Author Archive for Sean Carroll

11
May
17

Moriwaki incident provokes pause for thought

The recent incident involving Urawa Reds’ Ryota Moriwaki and Kashima Antlers’ Leo Silva and Mitsuo Ogasawara was all rather unpleasant, but hopefully having the debate played out so publicly can help increase understanding of the impact words and actions can have on others…  (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 11th May, 2017

It has been a busy few weeks for the J.League’s disciplinary panel, with all manner of on and off the pitch incidents making negative headlines for the division.

Some of these problems – Tokushima Vortis’ Kazuaki Mawatari being sent off for an altercation with a ball-boy in his side’s game away to JEF United on 29 April, for instance, or a handful of Urawa Reds fans reacting to their 1-0 loss away to Omiya Ardija in the Saitama derby the following day by picking a fight with a dividing fence – can merely be put down to poor decision making and stupidity, respectively.

Others, such as the scandal swirling around Urawa defender Ryota Moriwaki, however, require closer, more considered inspection, as they demonstrate a lack of awareness of the affect of words and actions on others.

Moriwaki was given a two-match suspension on Tuesday after being accused by Kashima Antlers captain Mitsuo Ogasawara of abusing Antlers’ Brazilian midfielder Leo Silva during the sides’ game in Saitama on 4 May.

Ogasawara was clearly incensed by something during an altercation in the 78th minute of the match, having to be restrained by Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, and straight after the game the 38-year-old stopped of his own accord to address the media, alleging that Moriwaki had said ‘you stink’ to Leo Silva during the spat.

“After the game I spoke to Leo Silva and he said, ‘Moriwaki always says those things’,” Ogasawara said.

“In previous games he has said similar things to Caio and Davi, and seeing as it is something that has been repeated I feel this is enough. It counts as verbal abuse, which could be perceived as discriminatory, and so I would like the media to look into it.

“It is not restricted to just this occasion, and while I don’t know how it can be verified it can’t be tolerated. We have discussions about fair play and I don’t think we should accept verbal abuse.”

Such accusations cannot – and should not – be made lightly, and the story quickly gained traction, in part because of a string of recent events with a similarly unsavoury flavor.

Gamba Osaka were sanctioned for their fans waving a flag bearing an SS-like design during the 16 April derby against Cerezo Osaka, while nine days later a Kawasaki Frontale supporter displayed a naval ensign at the club’s ACL match away to Suwon Bluewings, leading to a 1.7 million fine from the AFC and the possibility of having to play a home game behind closed doors if the offence is repeated.

It wouldn’t appear that either of these incidents were carried out with any kind of political or discriminatory intent, but were instead down to a lack of understanding as to how the images on display could be perceived. This is not solely a problem within football, instead reflecting wider issues in society, but football can take a lead in trying to educate on such matters.

Leo Silva and Ryota Moriwaki (Football Channel / Getty Images)

“Reflecting on it, it sounds like a childish scuffle, but everything I can say is the truth,” Moriwaki said after the game in Saitama, before refuting the claims that he had said anything discriminatory to Leo Silva. Indeed, in his version of events he had not been directing his words at the Brazilian at all, but instead to Ogasawara, whose spit Moriwaki claimed had landed on his face during the altercation.

“I would be really grateful if there had been a tape recorder at the scene to have picked up everything,” he added. “People who really know me understand that I can get wound up and shout childish things like ‘shit!’, but not even once have I gone beyond that and said anything to really insult anybody – whether they be Japanese, Brazilian, or from any country.”

Upon receiving his ban and apologizing for any offence caused Moriwaki reiterated this stance, and, on balance, he deserves to be taken at his word.

“In life many things happen,” Leo Silva said when discussing the incident after the match.

“In the game, in the heat of the moment, all sorts crops up. For me, I accept those things in games – that’s my personality. I’ve played in Japan for quite a long time so I know Japanese people don’t really do that [say insulting things]. With that in mind I can act calmly.”

