Archive for May, 2021

26
May
21

Reds gain great Dane

It is still early days, but with four goals in his first three J1 games for Urawa Reds Kasper Junker looks like he has everything needed to make a real name for himself in Saitama… (日本語版)

All eyes were on Saitama Stadium on Saturday with Vissel Kobe and, fresh from the announcement of his two-year contract extension, Andres Iniesta in town to face Urawa Reds.

The Spain legend completed 90 minutes in the league for the first time since Vissel’s 2-0 home defeat against Shonan Bellmare last November, and despite showing his age in some respects did offer flashes of his enduring brilliance on the ball as he and his side fell to another, slightly unfortunate, 2-0 loss.

The former Barcelona man may have offered up some sublime touches and passes on his return to Vissel’s starting line-up, but his wasn’t the European name on everyone lips come full time, with Urawa’s new signing Kasper Junker again claiming the spotlight.

The 27-year-old was a menace in the final third of the pitch from the first minute to the 90th – when he was substituted off to rapturous applause from the 4,917 fans in attendance – leading the home side’s charge by harrying from the front, instigating attacks with surging runs, and showcasing his intelligent movement by getting into some very dangerous positions. Oh, and, as we are already becoming accustomed to, by scoring.

His goal here, a controlled effort steered home with his left foot from close range after Daigo Nishi’s hopeful lump into the area somehow found it’s way to him unmarked at the back post, was the Dane’s fourth in his first three league games for Reds, already making him the team’s top scorer.

“He’s scoring goals to help the team and getting into the right positions at the right times,” Urawa manager Ricardo Rodriguez said after the game. “It’s not just that though, and his all round performances have been really good.

“New signings need time to adapt, but especially in the second half today we saw he is also doing what is expected of him in a defensive sense as well. It’s really important that he has been able fit in so well with the team, and I’m sure he will keep improving. His goals really help the team and I’m confident he’ll keep contributing in that way.”

For the best part of a decade Urawa’s scoring burden has rested on the shoulders – or, more precisely, in the boots – of Shinzo Koroki. One of the most natural finishers the J.League has ever seen, Koroki has racked up double figures in each of the last nine seasons (eight with Urawa and one with Kashima Antlers), but in the last three years the only one of his teammates to also get beyond 10 goals was Leonardo last year, when the Brazilian led Reds’ ranking with 11. Their second top scorer in 2019 was Kazuki Nagasawa with just three, while Yuki Muto followed Koroki with seven in 2018.

The early signs are that Junker will be more than capable of sharing the responsibility in front of goal though, as well as fulfilling the high-pressing role Rodriguez demands of his forwards.

“I think my strengths are my speed and my positioning inside the penalty area,” Junker said at his unveiling at the end of April. “My left foot shots also stand out, but I don’t just score goals and I think while finding the net myself I will also be able to provide assists for my teammates in order to contribute to the team.

“I think I am at the ideal age right now. As a striker I feel I’m approaching my peak, but I know I still have plenty of room for improvement and am confident I can keep raising the level of my performance as I take this step up. I want to play here for a long time. Football is life itself for me, and I want to keep going for a long time.”

He certainly demonstrated that enthusiasm against Vissel, eagerly closing down Thomas Vermaelen and Ryuho Kikuchi when the visitors’ centre-backs were in possession, urging his teammates forward in support of attacks, and also looking to create opportunities from deeper-lying positions.

Indeed, the chance from which he got his name on the scoresheet actually came about after one of these plays from midfield, and after receiving the ball 30 yards inside his own half he nutmegged Ayub Masika, opened his legs to eat up the space in front of him, and then chipped in behind for Yoshio Koizumi. This pass was ultimately too far ahead of his teammate, but Kobe made a mess of things once in possession and surrendered a soft corner, and after also failing to clear that properly the ball found itself being cushioned home by Junker’s left boot.

