ガンバ大阪 / Gamba Osaka
- City: Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Honshu
- Founded: 1980
- Ground: Panasonic Stadium Suita (39,694)
- Nicknames: Nerazzurri (Black and Blues)
- Colours: Black and blue vertical striped shirt, black shorts, black socks
- 2022 League: J1 League
- Club Website: https://www.gamba-osaka.net/
- Club Twitter: @GAMBA_OFFICIAL
- Best League Finish: Champions in J1 (2005 and 2014)
- Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Winners (5 times)
- Founding Member of the J.League
- AFC Champions League
- Winners: 2008
- J.League Division 1
- Champions: 2005, 2014
- JSL Division 2 / J.League Division 2
- Champions: 1985-86, 2013
- Emperor’s Cup
- Winners: 1990, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015
- J.League Cup
- Winners: 2007, 2014
- Japanese Super Cup
- Winners: 2007, 2015
- All Japan Senior Football Championship
- Winners: 1983
- Pan-Pacific Championship
- Winners: 2008
- FIFA Club World Cup
- Third Place: 2008
Gamba Osaka / ガンバ大阪 is a Japanese football team and former Asian champions that currently play in the J.League Division 1, the highest level in the Japanese football pyramid. They play their home games at the Panasonic Stadium Suita / パナソニックスタジアム吹田, (officially known as the Suita City Football Stadium) which was built in late 2015, and replaced the Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium which had been the club’s main home between 1991 and 2015. Since opening, the stadium has hosted a number of Japanese international games, with the most recent being a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier held in September 2021 when Japan lost to Oman by a single goal. Despite the club’s name, it and their stadium are located in the smaller city of Suita / 吹田市 (population of 379k) situated in the north of Osaka Prefecture on the southwestern coastline of Japan’s largest island of Honshu. Suita is separated from the more famous city of Osaka by the Nakashima and Yodo Rivers that flow to the north of the latter city. The important cultural and port city is Japan’s third most populous city possessing a population of 2,7 million people.
The club were founded in 1980 from the ashes of the defunct Yanmar Club, which was the former B-team of Yanmar Diesel FC (now Cerezo Osaka), and was named Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. Soccer Club, thus becoming the amateur corporate team of the global Panasonic company (the club reflecting the company’s old name). The club changed its name to its current iteration in 1992 in preparation for becoming one of the “Original Ten” of the J.League in 1993 which outlawed corporation names for its professional teams (however, Panasonic still owns 70% of the club’s shares). The club’s unique prefix of ‘Gamba‘ comes from the Japanese verb ganbaru (頑張る), which means ‘to do your best‘ or ‘to stand firm‘.
Gamba Osaka are one of the most successful clubs in J.League history, having been a near ever-presence in the league since its foundation in 1993, and being one of only six Japanese teams to have been crowned as Asian continental champions when they beat Australian side Adelaide United 5-0 on aggregate in the two-legged final for the 2008 competition. This meant they qualified for the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup as Asia’s champions, where they finished in third place after defeating Mexican side Pachuca 1-0 in the third-placed playoff following an entertaining 3-5 defeat in the semi-finals to the eventual champions Manchester United.
Gamba have also won the J.League Division 1 title on two occasions, first winning the title in 2005 but famously winning their second Japanese title in 2014. The year 2014 was Gamba’s most successful in its history as it was a treble-winning campaign after clinching their fourth (of five) Emperor’s Cup and second J.League Cup in the same season as their league championship – all the more impressive considering they were a newly promoted side that season after clinching the J2 title the year before. Having finished as the league runners-up in the 2020 campaign, Gamba Osaka suffered a disappointing 2021 season when they finished in a lowly 13th position in the league. For the 2022 season, Gamba Osaka has competed in the J1 League albeit they have struggled towards the wrong end of the table…
To talk about a club that was once Asian champions, and has been Japanese champions on two occasions but seems to be suffering on hard times currently in the J.League, we spoke to the excellent Blog Gamba. It is an unofficial blog which reports on all things involving Gamba, such as match previews, reviews, etc, in the English language. Should you wish to find out more about Blog Gamba, the links to the blog’s website and social media accounts can be found below:
- Blogsite: https://gambaosakaenglish.blog/
- Twitter: @BlogGamba
Q. Who would you say is Gamba Osaka’s best player, and coach/manager of all time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
This is quite an easy answer, Akira Nishino is Gamba’s greatest-ever coach and Yasuhito Endō is the best player in the club’s history. Nishino was in charge of Gamba from 2002 to 2011 and in that time he won J.League Division 1 in 2005, plus the Asian Champions League in 2008, in addition to two Emperor’s Cups, a J.League Cup, and a Japanese Super Cup. He is famous, not only for his longevity at the helm and the success he achieved in that time, but also for the easy-on-the-eye brand of attacking football his sides played throughout his tenure. International fans may remember him as Japan’s boss for the 2018 World Cup where he led them to the last 16.
