Archive for October 12th, 2011

12
Oct
11

From Serbia to Zelvia

Machida Zelvia of the JFL have big ambitions and have appointed a heavyweight coach to help them achieve their goals. In football, as in life, the first step is usually the hardest to take though..

The last time most Japanese football fans were aware of Ranko Popovic he was in charge of Akihiro Ienaga, Mu Kanazaki and Shusaku Nishikawa at Oita Trinita.

This season the Serbian has made a low-key return to the Japanese game, taking charge of JFL side Machida Zelvia, after Naoki Soma moved on to take the reins at Kawasaki Frontale.

While the quality of player at his disposal is not quite the same this time around, Popo-san is working towards the same aim though – with a place in J1 the target for his side.

Zelvia General Manager, Tadashi Karai – who has formerly had spells in the top-flight with Shimizu S-Pulse, Tokyo Verdy, and JEF United – is delighted to have attracted such an experienced manager, and is hopeful that they can keep hold of him to achieve the club’s long-term goals.

“Of course our final aim is to go up to J1 in three-to-five years,” he told me before Zelvia’s recent game against Tochigi Uva at Nishigaoka Stadium.

“The J.League has just started the play-off system within the top six places so clubs have a chance to go from J2 to J1. Of course we want to keep Mr. Popovic for at least 5 years. This is the president’s decision.”

As well as being attracted by Popovic’s impressive stint at Trinita – although they got relegated he guided them on an unbeaten 10-game run at the end of the 2009 campaign that almost preserved their J1 place – his previous success in his homeland was also attractive to Karai-san.

“He had experience in Serbia, his club [Zlatibor Voda] got promoted from the third to the first division, so not [just] in Oita, but he already had good experience for us.”

While this achievement does appear to bode well for Machida, Popovic points out a big difference between Voda and Zelvia.

“In Serbia it was different because in that team in the 3rd division I had three or four players who’d played in the 1st division,” Popovic explained to me after the game with Uva ended 0-0.

“[That makes] a big difference. We must have players with more experience, for times like today if the ball doesn’t go in the goal.” 

Attracting them is not easy though, and as well as having to contend with J.League egos (not many are prepared to rough it in the JFL and would prefer to swan around in the comfort of a J.League satellite team) money is, of course, an issue. 

Karai-san believes that the lack of a large corporate investor at Zelvia means that more bums on seats is the best way to bolster the club’s coffers. 

“We think we need bigger attendances because we don’t have a Toyota, Nissan, Hitachi. We are originally a town club so we need bigger attendances to finance our budget.” 

Unfortunately the fickle nature of some fans makes this a tricky thing to achieve. After the draw with Uva, for example, a journalist suggested to Popovic in the press conference that some fans were pleased with the style of their team’s play, but unhappy by the lack of results. 

This led to a lengthy exchange between the reporter in question and Popovic – via his tireless translator Tsukada-san – and after the press conference had concluded the Serbian expressed his frustration at this aspect of Japanese football. 

“In Japan there’s a problem; the result is everything,” he told me. “We must try to learn to watch the football. The result is important in the end, yes, but it’s also important how you make this result, if you want to have [a good] future. 

“Who guarantees if we change something we will go [to J2], who guarantees? To change now, to work for eight months, to play beautiful football like today and then say ‘no, forget that’? 

“I want to make a team who can stay there. To make guys who can play football.” 

This is an admirable target and one which, if successful, could well provide Machida with a chance to establish themselves in the fully professional leagues. 

Finding a balance between aesthetic play and positive results is the main challenge now though, and that is perhaps the trickiest obstacle to overcome.

12
Oct
11

Japan v. Tajikistan Preview

On Tuesday night Japan played Tajikistan in their third group game in the third round of Asian qualification for Brazil 2014.

I wrote a peview ahead of the match for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found here.

12
Oct
11

Omiya, Oh My

Just one home win in the league all season has left Omiya in the relegation scrap as per-usual. Very few of their players have shone this season but the majority of the blame lies with their coach…

Back in February I was asked to provide this magazine with my predictions for the 2011 J.League season. We are not quite at the end of the campaign but I decided to revisit them recently and although some are still possible (Avispa, Ventforet, Montedio to get relegated; Grampus to win the league) others were not so successful.

The most glaring mistake was my tip for top-scorer (Antlers’ Carlao (19 goals) – oops), but I was also misguided in my suggestion that Omiya Ardija would be the dark horse.

In the six seasons since Ardija joined J1 they have always ended up in the bottom half, only once finishing more than six points above the relegation zone.

They looked to have settled last year though, and having kept hold of Rafael and also made some smart signings in Kim Young-gwon, Kota Ueda and Keigo Higashi it seemed as if they were in a position to start pushing on and establishing themselves as a steady top-flight team.

And, in a way, they have.

Their victory over Kashiwa Reysol in Round 27 meant they had the joint second-best away record in the division, taking 22 points from their games on the road and losing just four times.

Things have not gone quite so well at home, however. In fact, they have the worst record of any club in front of their own fans, winning just once at NACK5 in the league all season.

This discrepancy was pointed out to striker Rafael after his brace had secured their latest away victory in Kashiwa, and he was at a loss to account for the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the side.

“It’s difficult to explain,” the Brazilian said. “I think a lot of teams play better away this season. We play to win away and at home but we have been playing badly at home, I don’t know why.”

I have my theory, and it rests with the coach Jun Suzuki.

While not as depressing a tactician as Toshiya Miura, Suzuki is far from ambitious and seemingly sends his team out not with the aim of winning games, but of not losing them.

This is a fairly standard tactic used by many coaches for away games, when the onus is usually on the home side to attack and go for the win. As players grow tired and the pressure mounts there is always the opportunity to capitalise on a mistake or sneak one on the counter-attack – something Omiya have perfected this season.

At home, though, teams usually take control a little more, and are expected to seize the initiative. Unfortunately, instead of trusting in their talented attacking players and throwing a little caution to the wind Omiya adopt the same stance on their own patch as they do on their travels.

Suzuki’s refusal to start Naoki Ishihara sums up this conservative approach, and after Omiya’s maiden home win against Jubilo Iwata he attempted to justify the tactic as follows.

“I want to use him from the start but we have no other supersub. I tried to use [Rodrigo] Pimpao from the second half but he is not that type of player.”

So, essentially, it seems that Ishihara doesn’t start because he’s good, whereas a less adaptable player, Pimpao, gets a starting shirt because he’s a crap sub. Hmmm…

Quite why they can’t all be incorporated into the starting line-up isn’t clear.

Rafael and Ishihara would form a formidable front two, and with Keigo Higashi on the right and one of Pimpao or Lee Chun-soo on the left the side would have more than enough attacking potential to secure the ten or so wins needed to avoid relegation.

As the likes of Reysol, Sanfrecce and Cerezo have demonstrated, such a gung-ho approach does lead to a fair few defeats, but it also enables teams to turn enough draws into victories to keep them well away from the drop-zone.

Indeed, Reysol, who are challenging at the other end of the table, have not drawn at home all season; Omiya have tied seven times.

Something that is always worth bearing in mind is the fact that you get more points by winning one game and losing the next than you do for drawing both.




If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

Receive an email each time I post something new and/or interesting by...

Join 41 other followers

Back Catalogue

what day is it?

October 2011
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31