Archive for April 9th, 2022


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