Moriwaki is the only one who truly knows what intent, if any, lay behind his words, and the most likely explanation is that he acted rashly, aggressively, and, as he himself admitted, childishly to the situation.

This is also a problem though, and the possibility that our behavior may be perceived as offensive to somebody else is something everyone needs to be aware of and to respect.

Such issues cannot be allowed to just be swept under the carpet, and encouraging discussion about them and attempting to prevent them from growing into more serious issues is vital.

“If you leave it now maybe in the future this might end up being a big problem,” Leo Silva continued. “Violence doesn’t only take physical forms but there is verbal violence in society as well, and we need to eradicate those things. Perhaps this kind of thing will happen in football from now on too, but I know it shouldn’t.

“I’m a father as well and wouldn’t want to do this kind of thing to others. If it was me who’d done it I’d be embarrassed. I don’t know if he [Moriwaki] has children, but for children we are heroes and role models to learn from. We have an important role to play in life and I’d like him to keep that in mind.”

Moriwaki has certainly been forced to consider his behaviour, and both he and Leo Silva merit praise for dealing with the fallout in a mature manner. What is important now is that everyone learns from the recent unedifying episodes, and that players and fans pay more consideration to the way in which their behaviour can impact upon others.

04
May
17

S-Pulse struggling for regular rhythm

Away from home Shimizu S-Pulse’s counter-attacking style has reaped rewards so far on their return to J1, but they are struggling to adapt their approach when playing in front of their own fans… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 4th May, 2017

Shimizu S-Pulse have been something of a Jekyll and Hyde team so far in 2017, showing impressive resilience on occasion – as in the recent comebacks against Omiya Ardija and Kawasaki Frontale – but as yet failing to win a single match at home.

The Frontale game on 21 April appeared to demonstrate that this year’s S-Pulse are a far tougher side to beat than that which slumped to the club’s first ever relegation in 2015, with Shinji Kobayashi’s men not losing heart despite surrendering the lead given to them by Shota Kaneko’s 14th minute strike to find themselves 2-1 down with full time approaching.

Recent signing Thiago Alves was once again the hero at Todoroki, following up on his assist for Ryohei Shirasaki’s late strike in the 1-1 against Omiya the previous week with a dramatic 95th minute goal of his own to make it 2-2 with the very last kick of the game.

“It was the same in the last match too, we came from a losing position to get a draw,” Alves said of the team’s efforts. “It only looks like one point right now, but I think considering it over the longer term those points will be very important.”

His fellow striker Chong Tese was of a similar opinion.

“I think this point is important – very important,” the 33-year-old said. “If we’d dropped this game then you lose confidence looking ahead, but it means a lot that we weren’t defeated.

“Teams that were winning but lose go down [the table]; teams that are losing but draw move up; teams that are drawing but win go even higher. With that in mind I think we really gained something here.

“Our strength is in sticking together as a unit and defending solidly then breaking out, as we have a lot of good attacking players,” he said. “Today we scored two goals and we’ve done that fairly regularly this season.”

His striker partner Kaneko further explained the manner in which the Shizuoka side are approaching games back in the first tier.

“Initially as a team and individually we come into the games with a focus on defence,” the 21-year-old said. “From there we then want to build up to scoring more goals. Today we went for the second goal and got it, but before that it was a difficult game.”

The contributions of substitutes are often vital in deciding a game one way or another, and while Alves’ late finish was the most obvious example against Kawasaki his fellow subs Kazuya Murata and Mitchell Duke also added extra energy to the side going forwards as the final whistle drew near.

Chong Tese, Football Channel:Getty

“It’s a lot tighter (in J1) and when it is those tight contests, 1-1s, even at 1-0 down, you look to your subs to come on and try and change the game, which I think all three of us did and luckily enough we got the point,” Duke observed post match.

“I feel like we’ve had a pretty strong start to our campaign this year. We’re aiming high, we want to finish in the top half of the table, that’s our main aim, and anything extra is a bonus.”

