Eiji Kawashima understandably wants to move up a level after an impressive season with Lierse SK in the Belgian First Division. As a ‘keeper being Number 1 at a lesser club is usually preferable to being Number 2 at a bigger one though…
During the Kirin Cup I attended several Japan training sessions and while everyone else was busying themselves with notes on 3-4-3 and Zac’s stop-start efforts to get the players to understand the tricky new formation, my gaze was drawn to the other end of the pitch where the goalkeepers were being put through their paces by Maurizio Guido.
It wasn’t only Signor Guido’s enthusiastic motivational cries that drew me to his session though, with Japan’s No. 1 Eiji Kawashima giving as good as he got.
Something I have noticed in Japan is the relative lack of verbal communication on the pitch. There may be the odd call here and there but the players generally move about almost silently, seemingly relying on little more than telepathic understanding or by following the routines practiced in training to the letter.
The former Kawasaki Frontale stopper was flinging himself about his six-yard box, yelling with every step, dive and catch though, and the concentration on his face was no different to that seen during matches.
Being so vocal is an absolutely vital aspect of goalkeeping, something that the Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech made clear after his side’s clash with the Samurai Blue at Nissan Stadium.
“You need to communicate with everybody around,” he said, “because a big part of goalkeeping is to be able to organize people in front of you.”
Kawashima can certainly do this, and even in training he is anything but easy on those in front of him, constantly barking orders to get his defence in line and hassling Akihiro Ienaga for being too far forward in his new role as a defensive-midfielder.
The 28-year-old’s rapid progression over the past 12 months has unsurprisingly led to rumours of a switch to a bigger European league, with West Bromwich Albion of the Premier League his most likely destination.
Whereas outfield players can usually play in a couple of positions and be broken in gradually with substitute appearances though, this is not an option for goalkeepers. The only way they can retain their sharpness, and confidence, is by being between the posts every week.
Cech, again, had wise words to say on the matter, pointing out that a reserve goalkeeper’s chances are not only determined by their form, but also that of their rival for the jersey.
“I think it’s always better when you start as Number 1 and then you can take it from there and keep your position in the goal. If you start as Number 2 then obviously it’s more difficult, it doesn’t all really depend only on you it depends on the other goalkeeper as well.”
While a certain amount of time adapting can be afforded, too long sitting on the bench will not only harm his form but may also call his place in the national team into question, then, and Alberto Zaccheroni will certainly have a keen interest in his goalkeeper’s next move, with Eiji having been an integral part of the Italian’s unbeaten start at the helm of the national team.
The man himself is more than aware of this, but concedes that if he wants to play at the highest level he may have to take a little bit of a gamble.
“For me, always, it’s really important to play. Always,” he said after the Czech game. “Of course, I know the Premier League is a really higher level than the others, but I think I can try.”
“It depends on the situation. Even if I’m the second goalkeeper if there is a possibility to become the first, of course I can try.”
Cech agrees that a lot can be learned on the training pitch too, but maintains that too long away from the pitch can be detrimental to a goalkeeper’s career.
“It will be another experience, already being there and working every day with a team which plays Premier League.”
“You can learn always by watching as well but, as I said, if you hope to be always playing for the national team, of course it’s better when you play.”
Eiji must be careful then, and must make sure that he chooses the right club at the right time.