Archive for April, 2022


Sean’s Samurai Selection

If national teams could only include players from domestic clubs, what would the Samurai Blue look like at the World Cup? I came up with a 23-man squad I reckon could do the J.League proud in Qatar this November… (日本語版)

There is increasing talk about the prominence of overseas-based players in the Japan national team, and it is surely only a matter of time before the full squad at a World Cup finals is comprised of players plying their trade in Europe. 

The recent announcement that the 2022 EAFF E-1 Football Championship will now be held in Japan after China pulled out as hosts got me thinking, however, and I wondered how a Samurai Blue squad comprised only of domestic players would fare at the global showpiece.

While of course a purely hypothetical exercise, I realised there is still a wealth of talent taking to J.League pitches every week – both gifted up-and-comers and seasoned old pros – and I managed to put together a 23 I think could give a decent account of themselves in Qatar. (Players already likely to be in Hajime Moriyasu’s plans were not considered for ‘Sean’s Samurai Selection’.)  

Goalkeepers: Masaaki Murakami (Avispa Fukuoka), Takanori Sugeno (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), Zion Suzuki (Urawa Reds)

I think this would provide a decent mixture between the posts. Murakami perhaps doesn’t get the praise he deserves for Avispa, and not only played a huge part in getting them promoted in 2020 but has also excelled over the past season-and-a-third in J1. Sugeno and Suzuki would provide more than capable deputies at differing ends of the experience spectrum, with the former a terrific option to have in the squad who would keep everyone focused and the latter a prodigious talent who would benefit hugely from the experience and wouldn’t let anyone down if called upon. 

Defenders: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (Yokohama F. Marinos), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Ryuho Kikuchi (Vissel Kobe), Taiyo Koga (Kashima Reysol), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Tomoki Iwata (Yokohama F. Marinos)

I would opt for a three-man defence, at the heart of which I would place the unshakeable Taniguchi. Hatanaka is a similarly composed character who I think could be relied upon alongside the Kawasaki Frontale captain, with Kikuchi bringing some passion and aggression to the back line. Morishige would be my choice to fill in for Taniguchi in the event of an injury or suspension, while Koga and Iwata are flexible options that could slot comfortably into the back three or even fulfil roles across the midfield if needed.

Midfielders: Joel Chima Fujita (Yokohama F. Marinos), Sho Inagaki (Nagoya Grampus), Kuryu Matsuki (FC Tokyo), Hiroyuki Mae (Avispa Fukuoka), Takuro Kaneko (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), Ryosuke Yamanaka (Cerezo Osaka), Kosuke Onose (Gamba Osaka), Tsukasa Morishima (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Akihiro Ienaga (Kawasaki Frontale), Yusuke Matsuo (Urawa Reds)

Here again I have tried to blend experience with youthful vim and vigour, and at the base of midfield I would partner the energetic duo of Inagaki and Fujita. Both are box-to-box players with terrific engines, capable of breaking up opponents’ attacks, moving the ball intelligently, and threatening themselves with shots on goal. Out wide I’d start Kaneko and Yamanaka, who have the stamina to work up and down their flanks and also cause serious problems in the final third – either by whipping crosses into the area (Yamanaka) or cutting in and taking shots themselves (Kaneko).

In the support striker role, meanwhile, I’d have the evergreen Ienaga – a sumptuous player for whom football just appears too easy, and who continues to improve with age – alongside the live-wire Matsuo, who is constantly looking to get in behind with his ceaseless running and scheming. In reserve, Mae and Matsuki would provide me with excellent alternatives in the centre of the park – able to affect the game in both directions – Onose would provide cover for either of my wing-backs, and Morishima would be on standby to add a slightly different creative streak in place of my attacking midfielders. 

Strikers: Yuma Suzuki (Kashima Antlers), Takuma Nishimura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Mao Hosoya (Kashiwa Reysol), Koki Ogawa (Yokohama FC)

At the business end of the things you absolutely can’t go wrong with Suzuki. HIs abrasiveness would undoubtedly cause opposition centre-backs headaches for the full 90 minutes, but to characterise him as no more than an irritant is to grossly misrepresent an intelligent, skilful, and lethal centre-forward who would be leading my line for sure.

Nishimura would give the team another smooth operator up front – not to mention an aerial threat – while Hosoya has been excellent for Reysol so far this season and certainly has the ability to serve as our joker in the pack. Finally, Ogawa has been rejuvenated since moving to Yokohama FC from Jubilo Iwata ahead of the 2022 campaign. Injuries and loss of form cruelly robbed the player expected to carry the goalscoring burden for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics of that opportunity, but he is bursting with confidence right now and looks like he believes everything he hits will end up in the back of the net. Most of the time he is right, and therefore he’d be on the plane too.

