They’ve been everpresent in the top flight since joining the J.league in 1994, but it looks like the game is up for Jubilo Iwata…
The appointment of Takashi Sekizuka at the end of May was supposed to be the move which saved Jubilo Iwata from the relegation scrap and edged them back up to where they belong – in the middle reaches of the J1 table.
It is now almost four months since the former Kawasaki Frontale and London 2012 Olympic coach took over, however, and it looks very much like Jubilo’s race has been run. With just a quarter of the season left to play they realistically have to win the majority of their games as well as needing both Shonan Bellmare and Ventforet Kofu to capitulate on the final straight.
Their story is not unique, and in recent seasons a certain stasis has seen numerous established clubs flirt with or succumb to relegation from the top flight. The biggest profile was obviously Gamba Osaka last year – who were ironically relegated courtesy of a 2-1 defeat by Jubilo on the last day of the season – but Urawa Reds in 2011 and FC Tokyo in 2010 have also had spells battling at the wrong end of the table.
In a recent conversation with a former J.League coach the importance of keeping players’ tension at the right level was discussed; too much stress and they are likely to be nervous and make mistakes, too relaxed and they will lack the necessary concentration or respect for the opposition and be caught out. To me, this is the key contributing factor to the woes of clubs like Jubilo.
With nine games to go last season they were sitting in 4th place, just six points behind leaders and eventual champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The players began to coast, however, not driven enough to take their challenge all the way to the wire but not afraid enough of dropping down to J2, and eventually finished 12th, avoiding relegation by just seven points. That can’t be attributed to tactics or players’ ability, that is down to motivation and concentration.
Things haven’t improved on that front this season, despite the squad being largely unchanged, and the win over Kashiwa Reysol in Round 25 was just their third all season, and first away from home for almost exactly one year.
One player who does look like he is up for the fight is recently-acquired midfielder Carlinhos, who was at the heart of all of Jubilo’s good play in the win over Reysol.
“Of course last year I had experience (of battling and surviving relegation) with Omiya and I hope that I can contribute to Jubilo’s survival as well,” he told me after the match. “Winning puts us on the right track and […] becomes a feeling that we want to repeat.”
As well as battling for and creating with the ball, the Brazilian also demonstrated his desire to succeed in a heated exchange towards the end of the match with Reysol coach Nelsinho.
“Of course it was in the final stage of the game so both of us were tense and fired up, that’s just normal,” he explained. “Those kind of things happen.”
It is all too rare an occurrence for Jubilo though, and looks like being too little, too late. A few more players showing Carlinhos’ passion could very well have saved them from their current peril.
“Behind our desire to win the desire to protect what we have has also been pulling away,” Yuichi Komano admitted of the team’s inability to see out victories in the league this year. “There have been many times when that has been our undoing. Because of that we haven’t been able to put pressure on the ball and have lost the initiative and then conceded goals.”
They managed to overcome such fears against Reysol and take all three points, something they will need to do repeatedly over the next two months.
“We believe that we can survive,” Komano insisted. “There is pressure but we have to put that to one side and we have to win [our games].”
Another experienced Japan star, Yasuhito Endo, said almost exactly the same thing to me towards the end of the 2012 season. We all know what happened to him and his Gamba teammates though, and it looks like the same fate is set to befall Komano and co. this year.