Shoki Hirai may return to Banpaku next season following the completion of his loan to Albirex Niigata.

The striker’s time in Niigata was not as fruitful as he may have liked. He made a total of 21 appearances in the league for Albirex but of those only 4 were starts and over a third lasted 10 minutes or less. He failed to find the net once in any of those appearances.

His Gamba career was slow to start but he finally seemed to be living up to his label as “the Thierry Henry of Naniwa” in 2010 when he netted 20 goals but his decline came just as swiftly and by the end of 2011 he was struggling to even make the bench with youngsters such as Shota Kawanishi and Afonso being picked ahead of him.

If he returns he will have to work hard to regain his place but a season in J2 may be just what he needs to recapture that 2010 form.