This season has seen Japanese coaches further display their credentials in J1, suggesting that the first generation of J.League players were making plenty of notes as the game took off in Japan… 日本語版はこちらです
Take a look at the top half of the J1 table. Specifically, consider who is in charge of the teams making up the top eight.
Urawa Reds aside, seven of the teams are led by relatively young Japanese coaches, with Yahiro Kazama’s Kawasaki Frontale sitting pretty at the top of the rankings on 28 points (albeit having played a couple of games more than Mihailo Petrovic’s Reds, who are just two points behind in third), while Masatada Ishii has Kashima Antlers second on 27.
Hiroki Shibuya (Omiya Ardija, 4th), Takahiro Shimotaira (Kashiwa Reysol, 5th), Kenta Hasegawa (Gamba Osaka, 6th), Hiroshi Nanami (Jubilo Iwata, 7th), and Hajime Moriyasu (Sanfrecce Hiroshima, 8th) have their sides occupying the next five places, which offers an interesting insight into the development of Japanese coaching.
Aside from Shibuya, the other six coaches all played in the J.League in its early years, meaning they are the first generation of Japanese players-turned-coaches to have been produced in a professional football culture.
Indeed, Moriyasu and Hasegawa have demonstrated just how much attention they were paying on and off the pitch in their playing days by leading their clubs to each of the last four J1 championships, and the continuing emergence of more of their peers suggests that the pattern may be continuing for some time yet.
Ishii and Shimotaira have both steadied the ships and then some since taking over the reins from Brazilian coaches at their clubs, while Shibuya and Nanami have carried on where they left off after securing promotion from J2 last season.
The fact that players from that era are beginning to exhibit a talent as leaders comes as no surprise to Stuart Baxter, and when I interviewed the former Hiroshima and Vissel Kobe boss at the start of the year he identified a key change which took place as the game in Japan professionalized in the mid-1990s.
“At that time traditional coaching was very Spartan – it was ‘hard work will solve everything’ and ‘work hard on your techniques,’” he said. “It was a little bit of the martial arts style; do it day after day after day and you’ll become perfect.”
Baxter and others like him were able to use their experience to bring in new kinds of training though, with many of the players taking to these new approaches keenly and clearly keeping notes for a later date.
“I sort of brought in a different idea,” Baxter explained. “It was more functional coaching, tactical nuances that probably weren’t as common before.
“I think that opened a door for a lot of the players, it opened a world that they’d not been experiencing. At Sanfrecce I think that’s why we were successful, and a lot of those players have gone into coaching.”
Moriyasu is one of those who played under Baxter, and while Sanfrecce have gotten off to a relatively slow start this season, with three J1 titles in four years his pedigree as a coach shouldn’t be underestimated.
Another pupil from that Hiroshima side is Kazama, who has gradually moulded Kawasaki into a free-flowing, attacking team who look capable of finally shaking off their nearly-men tag this season by picking up some silverware.
Petrovic and Reds look like being the key obstacle between Kazama and the J1 title at the moment, but the Serbian was full of compliments for his opposite number after the teams squared off at Todoroki back in April.
“I want to praise Kawasaki’s coach, Kazama,” he declared at the end of one of his now-trademark lengthy press conferences.
“He is doing great work here, and has been building a really attacking, exciting team to watch for the past few years. I would like to see more coaches like him in the J.League. I’m already 60 and think it would be great if more young coaches emerge who are aiming to play attacking football.
“I don’t think playing with five at the back – or in some cases nine at the back – and picking up results in that way is worthy of praise,” Petrovic continued. “In order to increase interest in Japanese football, the quality of play has to improve. We have to produce games for the people watching to enjoy.”
That is something that the new school of Japanese coaches seem to fully understand, and none of the teams currently sat in the top eight can be accused of playing negative or defensive football.
Moriyasu and Hasegawa have shown that it is possible to tie such an approach in with picking up titles, and you wouldn’t rule out Kazama – or another of his contemporaries – from following in their footsteps this season.