Archive for August 13th, 2022

13
Aug
22

Keeping the dressing room

Different managers have different ways of dealing with their squads, and Roasso Kumamoto coach Takeshi Oki and Iwate Grulla Morioka boss Yutaka Akita have taken novel approaches to handling theirs this season… (日本語版)

The J.League has developed something of a reputation over the years for promoted teams adjusting impressively after moving up a division, and 2022 has been no different in that regard.

Iwaki FC are leading the way in J3 on their maiden J.League campaign, for instance, following on from Tegevajaro Miyazaki, who last season were only denied a place in the top two on the final day of their first year in the third division.

In the end Tegevajaro only finished one point behind eventual champions Roasso Kumamoto and a goal difference of just two separated them from runners-up Iwate Grulla Morioka, and that pair have also enjoyed steady seasons so far in the second tier this year – although they have gone about them in very different ways.

Roasso boast one of the most consistent line-ups in J2, and it’s certainly not possible to accuse Takeshi Oki of Pep Guardiola-esque overthinking when it comes to his selections, with him instead simply trusting in a key core of players and sending them out every weekend.  

Masahiro Sugata and So Kawahara have played every minute of every league game so far – although accumulated yellow cards mean Sugata is suspended for this weekend’s trip to Ventforet Kofu – while between 5 June and 30 July Oki picked almost exactly the same starting 11 for 10 matches in a row as Roasso cemented their place in the race for the play-offs.

That’s not to say the experienced tactician – who also gave Chuo University graduate Kyogo Furuhashi his trust and started him in every game in his first professional season at FC Gifu in 2017 – is lazy or unadventurous when it comes to his team’s approach, however, and when adaptations have been required he has demonstrated a real awareness of where to make them.

Two changes were made for last weekend’s 2-0 win over Tochigi SC, for example, and current squad players like Shun Ito, Yuhi Takemoto, Keisuke Tanabe, and Kaito Abe have all had extended runs in the side when things have needed freshening up a little.

Even so, overall Roasso have only used 25 players in their 30 league games to date, with just 14 of them clocking up more than 500 minutes of action.

Grulla, on the other hand, have done things completely differently, and Yutaka Akita hasn’t named the same XI in back-to-back games once this season, rotating heavily as he has looked to manage the stresses and strains of a heavy schedule and maximise the full extent of his squad.

That has seen 34 players pull on the white shirt so far, 25 of whom have played over 500 minutes – with Masaomi Nakano and Tatsuya Tabira also only eight and 19 minutes short of that landmark, respectively.

A glance at the current table would suggest the approach perhaps hasn’t been working out quite so well as Roasso’s – Grulla sit 19th on 30 points, just three outside the relegation zone, while Roasso are 17 points better off and riding high in sixth – but aside from a few big defeats Grulla haven’t looked especially out of their depth and they have also claimed some impressive scalps on their first year in J2, including beating JEF United, Fagiano Okayama, and Yokohama FC away, Kofu and Tokushima Vortis at home, and securing a double over fellow relegation battlers Omiya Ardija – six points that could prove crucial at the end of the season.

Yutaka Akita is of course at the other end of the experience spectrum to Oki when it comes to coaching, but the pair both look incredibly comfortable in a tracksuit and getting their boots dirty out on the touchline, and the former Kashima Antlers and Japan star certainly looks like he has a bright future ahead of him in the dugout.

Indeed, the manner in which he has used his squad to cope with the various pressures of the pandemic and unrelenting schedule of the 22-team J2 is an excellent approach I’m surprised more teams haven’t opted to experiment with – particularly during the ridiculous 2020 season when a full year of games were packed into just six months.

Aside from a few players who are involved almost every game, Akita has at times essentially divided his squad into two separate teams and sent them out for alternate fixtures as they have navigated their league commitments, the Emperor’s Cup, and rearranged games called off because of Covid. This was especially intelligent when there were consecutive midweek rounds and Grulla were served up a run of 14 games in 54 days between 18 May and 10 July – an average of a match every four days.

Doing so not only enables players to stay fresh, but it also gives young, developing talent more opportunities to play regular, competitive football, which will only benefit them and their club in the coming months and years.

It remains to be seen how both Roasso and Grulla see out the final quarter of the current campaign, but the differing approaches of their managers certainly mean they will both be well worth keeping an eye on as the season approaches its climax.




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