As for Endō, what can I say about him? For starters, he’s the leading appearance maker for both Gamba [790 appearances] and the Samurai Blue [152 caps], and also the top goalscorer in Gamba’s history [125 goals]. The classy playmaker was a key member in both of the Nerazzurri’s J1 title wins in 2005 and 2014 and has also made the J1 team of the season 12 times, featuring every year but one from 2003-2015, the only exception being 2013 when Gamba were in J2. He scored over 100 goals in all competitions for the club and his legendary number 7 shirt hasn’t been assigned to anyone else since he moved to Júbilo Iwata in mid-2020. Indeed, Endō will make his first return to Panasonic Stadium at the end of October when his Júbilo side faces off against Gamba in what’s sure to be an emotional occasion. It’s probably worth mentioning that he’s still starting regularly in Japan’s top flight (albeit for the bottom side) just three months shy of his 43rd birthday while contemporaries such as Xavi and Steven Gerrard are several seasons into their managerial careers.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in both the past and present squads?
There are probably a few players I could mention here, and up first is midfielder Takahiro Futagawa. Futagawa and Endō are the same age and while Endō was acquired from neighbouring Kyoto Sanga, Futagawa came through the youth ranks and went on to spend almost 17 seasons in the first team [between 1999 and 2016] where he won all there was to win in the Asian game. Gamba supporters appreciated his precocious talents either on the wing or in a more central attacking role, but despite playing nearly 400 times in J1 for one of the best teams of his era, he was only ever capped once by his country [in a friendly against Ghana in 2006].
Two more players I’d like to talk about were mainstays of Gamba’s treble-winning side in 2014, a feat made all the more remarkable when you consider they’d just been promoted as J2 champions after a one-year sabbatical in the second tier. Centre-back Daiki Niwa was a larger-than-life character off the field and a fine defender on it, while his partner-in-crime in defence was often Keisuke Iwashita who was affectionately known as ‘aniki’ (basically it translates as ‘big brother’, though it seems to be commonly used among Japan’s Yakuza crime families, and could maybe be thought of more as ‘enforcer’ in English). This duo defined a time when Gamba were deadly on attack, but also prone to the odd defensive hiccup or two.
These days I’d probably choose Yuya Fukuda [23-year-old winger] as the club’s ‘cult hero.’ Anyone from the UK visiting a Japanese football stadium for the first time will immediately be struck at how many female fans there are decked out head-to-toe in their club’s merchandise. Young Fukuda is quite the heartthrob it appears and despite struggling to nail down a permanent role since an extremely promising breakthrough season as a left wing-back in 2019, he is always near the top of the list when Gamba announces which name and number set is the best seller each year (he seems to be channelling his inner Johan Cruyff by choosing number 14).
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at Gamba and why?
Here I get to talk about my favourite Gamba player of all time, forward Takashi Usami. I think it would be fair to say Usami’s career has never consistently reached the heights it threatened to when he broke into the first team as a teenager. A switch to Bayern Munich didn’t turn out as well as hoped and a further spell in the Bundesliga later in his career [with FC Augsburg and a loan move to Fortuna Düsseldorf] also ended in an anti-climax. Despite that, he has represented his country on 27 occasions and was a member of the 2018 World Cup squad. He’s currently in his third stint with his boyhood club, having ended his second term in Germany in mid-2019 and while only officially a vice-captain, he has assumed the armband in recent matchdays as club captain Shu Kurata is now very much in the twilight of his career.
