northern town of Yamagata, about halfway between Tokyo and the northernmost tip of the main island. The team was formed in 1984, as the club team of NEC's Yamagata factory. In a relatively rural area, the team was one of the strongest and best supported, winning the regional league four times between 1984 and 1992, when the J.League was created and the rest of Japan's domestic football structure was reorganised. In 1994, after winning a regional title in the new Tohoku Regional League, the team advanced to the JFL.

In 1998, prior to the formation of the J.League second division, NEC granted the football club its independence, and the team changed its name to Montedio Yamagata. The team takes its name from the Italian words monte anddios, which literally means the "Mountain Gods", or perhaps more accurately from a Japanese perspective, the "Mountain Kings". This is a very appropriate name, as Yamagata is a rugged, mountainous prefecture in northern Japan, known for a harsh climate, brave and rugged men, and reputedly beautiful women. Montedio was a founding member of the J2, but at first its performance in the J2 was less than spectacular. Local support was excellent, and though the population of Yamagata city may not match that of the major cities in Kanto or Kansai, it is large enough to provide a very healthy and energetic fan base.

After struggling in its initial season in the J2, Montedio realised that it would have to cast off the limited perspective of a small corporate club, so it turned to outside help in making the club more competitive. Koichi Hashiratani, a former Japan national team captain and Verdy Kawasaki defender, was named as head coach in January 2000, and he quickly instilled a "can-do" spirit that buoyed both the team and its supporters to unexpected heights. With just two weeks left in the 2001 season, it looked like Montedio might win promotion to the J1, but a collapse in the final two matches of the year saw those hopes dashed, as the team finished third.

Although it might be a bit too harsh to call the team's performance in 2001 "a fluke", it often appeared that the team were playing above its true abilities. More importantly, though, the team was driven by a small number of quality players who -- as soon as they had done enough to attract attention from a J1 club -- immediately jumped ship. This would become an ongoing problem for Montedio, though some elements of the strategy it has adopted for competing with big-city clubs tend to perpetuate the problem.

Beginning in 2001, with the efforts of coach Hashiratani, Montedio adopted a "rental" strategy which it has used to good effect over the years. Since it is unable to attract really top-quality players on its own budget, any youngster with good prospects of developing into a J1 starter can easily claim regular playing time at Montedio. The combination of scenic surroundings and spacious living accommodations make Yamagata a great place to spend a season or two (as long as you can flee to the big cities during the long, cold winter), and J1 clubs have never had to worry too much about their players becoming "too attached" to Montedio, and refusing to come back when their rental spell was over. Therefore, Montedio has consciously cultivated its reputation as a good place to farm out younger players, let them gain experience and regular playing time, and then return home once they have matured.

The unfortunate flip side of this strategy is that the Mountain Kings often develop some team momentum, and appear to be moving towards promotion to the J1, only to have their most important players snatched away by their original club, destroying the team chemistry. Since Montedio lacks the funds to attract immediate replacements for these individuals, they often tumble back down the table for a year or two before they can regain their footing and begin another climb towards promotion. This is exactly what happened during the 2002 season, when Montedio slumped all the way to 11th place .

Yamagata set to work rebuilding, and by 2004 they were back in a position to challenge for a promotion spot. Scoring ace Hideo Oshima and set-up man Masatoshi Matsuda, along with loanees like Shinya Sakoi and Naoki Umeda carried the team to the brink of success, but they faded in the final month of the season and had to settle for a fourth-place finish that year. If the team had remained intact, 2005 might have been the season when they made the big jump. But the Yokohama Marinos snatched Oshima away, Matsuda moved to Albirex Niigata, Sakoi returned to Kyoto and Umeda was reclaimed by Urawa Reds. Since Montedio lacks the depth of quality that bigger and more well-funded teams enjoy, it takes them more than a year to rebuild from this sort of exodus. Furthermore, once the team gets into a slump, and the starters lose their momentum and enthusiasm, there are no reserves to step into the breach. This is what happened to the team in 2006 and 2007, as they spun back towards the lower reaches of the table.

But Yamagata managed to retain its strong local following throughout the ups and downs, and their strategy of picking up talented players on loan offers a constant opportunity to revive both the enthusiasm and the team's success on the pitch. 2008 proved to be the breakthrough year, thanks to several players claimed from other clubs. Probably the most valuable was striker Yohei Toyoda, who was acquired on loan from Nagoya Grampus. The tall and powerful youngster tore a path through J2 defences, and was so prolific that he even earned a call to the full national team. Avispa Fukuoka veteran Kohei Miyazaki and wingback Tatsuya Ishikawa, who was a surplus commodity at Kashima, added solidity and experience, while a number of youngsters picked up from the Tohoku area contributed the energy and hustle needed to carry Montedio to a second-place finish, and automatic promotion to the J1 in 2009.

