9. Sayaka Obihiro (Striker)
I don’t know about you, but I love a good little-large combo up front. Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. These are the star-crossed dyads that will be etched in the annals of humankind for eternity, or at least the part of the annals that covers the Premier League in the early 2000s. As such, I would like to submit to you Sayaka Obihiro, the denchest wrestler in the company, as the team’s target woman. Her facility at giving and receiving hard shoulder blocks suggests she’ll be no slouch at holding the ball up for her teammates, leaping over an outmatched defence to power home a bullet header in the 94th minute, or even serving as an emergency centre back, like Dion Dublin before he retired to occupy the curious twin roles of TV property presenter and percussion maven.
Moreover, Obihiro is the least heralded of the Gatoh Move old guard, and as such will be eager to prove herself leading the line, to display the hidden talents within her. It’s entirely possible that she will go beyond the example set by the aforementioned Mr. Emile Ivanhoe Heskey to become a player more like Abby Wambach, who showed that you can be a physically imposing striker who’s great at holding the ball up and still score hatfuls of goals yourself: something of an alien concept to most English football fans (as, indeed, is the idea of women playing football at all).
As for who will be playing off Obihiro’s shoulder, well, we’ll get to her.
10. Mitsuru Konno (Attacking Midfielder)
The Number 10 shirt is without a doubt the most iconic in football, given an extra shot of glamour when donned by a captivating genius sitting just behind the forwards. Maradona. Zidane. Platini. The kinds of players that English football traditionally had no use for, with the coveted 10 generally going not to a continental-style playmaker but a lumbering second striker resembling one of the Kray Twins’ less intellectually-inclined heavies. I’m not much of one for the prison system, but I’m all for having everyone even tangentially responsible for Matt Le Tissier only winning eight England caps thrown in the part of Wormwood Scrubs generally reserved only for nonces and people nicknamed “Stabby Sean”. Which is to say that, all being well with the world, your club and country’s number 10 will be the beating heart of the team, the conductor dictating the tempo and telling the trombones to stop deafening the people in front, the fulcrum around which everything pivots.
Which brings us to Mitsuru Konno, whose promo following Riho’s departure to All Elite Dog Wanking powerfully and ferociously staked her claim to be the new top banana in the company. If post-Riho Gatoh Move are looking for a central figure, they could certainly do a lot worse than the dedicated, self-confident and creative Konno. While she doesn’t yet possess the intangible ace-ness of a Miyu Yamashita or Momo Watanabe, it can certainly grow from the sizeable chip on her shoulder. The best number 10s in history have all had that certain something driving them. In Zidane’s case it was a burning desire to prove that he wasn’t just another urchin from the banlieues, that he deserved to be recognised for his greatness. In Maradona’s it was coke. You want a player with the desire to take the game by the scruff of the neck and grind its face into the dirt? How about a woman who saw her company’s top wrestler leave for the States and said fine, go, I’ll do it better.
And if you’re looking for the eccentric streak that has characterised other great playmakers (Eric Cantona springs swiftly to mind here), she has a pet ferret called Cerberus. Don’t tell me she wouldn’t be good for providing the tabloids with a memorable quote. Not the Sun, though. Mitsuru Konno doesn’t forgive.
11. Mei Suruga (Striker)
Remember how good Michael Owen used to be? The Premier League Golden Boot at only 18 years old, that goal against Argentina, the (albeit fairly inexplicable) Ballon d’Or in 2001. Before he got waylaid by hamstring injuries and ended up doing nothing of note after the age of 25 on his way to becoming a walking punchline known chiefly for dry-as-dirt punditry, hawking his wares to Premier League clubs with a glossy brochure, having only seen eight films (one of which was Seabiscuit), and being castigated for over-celebrating scoring past a 13-year-old boy by Left Twitter icon and adult baby enthusiast Neville Southall.
Not all prodigies, then, burn bright for long. However, I have no worries about Mei Suruga, who at 20 years of age has only been wrestling since May 2018 and yet in that time has become one of the most dynamic and captivating wrestlers on the joshi scene today. She has more than enough speed and liveliness to recapture the glory days of Owen’s career, and enough love for her sport not to become bored with it all and get big into horse racing like he did. Owen was never better than when paired up with a target man, and I expect Mei’s strike partnership with Sayaka Obihiro to prove similarly fruitful.
Mei also fulfils a secondary role in the team. Her in-ring style can best be described as “wind-up merchant”. She takes great joy in playing mind games with her opponents: ducking behind Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s famous window only to pop up wielding some sort of wacky weapon like a stool, or wriggling out of submission holds only then to taunt the other wrestler with a cutesy pose. Even the calmest of defenders will be driven to madness and brutal, red-card-inducing retaliation if forced to spend even forty-five minutes marking our second striker. She’ll be a kawaii Diego Costa, and it’s going to be wonderful.
Manager: Antonio Honda
Standing in the dugout in his sheepskin coat and flat cap will be Antonio Honda, a close Gatoh Move associate and master tactician whose team talks are no less rousing for invariably including a story about someone or something called Gon the Fox. A wrestler equally at home main eventing Sumo Hall or dicking around in a former pharmacy, Honda would be a gaffer defined by tactical flexibility. Not for him the slavish adherence to a tempo clearly unsuited to his personnel (Maurizio Sarri) or the crowbarring of players into unnatural positions (every England manager from Don Revie onwards).
Plus, a man managing a women’s football team when there are equally well-qualified women out there? What can I say, I wanted this to be realistic.