He won’t always be handed goals quite so easily, but the clinical way he dispatched the chance served another warning to the rest of J1 that Reds’ new No.7 is the real deal.

11
May
21

Fans United

The protests that saw Manchester United v. Liverpool postponed showed fans do still have a say in the way their clubs are run, they just might need to shout a little bit louder… (日本語版)

In the end, let’s admit it, there was probably more excitement on the Old Trafford pitch on 2 May than there would have been if the inevitable cagey draw between Manchester United and Liverpool had been played as scheduled.

In some ways, the scenes around and inside one of the most famous football venues on earth were also a better advert for the passion of domestic football in England than another tiresome stalemate between these old rivals – seven of whom’s last 11 meetings have ended all square.

Of course violent clashes between protestors and the police aren’t something we’re supposed to condone, but they only accounted for a tiny proportion of the activity in Manchester, and at a time of steady disenfranchisement when we are increasingly viewed less as individuals and more as customers this was a refreshing reminder of the culture and enthusiasm that helped English football to develop into the most popular in the world.

The protests by United fans were ostensibly in reaction to the club’s announcement at the end of April that it was one of the 12 members of the (quickly-folded) European Super League, although as one of the participants in the protests explained in The Guardian the seeds had been sown long before that when the most successful side in the Premier League era fell into the hands of its current owners (one of whom, United co-chairman Joel Glazer, was named as a vice-chairman of the Super League).

“This is all to do with the Glazers,” Jamie of the United We Stand fanzine wrote with regards to the leveraged buyout through which the American family acquired control of the club 16 years ago. “It has been a long time in the making, because we protested in 2005 [when they bought the club], and again in 2010. I can understand people saying: “It’s just because you’re not winning things any more.” But that’s not the point – this is about a football club and a community that surrounds it.

“Will there be more protests? Yes. Maybe not on that scale again because this was United-Liverpool, a worldwide audience, on a bank holiday Sunday, but there will be more.”

And the world really was watching, with the actions of the protestors as they caused the first match postponement on account of fan behaviour in the Premier League era being beamed around the globe. “We decide when you can play” was one of the chants favoured by the supporters as they gathered outside Old Trafford and the Lowry Hotel at which the United players were staying in advance of the game, hinting at another long-running gripe the Super League fiasco had brought to a head.

Match-going fans, whose fervour and cash had initially enabled the English game to elevate itself, have found themselves gradually sidelined as the Premier League behemoth has grown into a global business endeavor, with kick-off times increasingly arranged to suit broadcast partners rather than those attending in person.

The coronavirus has added insult to injury in this sense, with the empty rhetoric of the ‘Football is Nothing Without Fans’ tarpaulins draped over deserted terraces being proven glaringly untrue as the Premier League beast has rolled relentlessly on without them for over a year now.

It is likely that the timing of the Super League announcement was not coincidental either, with those involved perhaps hoping they could force it through without fans being at grounds to voice their opposition. It is fair to say they grossly underestimated the depth of feeling and sense of attachment supporters have with their clubs.

Owners, managers, and players come and go, but fans are the one constant. Those connections are passed on from generation to generation, and the protests that prevented United-Liverpool being played were a defiant roar against the ongoing commodification and sterilisation seeking to take top level football further away from its origins – of which the Super League would have been the latest escalation, featuring the same uber-rich teams playing each other repeatedly in games contested for huge profit but with no risk.

“Of course we’d love to have watched a Manchester United-Liverpool game but ultimately this is much bigger than that,” Jamie added of the protest. “If we get a points deduction we would not care.

“I do get that some people say a line was crossed because it was illegal [entering Old Trafford] but there’s only so much passive resistance can do. You can tweet “#Glazersout” but what good does it do?”

The Old Trafford protests served as a timely reminder that supporters aren’t just consumers who should just blindly cheerlead, but are instead one of the foundations upon which clubs are built.

Fans have voices and shouldn’t be afraid to use them. When they shout loud enough, they are heard.




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