Usami ruptured his Achilles tendon against Kawasaki Frontale in March, I was sitting close by and his leg made a horrible sound as he hit the turf. He returned at the beginning of October following a seven-month layoff, but during his absence the club have gone through a whole lot of turmoil on and off the field. I and many other supporters have been left wondering how differently things would have gone this season had he come through the game with Frontale, the team he knocked back last winter to further cement his legendary status, unscathed. Calm and composed on the ball and with a deadly shot and set piece delivery in his locker, now 30 years old, Usami remains a fine player and an absolute hero among the Gamba support.
Q. Are there any players at the club who you think we should be focusing on for the future?
Absolutely, Osaka prefecture has a population of almost 9 million people and only two senior men’s clubs, while Gamba also recruits from across the Kansai region which has a population similar to that of Australia and only four professional men’s teams. Therefore, they have a well-earned reputation for producing prodigiously talented youngsters. Usami and Futagawa, who I mentioned earlier, are both graduates of the club’s youth academy, while the likes of Ritsu Dōan (24-year-old winger currently at SC Freiburg), Yosuke Ideguchi (26-year-old central midfielder currently at Celtic), and Shuhei Kawasaki (21-year-old forward at Portuguese Primeira Liga side Portimonense) are presently on the books of European sides having come through the ranks at Gamba. Current Japan Under-19 duo Jiro Nakamura (a 19-year-old diminutive winger / number 10) and Isa Sakamoto (a 19-year-old centre-forward or second striker) flashed glimpses of their potential in their debut campaigns this season, while next year Harumi Minamino (no relation to Monaco’s Takumi Minamino), a young 18-year-old forward, will be promoted to the top team.
156cm (5’1”) number 10 Ryuta Takahashi will come back to the club from Shizuoka Gakuen High School in Shizuoka, one of the most famous footballing schools in the country (Shizuoka is known as the cradle of Japanese football). I’ve already labelled Takahashi “the Japanese Messi”, so no pressure on him then. He originally comes from Nagaokakyo in the south-west part of Kyoto that borders Osaka, an area from which former Gamba youth team prodigies Akihiro Ienaga (a winger formerly with Mallorca, but now at Kawasaki Frontale) and Usami hail from. He spent time with Gamba’s Junior Youth team between the ages of 12-15 prior to heading over to Shizuoka to develop his skills further within the shadow of Mount Fuji. Slightly older is 25-year-old left-back Keisuke Kurokawa, a player who’s shone among the gloom this season. Previously known as more of an attacking, wing-back type, he’s solidified the defensive side of his game and displaced long-standing incumbent Hiroki Fujiharu thanks to a string of assured displays. He’s been linked with a move to Europe on numerous occasions this year, though, in all honesty, I’m sceptical over how much truth there was in any of those rumours. He remains someone worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.
Q. Who would you regard as Gamba Osaka’s biggest or historical rivals?
Most Gamba fans would label the Saitama-based Urawa Red Diamonds as the club’s biggest rivals and the two teams play out what is known as the ‘National Derby’. Both sides are founding members of the J.League having taken part in its inaugural season back in 1993. The feud stems from the historical rivalry between Kanto (the area containing and surrounding Tokyo) and Kansai (the area containing and surrounding Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto) which is probably played out most famously through the bitter rivalry between Hanshin Tigers (Osaka/Kobe) and Yomiuri Giants (Tokyo) in professional baseball. Both Gamba and Urawa are among the country’s traditional powerhouses and have clashed on numerous occasions in important fixtures. Things have even turned ugly off the field in the past, something which is pretty rare in this part of the world. Prefectural neighbours Cerezo Osaka are another rival and while Gamba have dominated fixtures between the two for most of their history, the Cherry Blossoms have taken revenge and then some in the past few seasons. This rivalry has certainly heated up in recent years, but I still think most Nerazzurri fans feel more strongly about Urawa than they do about Cerezo, who kind of fall into the category of, people in other countries dislike neighbouring clubs, so we should too.
