When Júbilo Iwata won the last of their J. League titles in 2002, several of their biggest names were pushing the wrong side of thirty.
34-year-old striker Masashi Nakayama was joined by veteran midfielders Toshiya Fujita and Hiroshi Nanami in a vastly experienced but rapidly ageing squad, as the elder statesmen of the Shizuoka side maintained a tight grip on the squad.
Júbilo clearly needed an injection of fresh faces if they were were to continue their dominance of Asian football, but rather than see their declining veterans depart, fans instead saw top scorer Naohiro Takahara exit for the German Bundesliga.
Fast forward to 2010 and the club's crippling lack of foresight has had a dramatic knock-on effect. In a land where experience is venerated above all else, Júbilo's failure to renew their playing stocks has seen the club suffer a dramatic fall from grace.
No longer regarded as a powerhouse of Asian football, the one-time continental champions have even been overtaken by Shimizu S-Pulse as the strongest club in the region.
Average attendances have dropped to their lowest point this decade, Júbilo have not won a piece of silverware since 2003 and a new nadir was reached in 2008 when this once-proud club was forced into the relegation/promotion playoff to salvage their top-flight status at the expense of Vegalta Sendai.
Not even the form of striker Ryoichi Maeda has been enough to fire Júbilo out of their slump, after the Japan striker became the first Júbilo player since Takahara to top the goal-scoring charts while blasting home 20 goals for his struggling side last season.
Last weekend just 7,258 fans turned out at
Júbilo's compact Yamaha Stadium to witness the home side lose to Kyoto Sanga on their own turf for the first time in ten attempts, and a similar crowd figure is expected for this weekend's home clash with Gamba Osaka.
No longer the hot ticket in town,
Júbilo have gone from packing out their atmospheric stadium to playing in front of half-empty stands.
They've done so playing some of the most unattractive football around, prompting the likes of midfielder Yoshiaki Ota to simply walk out on the club, while exciting youngster Takuya Matsuura has inexplicably spent more time on the bench than on the pitch.
Things don't look like changing any time soon under the guidance of conservative coach Masaaki Yanagishita - who played for
Júbilo's forerunner Yamaha Motors FC - and the club's highest profile signings this season were cut-price Korean duo Lee Gang-Jin and Park Joo-Ho.
Yanagishita's side are currently anchored to the bottom of the J. League standings, and the Shizuoka outfit desperately need a change of fortune if they are to avoid a relegation dogfight in 2010.
The hardy souls who turn out on Saturday will desperately hope for three points against an out-of-sorts Gamba Osaka.
However, the days of
Júbilo Iwata dominating the J. League are long gone, and with a limited cash flow and a powerful local rival to contend with, there could be dark days ahead for one of the J. League's traditional giants.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com