At a time when clubs are increasingly in search of the magic formula for instant success this year’s J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima showed that sometimes it really is slow and steady that wins the race…
First things first, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to everybody at Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Since I arrived in Japan I have visited the club several times and am delighted for the players, staff and fans that they have achieved their first ever J1 title.
Vegalta ran them close and are another club I have particular affection for, and although their football is maybe not as easy on the eye as Sanfrecce’s they would have been popular champions – particularly when considering the impact of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami on the area.
I have been a little critical of both sides throughout the course of this season for not really seizing the initiative and stamping their authority on the title race, but no other team took advantage of that hesitancy and Sanfrecce – top for the last 10 rounds of the season and in the top two consistently since Round 12 – are worthy winners.
Their success, too, acts as a wonderful example to other sides, particularly as it comes immediately after Kashiwa Reysol’s remarkable back-to-back J2 and J1 championships. Both clubs’ triumphs were earned by consistency.
Reysol laid the foundations for their 2011 title after a year dominating all comers in the second division – a season that almost amounted to one of preparation for their assault on the top flight crown the following year.
To do that the board had needed to keep faith with Nelsinho who was unable to prevent them dropping into J2 having been parachuted in midway through the 2009 season, and they received the ultimate reward for that patience last year.
Sanfrecce’s project, too, was a long time in the making.
Although they did experience a change of coach at the start of this season, Hajime Moriyasu had played for the club and worked under the previous incumbent Mihailo Petrovic between 2007 and 2009 and changed very little when taking the top job.
Indeed, Petrovic’s efforts in Hiroshima – which like Nelsinho also included a year in J2 in 2008 – are so widely regarded that Moriyasu paid tribute to his predecessor in his press conference after Sanfrecce’s 4-1 win over Cerezo Osaka that secured the title.
It was Petrovic who introduced and stuck with Hiroshima’s now trademark 3-6-1 formation, and over the past few seasons the club has refined that to edge closer to this year’s achievement. The board should be commended for sticking to their philosophy and not panicking as previous seasons saw Sanfrecce fall just short of the ultimate prize.
Makoto Teguramori paid reference to Sanfrecce’s consistent approach after Vegalta Sendai’s fatal defeat to Albirex Niigata which gifted the title to the Purple Archers.
“Hiroshima were fourth in 2009, played in the AFC Champions League in 2010 and now they are champions,” he was quoted as saying on the official J.League website.
“We will finally play in the Champions League ourselves next season and I think we’ll flourish there as a team that can be champions, too. Looking at Hiroshima’s triumph, my feeling today is that our time is yet to come.”
It is hard to argue with that reasoning.
Vegalta, like Sanfrecce and Reysol, have also built up a level of consistency over the past three seasons, and likewise have kept faith in their manager. Teguramori has just completed his fifth season in charge, two of which coincidentally – or perhaps not – were, like Nelsinho and Petrovic, spent in J2.
While several larger, richer, supposedly bigger clubs flit from manager to manager and new start to new start the long-termism of sensible clubs like Sanfrecce and Vegalta is proof that picking a coach, a style, and a philosophy and sticking to it is a far more reliable way of achieving success.
JEF United, for instance, would do well to take note of that approach. Yet again this year they missed out on a return to J1 – by just four minutes – and in response decided that the best thing to do was to change head coach. Again. Because that tactic has worked so well for them up until now, hasn’t it.
Whether Sanfrecce can maintain their current status or Vegalta can make the next step up is still open to debate, but they are certainly going about it in the right way.