Outside of that, there was a bit of genuine heat between Gamba and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the wake of a controversial end to a championship decider in 2015, though that seems to have completely calmed down now. And finally, it’s probably worth mentioning, both league tussles with Vissel Kobe this season were tainted by controversy, which may be the spark for a more intense rivalry between two teams who officially play in the ‘Hanshin Derby,’ something that has been more of a convenient away day for both sets of supporters rather than a bona fide derby up until this point.
Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this season has gone?
Lots of negative comments to follow I’m afraid. Despite a hugely impressive 2-0 win away to champions-in-waiting Yokohama F. Marinos in round 32, with just two fixtures remaining, Gamba are currently third-bottom of J1 which would mean an end-of-season relegation playoff, though they could slip into the automatic drop-zone if Shimizu S-Pulse win their upcoming game in hand. How did one of the biggest clubs in Japan turn into relegation fodder? In an earlier answer I talked about the success-laden tenure of Akira Nishino from 2002-2011, well Gamba followed that up with the appointment of an unqualified Brazilian coach, José Carlos Serrão. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, his tenure was rather predictably awful and led to the club’s first-ever relegation at the end of 2012, despite a spirited fightback under caretaker boss Masanobu Matsunami in the second half of the year. The Nerazzurri blitzed J2 in 2013, losing just 5 times in 42 outings under new manager Kenta Hasegawa. Hasegawa then masterminded the 2014 domestic treble as well as a run to the semi-finals of the ACL in 2015 coupled with another Emperor’s Cup success. Gamba participated in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions of the Asian Champions League before internal wrangling saw Hasegawa announce he’d be departing for FC Tokyo at the end of the 2017 season.
The Nerazzurri have largely been a mid to lower-mid-table side since the summer of 2017, save for an incredible 9-match winning run at the end of 2018 and a 2nd place finish amid the chaos that was the Covid-affected 2020 campaign. Both of those came under the stewardship of former Samurai Blue captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto who was then dismissed in early 2021 following a less-than-stellar start to the year. Former assistant to both Nishino and Hasegawa, Tomohiro Katanosaka was the man chosen to lead the Nerazzurri in 2022 after taking Oita Trinita from J3 to J1 and keeping them there despite having one of the lowest budgets in the division. Things went poorly from the get-go with Covid outbreaks, injuries to key players, poor finishing, crucial late goals being conceded, and VAR sticking the boot in regularly just to round out the misery. Veteran boss Hiroshi Matsuda is currently at the helm on a caretaker basis. With winnable-looking remaining fixtures versus Júbilo and Kashima to come, Gamba certainly have a fighting chance of staying up. However, at present, their status for 2023 remains perched on a knife-edge.
Q. Looking at Gamba’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?
I’ve only really been following Gamba since 2013 and prior to that, the club defeated Adelaide United to win the 2008 Asian Champions League, winning 3-0 at home and 2-0 away. Those must have been special occasions for the Nerazzurri fans in attendance! Lifting the J1 title on the last day of the 2005 season after a 4-2 win at Kawasaki was one of the most iconic moments in Japanese footballing history as five teams entered the last day with a chance to win the league (that’s right, five!) Although Gamba came out on the wrong end of the result, the 5-3 defeat to a Ronaldo and Rooney-inspired Manchester United in the semi-finals of the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup perhaps introduced Yasuhito Endō and the Nerazzurri to a global audience.
AFC’s Highlights of the 2008 AFC Champions League Final on YouTube:
- 1st Leg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9O7krtebpQ
- 2nd Leg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6lMwMpYlmY
During my time as a fan, the 2014 treble-winning campaign would take some topping. Gamba were crowned champions following a tense 0-0 draw away to already relegated Tokushima Vortis on the last day, but the stage was set thanks to a 2-0 win at title rivals Urawa in round 32 with the goals coming via counter-attacks in the 88th and 93rd minutes, that was most definitely an unforgettable day for all of a Gamba persuasion. Coming from 2-0 behind to defeat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 and lift the League Cup as well as completing the treble with a 3-1 victory over J2 side Montedio Yamagata were also huge moments in the club’s history and that iconic season where they were promoted, started poorly, and then pulverised the opposition after the World Cup break, was and forever will be, the stuff of legends.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the history of the club?