My Starting XI (3-4-2-1)

GK: Masaaki Murakami (Avispa Fukuoka)

DF: Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Shogo Taniguchi, Ryuho Kikuchi

MF: Takuro Kaneko, Joel Chima Fujita, Sho Inagaki, Ryosuke Yamanaka

AM: Akihiro Ienaga, Yusuke Matsuo

FW: Yuma Suzuki


Vissel vexed

Vissel Kobe looked like they would finally be a side to be reckoned with in 2022. Instead, they’re plunging new depths of underachievement and starting again under yet another manager… (日本語版)

Vissel Kobe’s season hasn’t started exactly how the club, or many of us supposed experts, had anticipated. In fact, thus far it has been utterly catastrophic. 

The Hyogo side ended 2021 very strongly, losing just one of their last eight games to finish third in J1, and as a result they came into this campaign as one of the favourites to challenge Kawasaki Frontale for the title.

Instead, they have endured their worst start ever, with Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat away to FC Tokyo Vissel’s ninth game without a victory, leaving them second bottom of the table with just four points.

Atsuhiro Miura left his position as manager after the seventh of Vissel’s winless games against Shimizu S-Pulse on 19 March, with Miguel Angel Lotina announced as their 10th coach in the past five years (including interims and Takayuki Yoshida’s two periods in charge) on Friday.

The Spaniard’s most recent spell in the J.League ended with something of a whimper when he was fired by Shimizu S-Pulse in the midst of a relegation battle in November 2021, but prior to that he had developed a solid enough reputation after turning Tokyo Verdy and Cerezo Osaka into well organised and difficult to beat outfits in J2 and J1, respectively.

Some kind of defensive structure would certainly be useful with Kobe once again in the mire, but the confusing thing about Lotina’s arrival is that, once again, it has no real relation to any of the recent appointments made at Noevir Stadium. There doesn’t appear to be a clear underlying tactical approach in the style of football the club are aiming for, with no rhyme or reason apparent in the recruitment of managers or, for that matter, players.

Miura impressed with victories in his first three games in charge after being thrust into the role as Thorsten Fink’s replacement towards the end of the 2020 season, and although the following 11 matches yielded just one more win things picked up impressively last year as the side achieved a best ever J1 finish of third.

That promise fizzled out in spectacular fashion at the start of this campaign, however, in a similar way to that in which Vissel’s first piece of silverware in 2019 proved to be a false dawn for Fink himself. The German parted ways with the club less than nine months after winning the Emperor’s Cup, leaving in September 2020 after a run of form that saw the team drawing eight and winning just four of their 19 J1 games.

Although his approach did finally give the club something to put in their trophy cabinet, it still represented a departure from that which they had seemingly been pursuing a couple of years previously, however, when the highly-regarded Juan Manuel Lillo arrived in Kobe.

The Spaniard was seen as being quite the coup for Hiroshi Mikitani, with Pep Guardiola – who he now works alongside at Manchester City – declaring him “the best coach he ever had”, and he seemed to be exactly the right man to bring the Barcafication of Vissel to fruition.

Barely six months after his unveiling Lillo was waving adios to the club, however, presumably because he felt he was unable to implement his possession-based football and turn Kobe into the force their spending demanded.

And it is herein that we seem to come to the crux of the problem: the spending – or at least the haphazard nature of it.

Rather than looking to trust in a particular way of playing – a method which has worked wonders for Kawasaki Frontale in recent years, as well as the only other team to win J1 in the past half-a-decade, Yokohama F. Marinos – the approach at Kobe seems instead to keep throwing money around until something sticks.

The solitary Emperor’s Cup triumph aside that hasn’t produced any meaningful progress thus far, and despite the eye-watering sums of money shovelled into the bank accounts of big name foreigners and current/former Japan national team players in recent years Vissel don’t look any closer to winning the J.League now than they did five years ago when Nelsinho was fired with the team sitting 11th after 22 games of the 2017 season.

In fact, would they really be any worse off now if instead of disposing of the veteran Brazilian back then and chopping and changing every few months since, they had instead stuck with the man with experience of winning every domestic trophy at Kashiwa Reysol?

A look at the current league table, and the respective parties’ positions in it, suggests not.

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April 2022