Shimizu S-Pulse play games to the sound of samba from their supporters. Lately the beat has slowed down for the Shizuoka side…
This year Shimizu S-Pulse once again came into a new season with more focus on what they had lost than gained, and after their first three league matches things aren’t looking especially promising.
Eternal optimist Afshin Ghotbi refused to dwell on the negatives ahead of the first game – insisting that the focus should not be on who had gone (most notably Genki Omae) but who’d arrived (primarily Bare), and even after his side needed to come from 2-0 down to eke out a point against Omiya Ardija in Round 1 he remained positive.
“We are a young team and to see this kind of heroic effort and comeback and resilience was very promising for me and our fans and I’m very excited about how we’re going to grow as a team in our future games,” he said.
That growth was stunted the next week though, when Yokohama F.Marinos obliterated S-Pulse 5-0 at Nihondaira.
The contrast between experience-laden Marinos and youthful S-Pulse laid bare the difficulties that may lie ahead for the Shizuoka side, and there have been suggestions that Ghotbi’s insistence ahead of the game that his young charges had a physical advantage over their more senior opponents may have backfired, with the Shimizu players perhaps not prepared for such dynamic opposition.
Indeed, with an average age of around 24 it does seem that S-Pulse currently lack that level of composure to not only take more from games, but also to cope with the dips and swells that occur within each match.
“It came from a tactical game to a pretty emotional game and it was just a fighting game,” Calvin Jong-a-pin surmised of the opener against Ardija. “It pretty much suits us well and we came back to 2-2 and even had two chances to make 3-2.”
Of course, such slapdash play is not especially effective in the long run, and S-Pulse under Ghotbi have always aspired to a far more attractive style of play than hoofing it long to the big man. Jong-a-pin conceded as much.
“Normally we don’t play like that. Normally we like to play organisational football and passing combination football and play between the lines but we needed to force something because we were 2-0 behind. We were just pumping in the balls and they couldn’t handle that. If it’s going well, why stop?”
Such reasoning perhaps works in the odd game, but after the humbling by Marinos it appeared as if Shimizu’s young charges were seeking solace in their more direct approach from the start in their third match, against Shonan Bellmare.
Ghotbi did not seem especially pleased about that, with his team again needing to come from behind in to take a point.
“In the first half we could not play our football, we played too many long balls and that’s why we couldn’t create the openings that we were hoping for,” he noted afterwards.
He suggested that lack of J1 experience was part of the reason they got off to such a slow start, but again professed to having high expectations for the season.
“People have to be patient, we need to build this team game by game. But I have no doubt of the potential of this team and I believe that at the end of the season when we all sit here together again we will be scratching the top.”
That looks a little far-fetched given the current situation, and his goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi suggested that the side is in desperate need of somebody to take charge out on the pitch.
“Last year’s veteran players had good quality and also good leadership but [now there are] no leaders.” He told me after the 1-1 with Shonan. “Somebody has to be a leader. We need leadership.
“[We’ve] lost confidence. I’m not nervous, I changed my mind from last year, also [from the] last game [against Marinos] – day-by-day is fresh thinking. But the last game was not a good result. You can’t [completely] change your mind.”
It is understandable that there are doubts in the changing room after such an unimpressive start to the season, and in Ghotbi S-Pulse do have a coach who knows how to inspire. He will certainly need all of his motivational skills to dig them out of their current rut.