Here is the second part of my interview with Alan Wilkie, who has just concluded a stint as Top Referee Instructor for the JFA. It appeared in Weekly Soccer Magazine on the 23rd November.
In last week’s column former English Premier League referee Alan Wilkie provided his opinions on the stadiums, fans and players in Japan. Having come here to assist in referee development though, what are his thoughts on the men in the middle?
Well, upon arrival a year and a half ago, some differences were immediately clear.
“Referees would not manage or engage with the players – communication was a big problem. My initial impression was that referees in Japan referee in isolation, they are not part of the game they are peripheral to the game. That was one of the main things we had to break down as a team of coaches.”
How did the Japanese officials take to being told what they were doing wrong though?
“Once people recognised that I had something to offer the support and the camaraderie in the JFA refereeing team was very good. There are some very good people working in the JFA.
“What I try to do is influence people, I don’t tell anybody anything. I try to persuade them and give them a good example.”
The biggest problem, he believes, lies not in the ability of the officials, but in their confidence.
“The issue in Japan is that most of the referees are very, very self-conscious and self-deprecating. I will not allow the de-brief to be ‘you did this wrong, you did this wrong’. The way that I de-brief is that I get people to accept that they may have been able to do things a little better, and it works.”
Increased confidence results in increased respect – something Alan does not believe Japanese referees receive much of at the moment.
“In Japan, cautions mean nothing. You can tell nobody cares by the demeanour of the player when the referee’s cautioning him, he’ll just walk away and wave his hand. That shows complete disrespect and I’m trying to get the referees to change the yellow to a second yellow and red because it’s dissent.”
Diving and other gamesmanship is also on the rise, but Alan is surprisingly not totally against this.
“It doesn’t matter whether I think it’s negative or not, this is football. If the J.League wishes to be in the top 10, or perhaps the top 5, in the world, they will have to be able to compete and deal with exaggeration, overreaction and gamesmanship.”
2010 was a fantastic year for one J.League referee – Yuichi Nishimura, who was 4th official at the World Cup Final – and Alan is very proud of the 38-year-old’s achievement.
“Nishimura was my best pupil. The way that he handles and uses his body and the way that he engages with players is European. That’s why he’s a success.”
He also has a lot of respect for his boss, Yasuhiro Matsuzaki.
“[He] has football and refereeing at heart. His vision is to see football in Japan develop into a European style. I admire his vision very much and think he’s much-maligned and much misunderstood.”
So, as his time here comes to a close, what are his final thoughts?
“The best thing is seeing progress, seeing success, seeing referees develop. [But]I’m not finished! This is ongoing. I keep saying to the referees that if you sit and look at the good things you’ve done you’ll be left behind. Keep going.”
And has he learned anything to take back to England with him?
“I’m taking away masses and masses of training techniques because in Japan the methods of training leave England way behind. Every time they do a practical training session there’s two football teams there. In England we pretend and make referees be players, can you believe that?!”
Recent changes at the top of Japanese football also encourage him, and he expects big things of the game here in the future.
“There is a change of chairman in the J.League and I have great faith in his vision. [Kazumi Ohigashi] gives me the impression of being a man of integrity and direction.”
“Junji Ogura; I have great aspirations for him. I think he will be monumental in the development of football. Great vision and also an extremely nice man. Sometimes they don’t go hand in hand, but I think with him you will get results. I quite seriously have great hope for Japan, I really do.”