Tese, meanwhile, is taking things one step at a time.

“For me personally [the aim is] to avoid relegation,” he said. “Of course we’ll see how things go, and I actually think we are capable of going higher than that, but today I really felt the difference in strength between the teams.”

It was clear to see why he was cautious to get carried away in the side’s next game, as they slumped to defeat against Vegalta to leave S-Pulse with just one point from their four games at Nihondaira so far, compared with 10 on the road.

“It was the same last year,” Tese said of the early season struggles in front of their own fans.

“If we win once at home then I think we’ll be fine. I feel like we’re a little stiff at home. Playing away we’ve made a promise within the team to do what we can to keep a clean sheet, but at home we have to come out and attack more and maybe that disrupts our ability to play the football we want to.”

Duke has also sensed a difficulty in that respect.

“I don’t know if the players mentally feel a bit more pressure at home – feel like they definitely need to get the points and put pressure on themselves,” he said.

“To be fair, I think it’s really good that we’re getting the points away, it’s usually the harder thing to do. Hopefully we can add the home games and get the three points there too, I think that will be really important for us.”

Last weekend’s game against Vegalta – who had conceded 16 goals in their previous four league matches – looked like being the ideal opportunity to do just that, but Shimizu froze once again and went down 3-0.

They will need to put things right sooner rather than later as, as Duke pointed out, it is not easy to keep picking up points on the road and home form could be the difference between survival and being drawn into the relegation scrap.

15
Apr
17

Sanfrecce’s slump

The departure of some key players and poor form of some of those left behind has seen Sanfrecce Hiroshima stumble out of the starting blocks this season, but things could be about to click for Hajime Moriyasu’s side…  (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 15th April, 2017

Sanfrecce Hiroshima suffered a miserable start to the 2017 season, but last Friday’s hard-fought 1-0 win away to Gamba Osaka may just provide a turning point for Hajime Moriyasu’s side.

The Purple Archers – who let’s not forget won three J1 titles between 2012-15 and ran River Plate close in the Club World Cup semi-finals under 18 months ago – slumped to a sixth place finish last season, finishing a full 19 points behind overall leaders Urawa Reds, before starting this campaign in even worse form.

For the first time ever Sanfrecce failed to win any of their first five league games, and after drawing 1-1 at home to Albirex Niigata on the opening day of the season they lost their next four matches, scoring just once more in the process.

Those struggles in front of goal weren’t much of a surprise considering the club opted to offload Hisato Sato and Peter Utaka ahead of the new season, and losing the second most prolific scorer in J.League history and 2016’s joint-top scorer was bound to impact on the team’s attacking threat.

The decision not to offer Utaka the terms he was looking for looked a strange one after his contribution last year, raising concerns about either the club’s financial capabilities or ambition.

The impact of Sato’s departure should also not be underestimated, and while the veteran played a less central role in his 12th season with the club – clocking up just 665 minutes and four goals over 19 appearances last year – the loss of such an experienced and respected player deprived the team of an important voice in the locker room.

Koji Morisaki hanging up his boots saw Sanfrecce lose another player with deep roots at the club, and it seems fairly clear that, whether through choice or necessity, Sanfrecce are going through a transitional phase.

New signing Felipe Silva has shown some promising signs – not least the shot from nowhere that thundered off the woodwork and produced Masato Kudo’s winner against Gamba – but is yet to really click in Sanfrecce’s passing style, while Kudo himself has similarly struggled since his return to J1.

Football Channel / Getty

The former Kashiwa Reysol man scored on his debut on the opening weekend, raising hopes that he was primed to slip straight into Sato’s scoring boots, but he was unable to build on that in the following weeks and his confidence appeared to be dropping with each successive miss as the team endured its losing run.

The relief was palpable after he reacted quickest to pounce on the rebound and prod home the only goal in Suita though, and as he ran to the travelling fans behind the goal you could see a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. A few minutes later the impact of that strike was clear as he instantly looked sharper and more positive, driving at the retreating Gamba defenders before taking another potshot at goal.

