Despite failing to pick up a win in either of his first two games as Japan manager, Javier Aguirre looks like he can breathe new life into a team that has been stagnating… (日本語版はこちらです： http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/09/13/post49117/)
With just a couple of weeks to pick his first squad and a handful of training sessions to drill those who made the cut, the results from Javier Aguirre’s first two games in charge of Japan are largely meaningless.
A defeat to Uruguay – by way of two defensive errors – and a draw with Venezuela would both have been believable outcomes had Alberto Zaccheroni still been at the helm, and it will take a while – most likely until after the Asian Cup – before we have a true sense of how ‘Aguirre Japan’ differs from ‘Zac Japan’.
There are some early indications as to how the Samurai Blue’s new boss works though, and it is clear that intricate preparation is key to the Mexican.
Speaking after the loss to Uruguay in Sapporo, Keisuke Honda commented that, “I feel that the harmony of the team is really important to him,” and this also came across as Aguirre announced his first squad at JFA House on August 28th.
“A game is 90 minutes,” he said. “Within any one game the ball is only in play for between 45 and 48 minutes; around half the time. On the pitch there are 22 players and one ball. As an average that means each player has the ball for around two minutes. For 88 minutes they don’t have the ball. I watch what the players are doing in those 88 minutes they don’t have the ball. I’m watching their commitment to the team, their responsibility for the team, the way they think about the team.”
Such attention to detail may well be what saw the likes of Takashi Usami and Hiroshi Kiyotake left out in favour of the more industrious and unselfish Yoshinori Muto and Junya Tanaka. Both Usami and Kiyotake are fine players, but aside from their two minutes of creativity when they have the ball neither are renowned for putting in a shift going the other way.
Aguirre is focusing carefully on his selections at the moment in order to make sure he is sending the right men into battle. He may eventually opt to decorate the team with a little sparkle and creativity but initially it is clear that he wants to be confident that he has a core of trusty foot-soldiers in place.
The less savoury side of the game – intelligent fouls, intimidating opponents, time wasting – also appears to be important for the former Espanyol boss, and he gave a fascinating insight into what he expects of his team in a recent interview with fifa.com in which he bemoaned the lack of picardia (streetwiseness) in Japanese players. (http://www.fifa.com/world-match-centre/news/newsid/243/719/6/index.html?intcmp=fifacom_hp_module_news)
“Less and less football is played out on the street – back in my day we learned the game in between dodging cars, or in the schoolyard, whereas now the game’s taught more rigidly,” he said. “But you have to try and add a touch of picardía, while staying within the rules of course. I’m talking about the players not giving up lost causes and knowing how to ‘manage the result’. I don’t mean cheating or kicking people, but just making sure your opponents know you’re really in the game.
“I’m talking about when you’re winning in the 85th minute, you go and retrieve the ball more slowly, you take short corners, you tie your laces… That way you use up valuable seconds without breaking the rules. What can the ref do about it? You need to have that picardía, while of course staying within the rules.”
That is a trait almost entirely lacking in the Japanese game – as we saw when Hiroki Mizumoto opted not to commit a smart foul on Alejandro Guerra when 40 yards from goal, instead delaying and delaying before ultimately giving Venezuela a penalty – but it is absolutely vital at the highest level of international football where you need to do anything you can to gain an advantage over your opponent.
While he does pay attention to the small details, however, Aguirre seems less concerned than Zaccheroni was with how his team is perceived by others. ‘Playing our football’ was the key catchphrase for ‘Zac Japan’, but Aguirre isn’t especially preoccupied with the way his team plays as long as they emerge victorious.
“In terms of the style I am aiming for, it is a style which will take us up,” he said after the Venezuela match. “I would rather play a style that is not deemed to be ‘good’ but that takes us into the top 20 teams in the world than play a style that is perceived as ‘good’ but be ranked 44th. I don’t really place any importance on what style we play. More important than that is to play better, to win, and to move up.”
Such a win-at-all costs mentality is just what the national team needs after the disappointment of the World Cup, and I for one look forward to watching a more direct, aggressive, and, hopefully, passionate team over the coming months and years.