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Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010

Inamoto ready for challenge

Eager to help guide Kawasaki Frontale to the top of the J. League

Staff writer

KAWASAKI — Junichi Inamoto believes he can be the final piece in Kawasaki Frontale's championship puzzle after ending his eight-and-a-half year spell in Europe to join last season's J. League runnerup.

News photo
Confident veteran: Midfielder Junichi Inamoto, who has earned 74 caps for the Japan national team, tells reporters during a Friday news conference that he believes he'll be a good fit for Kawasaki Frontale, his new team. KYODO PHOTO

Frontale have yet to win a title despite going close on numerous occasions, and hope to rectify that with the signing of the 30-year-old midfielder whose wandering career has taken him to clubs in England, Turkey, Germany and France since leaving Gamba Osaka in 2001.

Inamoto admits Kawasaki does not have the storied history of some other J. League clubs, but believes his new team has all the tools needed to end Kashima Antlers' dominance over the coming season.

"It's been a long time and I'm looking forward to it," Inamoto said as he was presented to the media at Todoroki Stadium on Friday following his move from Rennes.

"When I last played in the J. League, Frontale's image was not particularly strong. Now they have gained experience and improved a lot, and they were only a step away from winning the title last season.

"I want to do everything in my power to help them go one further. This is an important year for the club."

Inamoto is in the reckoning for national team manager Takeshi Okada's World Cup squad this summer, but the midfielder insists the prospect of playing in a third consecutive tournament was not the sole reason for his return to Japan.

"I just turned 30, and I wanted to come back to the J. League while I was still in my best condition," he said. "The World Cup is not the only reason I have come back. Of course I want to be involved and it helps to be playing in Japan in full view of the manager. But that wasn't the most important thing.

"I wanted to come back to Japan first and foremost, and if I can go to the World Cup then that's a bonus. Winning the title with Kawasaki is my No. 1 priority."

Frontale's high-tempo attacking style overwhelmed many sides last season, but a soft center was ultimately its undoing. Inamoto will be expected to add steel alongside playmaker Kengo Nakamura in midfield, and he has already started on his homework.

"I chose Frontale because I watched DVDs of all the teams in the league last season, and I liked the way they played and thought they would suit me," he said. "My job will be to get the ball moving forward quickly and turn defense into attack.

"That's my game — get the ball from the opposition and get our fast players moving. Having watched DVDs of this team playing, I think I can fit into its style."

Inamoto's Frontale career will be interrupted before it has got off the ground, however, after receiving a callup to Okada's squad for the Feb. 2 friendly against Venezuela later on Friday.

Inamoto's transfer meant he was left off the original 25-man list earlier this week, but the player was unfazed by the possibility of joining his international teammates once everything had been finalized.

"It's important to settle in here and communicate with everyone," he said. "But when I was in Europe I would be away on international duty for a week at a time and that never really caused any problems for me."

Inamoto's career has taken a long and winding path, but it is not just the player who has changed. The J. League has also continued to evolve in Inamoto's absence, and the veteran is unsure what to expect when the season gets under way.

"Until I play I don't know how much the J. League has changed since I was last here," he said. "Watching DVDs I can see that the game looks faster and the players individually have better technique, but I won't know for sure until I get started."

Hato switches teams

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Ex-Japan defender Yasuhiro Hato has joined former club Yokohama F. Marinos from Omiya Ardija, the J. League first-division club said Friday.

The 33-year-old Hato, who has made a total of 317 appearances in Japan's top flight, left Yokohama in 2004 and spent two seasons with Kashiwa Reysol before moving to Omiya. He earned 15 international caps.

Meanwhile, Yokohama said defenders Yuji Nakazawa and Yuzo Kurihara, midfielder Koji Yamase, striker Daisuke Sakata and goalkeeper Tetsuya Enomoto have all signed new deals.

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