Takashi Usami’s recent call-up to the full national team, despite not getting on the pitch in the Kirin Cup, meant he missed out on Japan Under-22’s Olympic qualifiers. While there’s no doubting the youngster’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with either decision though…
I was delighted when Takashi Usami struck his wonderful goal against Shimizu S-Pulse a couple of weekends back, as it was nice to see the young forward doing exactly what he does best; playing football. And playing it very well.
Prior to that goal he had spent two weeks in the media for doing absolutely nothing. Or, to be totally correct, for having nothing done with him.
The cause of most of this excitement was initially his first inclusion in the Samurai Blue squad for the Kirin Cup.
Despite the fact that head coach Alberto Zaccheroni made it fairly clear when announcing the squad that Usami was unlikely to feature, this did not stop the speculation and anticipation from building around him, and not a training session passed without the player and coach being asked about the chances of a debut being made.
The hype around the 19-year-old was then heightened when the rumours that have long been circulating about him signing for Bayern Munich picked up some speed. The fact that one of the biggest clubs in the world were seemingly on the verge of recruiting the player only added to the sense of confusion about his lack of participation in the games.
Then, having not gotten onto the pitch for the full-side, Usami was denied the opportunity to do so for the Under-22s in their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait – with Takashi Sekizuka’s decision not to include him in the squad again sparking much head-scratching and disbelief among the football community.
I, for one, don’t really see what the problem is though.
Firstly, while I would have liked, as a football fan, to have seen Gamba’s No. 11 take part in the Kirin Cup, I think it made perfect sense not to play him.
Zac stated that his primary motivation in calling Usami up was so that he could have the opportunity to work and speak with him over a prolonged period of time in training. He also made it clear that the player still had a lot to learn, and focused on the difference between league and international football.
If, as is expected, the player does move to Europe in the not-too-distant future then the chances to work with him for such a substantial amount of time will become fewer and farther between.
With that in mind it made perfect sense for Zac to have taken this opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Usami, and to see for himself just how much potential the player has.
It was also understandable that the coach chose to keep his impressions to himself and not to send Usami out onto the pitch, where every fan, coach and journalist would be poring over his every movement, touch, pass and shot.
Of course, coping with such attention cannot be delayed forever, and there is certainly the argument that the longer it is put off the greater the sense of expectation will be.
However, entering the fray too early could have hindered Usami’s development, with there being the chance that it could go too badly – or too well.
Imagine he had come off the bench and struck the winner against the Czech’s – ensuring victory for Japan, the Golden Boot award and, most probably – when considering that the prize is almost always given to goalscorers in Japan, regardless of how well other players perform – the MVP award for Usami.
This would have been a hell of a lot to live up to.
Of course, things could have gone in completely the opposite direction and he could have had a nightmare debut and his confidence could have taken a large knock.
While unfortunate, and no fault of his own, his absence from the U-22s is also understandable.
Sekizuka san spent 10 days working on a system with particular players and, having been with Zac and co. during that time, Usami was not around for any of those sessions.
So why recall him? Even bringing in a player as gifted as Usami could upset the balance of the side at a time when mistakes could be very costly.
It is a real shame for the player that he is currently stuck in a kind of no-man’s land between the U-22 and full national teams, but I have no doubt at all that he will get his chance sooner or later.