Moriyasu was pleased two of his new frontline had combined to deliver a first win of the season, and insisted he’d never had any doubts about the team’s approach.

“We hadn’t scored from open play so far this season but looking at the stats for J1 we’d taken the most shots at goal so I knew that if we continued to do that then of course we’d score,” he said.

“It is better to break the opponent down with beautiful combinations but I’d been constantly saying to the players that they had to play in a way that would strike fear in the opponents, to always be aiming for goal. Felipe put that into practice here and while he hit the post Kudo followed up well. Neither of them were afraid to be aiming for goal.”

Poor form and fitness problems have also had an effect on Sanfrecce’s form, with Mihael Mikic and Yoshifumi Kashiwa – two players key to the team’s counter attacks – missing games through injury, and the likes of Tsukasa Shiotani and Toshihiro Aoyama – who were both standout performers during the team’s purple patch of league triumphs – struggling for their best form.

Once everyone is back in shape it is hard to see the side’s woes continuing for too much longer, although there is another tricky test coming up on Sunday as Yokohama F.Marinos, who themselves ended a barren run of their own with a much needed three points against Jubilo Iwata last weekend, coming to town.

Defeat would leave Sanfrecce in the relegation zone, but a first home win of the season could be the next step back towards the end of the table they are more familiar with.

28
Mar
17

Halil holding his nerve

A changing of the guard looks like it’s getting closer for the Japan national team, but for the time being Vahid Halilhodzic is right to stick with his big name players… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 10th March, 2017

Vahid Halilhodzic deserves plenty of praise for the way he has dealt with the final round of World Cup qualifying so far.

Japan got off to a terrible start last September when they went down 2-1 at home to UAE, and with several key men not playing regularly for their clubs the Samurai Blue suddenly seemed to have an uphill battle on their hands to make it to a sixth straight World Cup finals.

Goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takuma Asano helped Japan steady their footing with a 2-0 win away to Tuesday’s opponent’s Thailand a few days later though, before the side just about came away with four points from October’s tricky pair of games against Iraq and Australia – Hotaru Yamaguchi slamming home a euphoric injury time winner to seal the 2-1 home win over Iraq, before Haraguchi found the mark for the third game in a row in the 1-1 draw in Melbourne.

The past two games have been the real test, though, and Halilhodzic has negotiated both very well to leave Japan fully in control of their own destiny after beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in November – Hiroshi Kiyotake and, again, Haraguchi notching – and then gaining revenge over UAE thanks to Yuya Kubo’s and Yasuyuki Konno’s goals in last Thursday’s 2-0 victory.

The reason Halilhodzic should be commended is for the manner in which he has managed his players throughout this process, using them intelligently to benefit the team as a whole.

Japan’s two world-renowned stars, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, are both on their days capable of deciding games for their team, but, unfortunately, neither have been seeing anything approaching regular playing time for their clubs this season, leading to calls for them to be axed from the national team set-up.

Halilhodzic himself added fuel to these fires by publicly warning his players that if they weren’t getting regular minutes he wouldn’t be considering them for his squad.

The 64-year-old is a pragmatist though, and knows that national team and club football are very different beasts. Whereas club sides play once or twice a week over a nine-month season and require a balance between short- and long-term planning, when it comes to international football each meet-up is only focused on one or two games – even at finals most teams only play three or four matches.

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 16.25.40

With that in mind Halilhodzic knows he can’t plan too far ahead, and that his selections for each squad must be dependent upon the current situation. Ideally he always has 30 or so players starring for their clubs and jostling for positions in the party, but in reality that just doesn’t happen.