Since advancing to the top-flight in for the 2009 campaign, Yamagata has done a good job of preserving their top-flight spot despite lacking the financial resources and team depth that most opponents enjoy. The team has managed to punch above its weight, in part, by adopting a fairly effective strategy of "borrowing" personnel. The acquisition of key players on loan is actually a tactic that Yamagata has employed for several years, tracing back to guys like Yohei Toyoda from Grampus, Shinya Sakoi from Kyoto and Takashi Umeda, from Urawa. In 2009 Montedio borrowed Tatsuya Furuhashi from Cerezo Osaka, and signed Ryo Kobayashi, who had fallen out with his former team Kashiwa, after a loan to Oita. These additions, coupled with a very unadventurous strategic approach (call it a catennacio if you will, but it definitely rests on stacked defence and long direct balls to the front line), allowed the team to preserve their spot in the J1. Montedio started off their first year in the top-flight on the right note, crushing Jubilo Iwata in a 5-2 romp. Though the team struggled more and more as the year went on, and opponents grew familiar with their rather one-dimensional strategy, they managed to stay above the relegation zone for the entire season, and finished in 15th place, four points clear of the drop. This also allowed the core players to develop a bit more depth and experience.

In 2010, Montedio continued its policy of borrowing from other teams, and got a huge boost when Kashima Antlers loaned it two players who were clearly talented, but who did not see much playing time - midfielder Chikashi Masuda and striker Yuzo Tashiro. Once again, these players provided just enough offence to complement Montedio's trademark defensive strategy, and once again they managed to hold on to a J1 spot. Unfortunately, the policy of "borrowing" has its negative aspects as well. At the end of 2010, Kashima reclaimed both Masuda and Tashiro, leaving a substantial hole in the Montedio offense. If the Mountain Kings hope to secure a permanent spot in the top-flight division, they will have to change their personnel strategy and try to find a way to hang onto their players longer. The question is whether or not Yamagata management has the vision to build a more stable club with long-term continuity.

With several key players departing in 2011, the club struggled to match their performances in 2009 and 2010. It was particularly hard to continue picking up the occasional upset 1-0 victory once opponents knew what to expect. Their defense crumbled time after time, and finished the season in last place. However, demotion to the J2 was only temporary. The team and its fan base earned a great deal of confidence, having avoided relegation for a three year spell in J1. By the 2014 season they had rebounded, and despite finishing sixth in the J2, they managed to win the promotion playoff and steal a spot in the J1 for the 2015 season.  Unfortunately, the result was the same as in 2011. Montedio just didnt have the depth, or the financial strength, to escape the cycle of boom-and-bust. Relegated immediately in 2015, they plunged into the lower half of J2 for the nest three season, and only began to climb into the promotion ballet in 2019.

At the moment, the prospects for the 2020 season are just as uncertain as they were in the past, and Montedio risks becoming a yo-yo team, bouncing back and forth between divisions but never quite able to solidify their spot in the higher ranks. To do so, however, they need to find a more consistent team concept, as well as a steady income flow. At the moment they seem too dependent on players picked up late in their careers, and also lack the crowd support needed to maintain a bit of roster depth.


Team Results for 1999-2001

Year Rank W D L GF GA G.Dif
90 ET
1999 7 14 1 4 17 47 53 -6
2000 10 9 2 2 27 40 61 -21
2001 3 20 7 6 11 61 39 +22

Team Results for 2002-Present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2002 11 35 6 17 21 29 57 -28
2003 8 55 15 10 19 52 60 -8
2004 4 71 19 14 11 58 51 +7
2005 5 64 16 16 12 54 45 +9
2006 8 65 17 14 17 68 57 +11
2007 9 58 15 13 20 46 56 -10
2008 2 78 23 9 10 66 40 +26
2009 (J1) 15 39 10 9 15 32 40 -8
2010 (J1) 13 42 11 9 14 29 42 -13
2011 (J1) 18 21 5 6 23 23 64 -41
2012  10 61 16 13 13 51 49 +2
2013  10 59 16 11 15 74 61 +13
2014  6 64 18 10 14 57 44 +13
2015 (J1 1st) 16 14 3 5 9 14 24 -10
2015 (J1 2nd) 18 10 1 7 9 10 29 -19
2016 14 47 11 14 17 43 49 -6
2017 11 59 14 17 11 45 47 -2
2018 12 56 14 14 14 49 51 -2
2019 6 70 20 10 12 59 40 +19