Culture Club (World Cup)

‘Football culture’ is not something that can easily be appropriated – or, in fact, defined – but practising the same philosophy you preach undoubtedly helps to foster enthusiasm around a team… (Also available in English here / 日本が番はこちらです)

Football Channel, December 25th, 2015

Zheng Zhi described appearing at the Club World Cup as “very interesting”, and while the tournament is not a competition in the truest sense of the word – the gulf between Europe’s super-clubs and the rest of the world is vast and seemingly expanding every year – anyone who witnessed the River Plate fans in action would struggle to disagree with Guangzhou Evergrande’s captain.

The opportunity to play against different teams from far-flung parts of the globe is undoubtedly a positive for the majority of the teams involved, and the word ‘experience’ was thrown around constantly throughout the competition. Another buzzword that cropped up was ‘culture’.

“By looking at the atmosphere generated by the River Plate supporters, now I feel like Japan also should enhance its football culture to learn from the countries which have more history of football,” Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu said after his team’s narrow 1-0 semi-final defeat to River.

Picking up aspects from other styles of football has always been how the game has developed around the world, but that kind of fanatical support is not something that can just be manufactured overnight. Instead it needs to be nurtured – and allowed to grow – over time. “River is my life,” was a phrase heard frequently from the Argentinian fans who had traveled the nearly 19,000 kilometres to follow their club, and that sense of dedication stems from a belonging which stretches back generations.

There are signs that Sanfrecce, for one, is on the right path though, as pride in the way a team performs is fundamental to producing such die-hard support.

Barcelona provides the perfect case in point, and has established itself as the go-to club for anyone wanting to follow a team that wins in style.

“Not only winning the title, it’s very important how we achieved it here,” Luis Enrique said after his players tiki-taka’d River into submission in the final. “If you are football fans everybody wants their club to get the title, but how to reach that title, the process is very important to me.

“In all levels of Barcelona teams they’re all aiming for the same goal, and that’s the reason why we’re able to improve our levels.”

River Plate fans take over Dotonbori, Osaka - Tuesday 15th December, 2015

To remain so steadfast in that belief you have to have confidence in the process.

“Football is 11 against 11 on the pitch,” Paulinho said after Guangzhou beat Mexico’s most successful side Club America in the quarter-finals. “Outside everyone was saying that America will go to the semi-final, but I’ve played football for I don’t know how many years and I know what happens on the pitch. You don’t have to talk before the game, just play on the pitch.”

His coach Luiz Felipe Scolari touched upon a similar topic after that victory.

“I want my squad to believe in the fact that they have the possibility to win against Barcelona,” he said. “My next job is to win over my squad, for my players to believe in the possibility – it’s not impossible.”

Ahead of possibly the biggest match in the club’s history, Moriyasu also made it clear that he believes in the team he has built in Hiroshima, when he insisted that they would go toe-to-toe with River Plate.

“Our concept and style will not be changed and we will continue to perform as we have in the next match,” he said before the semi-final. Those weren’t just empty sentiments, either, and the Purple Archers followed thorough by playing patient, confident, counter-attacking football against the Copa Libertadores champions, and very nearly beating them.

“Barcelona is another world, but we can play with everybody else,” Mihael Mikic said after he and his team had ultimately made sure of a bronze medal by beating reigning ACL champions Evergrande 2-1 in the third-place play-off.

“If you analyse all our games, in almost all games we are the better team. We maybe don’t have more ball possession than the opponent but we play our style, we play our concept, and we show the world how is our style. That is very important in this moment in soccer. If you analyse the best teams in Europe – Bayern Munich or Barcelona or Arsenal – they always have the same style, same concept.”

Football culture has many facets – whether on the pitch or in the stands – but a habit of winning while staying true to a style of playing is the surest way to gain a team following and respect. In that sense the signs are positive for Sanfrecce, who under Moriyasu are unquestionably heading down the right road.


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