Unwanted in Italy, struck down by the dreaded metatarsal curse, lambasted for crimes against soccer in Nuremburg, and subjected to a torrent of abuse from his own fans during training.
Atsushi Yanagisawa is unlikely to remember 2006 with much fondness.
But the 29-year-old World Cup striker says he has put arguably the worst season of his career behind him and is determined to help bring the glory days back to Kashima Antlers.
“Last year obviously was an incredibly difficult year for me both mentally and physically,” Yanagisawa said.
“What happened in Italy and also at the World Cup affected me in a big way and there were certain things that were difficult to recover from.”
“But I’ve been able to recharge my batteries in the offseason and I am refreshed and raring to go,” said Yanagisawa.
“Now I want to produce good performances and score goals. I don’t want to be running around and getting nowhere. That’s what it will feel like if there is no end product.”
After a nightmare spell in Italy that failed to yield a single goal with both Sampdoria and Messina, Yanagisawa was shipped back to Kashima at the start of World Cup year but looked set for an upturn in fortunes when he scored a hat trick on the opening day of the season against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
But disaster struck just a few weeks later when he sustained a broken metatarsal in his right foot. That didn’t stop Japan coach Zico taking a gamble and including Yanagisawa in his World Cup squad even though he was not fully fit, and it proved to be an ill-advised move as the striker struggled in Germany.
He suffered the ignominy of making what was widely regarded as the miss of the tournament as Japan drew 0-0 with Croatia in Nuremburg and incurred the wrath of Japanese fans watching an open practice session before the Asian champions went on to make a first-round exit.
Yanagisawa’s situation showed little sign of improving back at Kashima and he found himself left on the bench with increasing regularity toward the end of last term.
Still, a fitter, happier Yanagisawa says the rest has done him the power of good and he is looking forward to teaming up with new strike partner Marquinhos, and hopefully producing the goals that will help bring the Antlers their first league crown since 2001.
“The target for the team is obviously to win a trophy this season. Kashima have won nine (domestic) trophies in the past but (most of) the current team haven’t won anything. The most important thing for the younger players and also for the club is for them to experience winning a title.”
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