CHIBA – Jesus may not love him, but striker Junya Tanaka is not looking back in anger.
Frozen out at Portuguese powerhouse Sporting Lisbon by coach Jorge Jesus, Tanaka has instead vowed to reproduce the kind of form that got him a move to Europe in the first place, after returning on loan to former J. League champions Kashiwa Reysol.
“The main objective for me now is to deliver results and score goals for the sake of the team and for me personally. I am a striker and that is my job after all,” Tanaka told Kyodo News after Reysol’s 3-0 preseason derby defeat to second-division JEF United Chiba on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Tanaka moved to Sporting in June 2014 and scored five goals in 17 league appearances in his first season.
But the arrival of Jesus last June proved to be a turning point.
Tanaka saw little action from that point onward. He played in a 1-0 win over Rio Ave on June 23 but was unused until October last year in a Portuguese Cup third-round 4-0 win away to Vilafranquense.
He went on to make just four more appearances, one in the Europa League and three in the league, the last a 1-0 defeat to Uniao on Dec. 20.
“When you don’t play for (about) six months . . . you are training while not getting used in matches, that gets you into bad shape and every day is just passing. You forget about soccer don’t you? The shelf life of a footballer is short and I thought that was the worst position to be in,” said Tanaka.
While he admits the change in coach was a “massive factor” in his lack of playing time, there was no trace of bitterness in his voice when he looked back at the time he spent in Portugal and says he gained confidence from his first season at Sporting.
“I responded well, but (a lot) depends on your coach,” he said earlier this month on his return to Reysol. “(Jesus) was demanding higher quality and tried to get great players, quick strong players rather than put his trust in the ones he already had when he arrived.
“But that is soccer. I’m under no illusions. It’s all part and parcel of the job. I thought if I can’t play there, then it is better to be at a club where I can play.”
Tanaka’s return is a boost for Reysol, who ahead of the new season have lost a number of key personnel who helped the club win the J. League title in their first season back in the top flight in 2011.
Goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno has moved to Kyoto Sanga and former Japan striker Masato Kudo, from whom Tanaka inherits the No. 9 shirt, is trying his luck with MLS club Vancouver Whitecaps.
London Olympic defender Daisuke Suzuki has also left, while Brazilian striker Cristiano has returned to Ventforet Kofu.
“I am really fired up,” said Tanaka. “I want to show that I can get the job done in every training session, not forget what I learned in Portugal and give 100 percent.”
The language skills Tanaka picked up in Portugal will also be an added bonus, with Brazilian coach Milton Mendes taking charge of the team after Tatsuma Yoshida stepped down after one year in charge and moved to Albirex Niigata.
“I can speak to the coach directly and I have conveyed to him directly my feelings, that I want us to win the league,” he said. “The coach spent a long time in Portugal so it is easy to imagine what he wants.”
Asked whether his ultimate goal is to get back to Europe, Tanaka said he was just focused on the task at hand.
“I don’t know what the future holds but I just have to work hard every day,” he said. “The fruit of the hard work I put in was what got me a move to Europe in the first place. As long as I am here I just have to get the job done and am not looking beyond that right now.”
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