Fabio Capello didn’t enjoy much succes with England and recently called an end to his spell in charge. Alberto Zacchroni’s time in Japan has gone a lot more smoothly…
The only thing that the Japanese and English national teams had in common of late was the fact that the head coach of both sides was Italian.
While the Samurai Blue have gone from strength to strength under Alberto Zaccheroni and firmly established themselves as Asia’s top side, England have trudged from mediocre display to scandal and back again on Fabio Capello’s watch.
At the start of the month the former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach finally decided that enough was enough and handed in his resignation.
The reason he gave for his departure was the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy because of his upcoming trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – younger brother of Terry’s long-time central-defensive partner for England, Rio.
Capello claimed to be angry that the resolution was made without his approval and quit on principle. At the time of writing that means the Three Lions have neither a manager or a captain, with the European Championships just four months away – although Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is clear favourite to take over in the role that Sir Alex Ferguson has described as a ‘poisoned chalice’.
There have been suggestions that Capello merely used the latest furore concerning the Chelsea defender as an excuse to escape, with players, fans and the media never taking to his dictatorial approach and frequently bemoaning his basic grasp of English.
I for one wouldn’t particularly blame him if that was the case, and think that this last complaint in particular nicely sums up the malaise surrounding English football.
As much talk as there is about the game developing and opening up to different ways of thinking it is still a very rigid institution which, when combined with the huge egos of many of the members of the national team and the bitter rivalries that exist between the teammates’ clubs, shows very little sign of improving anytime soon.
Last time I checked, Alberto Zaccheroni doesn’t speak Japanese, but a very different culture here means that has never become an issue – nor should it.
At the end of last year I was interviewed by the TV show ‘Foot!’, and was asked what my thoughts were concerning the future of the Japanese national team.
I answered then, and stand by the claim, that I can see the side going on to become better than my nation in the next three or four World Cups.
The reasons for this are threefold: Firstly, the professional game here has the huge benefit of still being incredibly young. In the early stages of development improvement can be made on a steeper incline than a country which has a long history – as former Shimizu S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol coach Steve Perryman once explained to me.
“If you’re managing the Brazil national team, to improve them 1% is very difficult,” he said.
“Because of where Japan have come from they can improve 7, 8%, or 10%. There’s an improvement gap to go into and they are the best people to find it. And the other people aren’t getting away from them, they’re coming closer all the time.”
Secondly, the structure of youth development here is fantastic and the organisation and facilities for aspiring players are superb.
Finally – and most importantly – Japanese culture encourages the desire to learn, and players here are ready, willing and able to pick up ideas from coaches and teammates from all over the world.
English football, on the other hand, has a long and distinguished history which certainly brings added pressure – and, according to Perryman’s theory, less room for improvement.
Add to this a fairly basic and inflexible approach to the youth game, and a generation of players whose main principles are centred around “getting stuck in” and the lack of progression doesn’t look so surprising.
With that in mind, perhaps a more ‘old-school’ style coach like Redknapp is better suited to the position, and may earn respect more readily from the players.
Quite whether such an attitude is for the best in the long run is certainly up for debate though.
Temporary improvement may take place, but until longer-term changes are made Japan will keep edging closer and closer – and may soon overtake.