Gamba regularly delivers good kits, but I’m going to stay loyal to the first one I ever owned, the 2013 home uniform. That one broke with tradition slightly and had vertical blue stripes of different shades and only a small number of black stripes. Although the club were in the second tier and therefore 2013 probably represents one of the lowest points in Gamba’s history, this kit will always hold a special place in my heart. Also, since 2017 Gamba have turned one of their league fixtures into a one-off ‘Expo’ game in which the team wear a unique home jersey and fans get a version of it upon entering the stadium (the Panasonic Stadium is located within the grounds of the 1970 Osaka World Expo Park, hence the name). The club’s highest-ever home attendance was during the 2019 edition when they drew 1-1 with Júbilo Iwata in front of 37,334 spectators. There have been some weird and wonderful Expo kit designs, with the 2018, 2021, and 2022 efforts all worth taking a look at. Gamba have a terrible record in fixtures played when wearing a special top, so if I could only nominate one shirt, it’d be the 2018 version as that match resulted in a 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima, with the only goal of the game being scored by current Olympiacos forward (on loan from Nottingham Forest) Hwang Ui-jo (Gamba plucked Hwang out of the South Korean second division and his 2-year stint in Osaka paved the way for him to become a star in European football).
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Nerazzurri?
As someone who grew up cheering for Ayr United and Scotland, supporting a team that actually wins games, or should I say used to win games, quite often initially came as something of a shock. I’m a lower league fan at heart and when I started following Gamba they were in J2, so the 2014 treble and then the 2016 move into the majestic 40,000-capacity Panasonic Stadium Suita both came as quite the jolt to the system, but in a good way. I guess though, as a fan of a ‘big’ team, rival supporters are always ready with a jibe or three when things don’t go your way, like has been happening this season and last. If it’s all good-natured I don’t mind, though there have been a few occasions this year where I feel people have overstepped the mark a little bit on Twitter. The first word in my bio is ‘unofficial’ and I’m just a fan writing a blog out of my spare room after my day job is done. I’m not really willing to have others download their frustrations on me. I don’t pick the team, I don’t train the team, I don’t sign the players, and I don’t decide the game plan, yet still, some people come at me saying things like “I saw Jiro Nakamura score against Guam U-19, why are Gamba wasting him?” (this isn’t a direct quote, more just paraphrasing several comments from non-Gamba fans). I know that sounds like a moan, so I should point out that since I started following Gamba I’ve met lots of good people, either in person or online, and if anyone reading this piece is considering Japan as a future travel destination now that Covid restrictions are being lifted, I can’t recommend it highly enough! Please come, not just to Gamba, but go anywhere, even Urawa, Cerezo, Kobe, Hiroshima…you’ll have a fantastic time, I promise!
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Gamba Osaka?
In the short term, maintaining J1 status for 2023 is of paramount importance for the club. Beyond that, I’d like to see a managerial appointment that excites the fans, someone in the Nishino mould who has a clear vision of the type of football they want Gamba to play. I’d like to see that style implemented from the first team down through the youth teams. Furthermore, there needs to be far more cohesion between the front office and the coaching staff so we don’t end up with the bloated squad we have at present where the players available are capable of fitting into numerous formations, but unable to master any of them. And finally, as if this wish list isn’t long enough already, more young talents getting regular minutes in the top team. Nakamura, Sakamoto, and Hiroto Yamami have looked good in spells and young Rihito Yamamoto, a Japan U-23 international and Paris Olympics candidate, has joined recently. We also have the aforementioned Minamino and Takahashi stepping up next year and exciting Hosei University left-back Ibuki Konno coming in for 2024. There are always gems to be found in and around Kansai and I hope the club continue to harvest them and boost their already solid reputation for youth development. Now that’s not a lot to ask Santa for, is it?
A massive thank you to Blog Gamba, for answering our questions on the J1 side, and former Asian continental champions Gamba Osaka. Remember you can find Blog Gamba‘s excellent blog and social media accounts in the links towards the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.
[…] Gamba’s past, present and future for his “The Club Scene” blog series, you can check it out here if you haven’t already. Last week I also wrote about 15 gifted rookies who’ve appeared in J1 […]