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Ina's Back
If Hidetoshi Nakata brings the heat, Shunsuke Nakamura brings the blueprints, and Shinji Ono brings the sunshine, Junichi Inamoto certainly brings the spunk. I am thrilled to hear that he will have a chance to start with the JapanNT against Iran. He has been playing in thirteen consecutive games with his current team Cardiff (on loan from West Bromwich). Having broken his ankle in last June's game with England, he made his first comeback to the NT in last December's friendly with Germany.

After the years he spent mostly a bench player in the Premier, it seemed that Inamoto's decision to stay in England (despite the rehab needed for his ankle) instead of returning to Gamba Osaka was taking a big risk. When he recovered, he still had difficulty finding a starting position with West Brom. Inamoto's temporary loan to Cardiff was exactly what he needed; he seemed to truly be enjoying football again. In a recent interview for a sports tv show, he said that he had never played so much before -- not even when he was in the J.League. He feels that fitness-wise, he is in great shape. Some fans worry that the level of play at second division is not enough to reassure them that he can cut it at NT level. For Inamoto, though, I think it has been refreshingly inspirational for him to play so much and be depended on with utmost faith by his team -- more valuable than having the brand-name status of bench-warming at a famous club.

Unfortunately, Cardiff is in trouble financially. They are/will be letting go of a number of (around 13?) players, and the understanding is that Inamoto will be returned to West Brom by the end of March. However, I did find a recent article saying that Cardiff was really making an effort to find a way to keep Ina. They were trying to come up with some agreement that would allow Ina to keep playing -- a Cardiff rep mentioned a possibility of a pay-per-play scenario, and seemed to be keeping their hopes up. As for Inamoto, he seemed pretty much resigned to returning to West Brom as Cardiff is 30 million pounds in the red and he understands that his presence would cost the team. He stated that the only way he can repay Cardiff for their great treatment of him is to give the best performance and win the remaining games.

It is strangely timely that this is when he gets called back to the NT for a qualifier. I am looking forward to seeing Ina play at full fitness and with renewed spirit. Skills-wise, we still have to wait and see. Inamoto has always been the type of player that brings spring and spunk to the NT. He does not overthink, sort of lets the strategic leaders like Ono and Nakamura deal with that. As I said in an earlier entry, the triangle that Inamoto makes with Ono and Nakamura is more than just the one fixed formation -- they naturally rotate, and are able work dynamically off of each other. Inamoto is more likely to stay in a lower defensive area while Ono will take position near Nakamura, but out of nowhere he will come streaking up. He also has a great mid-range shot (hopefully still accurate) as well as the guts to dribble up full speed. Inamoto, Naohiro Takahara (fw, Hamburg), and Ono are from the same youth generation so have been playing together since they were in their teens. Of them all, Inamoto is definitely the one with the dry wit, being the Osaka kid. (photo from

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