Kagawa, in particular, shouldn’t really be starting at No.10 – and several times of late he hasn’t, with Kiyotake replacing him before himself suffering a dip in form – but when there is no-one else demanding to be picked instead it makes sense to go with the most experienced – and naturally-gifted – option. He may not be dictating the play going forwards – and longer term that is certainly an issue that needs fixing – but the opposition will still be drawn to him, freeing up space for the likes of Haraguchi and Kubo to capitalise upon.

Honda, meanwhile, has played just one minute of football for AC Milan in 2017 – a lamentable fact but one we shouldn’t get too carried away with. When at 100% the 30-year-old is still Japan’s best player, and even if he’s not playing regularly for his club he is more than capable of having an impact in a high pressure game for his country. Therefore, he is certainly still worthy of a spot in the 23 ahead of another decent-but-as-yet-unproven alternative.

Halilhodzic said when naming his most recent squad that Honda’s personality is important for the team, and assuming he finally transfers somewhere in the summer and is playing every week by this time next year then there should be no doubts about him being good to go at his third World Cup.

Of course, that is assuming Japan make it, which while looking more likely now than it did six months ago is still far from decided.

Thankfully for Kagawa and Honda enough other players have been stepping up to the plate during their lulls though, with relatively new faces like Kubo, Haraguchi, and Osako making positive contributions and veterans like Eiji Kawashima, Maya Yoshida, and Konno – all of whom were excellent against UAE in Al Ain – making sure they lead by example when called upon.

If they can do the same again against Thailand today then Halilhodzic and Japan will surely have half-a-foot in Russia.

10
Mar
17

Cerezo looking to end play-off jinx

Since J2 introduced play-offs in 2012, every team promoted via the post-season  decider has finished bottom of the top flight the following year. Cerezo Osaka are expected to buck that trend this season, but they have gotten off to a fairly inauspicious start…  (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 10th March, 2017

We have only had two rounds of the new J1 season, but Saturday’s game between Consadole Sapporo and Cerezo Osaka is incredibly important for both promoted sides.

Neither has managed to pick up a win from either of their first two outings in 2017, and a victory this weekend could provide just the kick-start needed to get last year’s J2 champion or play-off winner up and running.

Sapporo have lost both their openers without scoring a goal (1-0 to Vegalta Sendai and 3-0 to Yokohama F.Marinos), while Cerezo have just one point to show for their efforts after drawing 0-0 with Jubilo Iwata and losing 3-1 to Urawa Reds.

While Sapporo were widely tipped to struggle back in the top flight, Cerezo’s slow start is a bit of a surprise, and they will want to right their course sooner rather than later if they are to end the curse of the play-off champion.

Considering the quality of Cerezo’s squad – which as well as boasting current and recent national team players Hotaru Yamaguchi and Yoichiro Kakitani was boosted just before the start of the new campaign by the returning Hiroshi Kiyotake, who has established himself as Vahid Halilhodzic’s first choice in the hole for the Samurai Blue – it would be something of a surprise if they did slip straight back through the trapdoor.

A loss against Sapporo would leave them in ominous company though.

All four sides previously promoted via the play-offs have gone on to finish bottom of J1 the following season, and only one of them – Montedio Yamagata in 2015 – managed to pick up a win in their first three matches.

It took Cerezo a couple of seasons and they certainly made hard work of getting back out of J2, but they were a big fish in the second tier and now they need to adjust to their new status in the top flight.

“We know that in J1 we will spend more time in games defending,” Yamaguchi said after last weekend’s defeat in Saitama. “Whereas Urawa have very high accuracy in their passing and combinations when attacking we made too many mistakes when we went forward and gifted possession back to them many times.”

The 26-year-old cited mitigating circumstances for Cerezo’s disjointed display though, pointing out that they lack the consistency of Mihailo Petrovic’s side.

“Our coach has just changed, we’ve got some players out injured and some new players in the side, plus we are trying to play a new type of football, so of course there is a difference in the degree of completion between us and Urawa, who rarely change their players or approach.”

Kakitani offered a similar explanation, and suggested that lack of communication was partly to blame.

“The coach has just changed, whereas Urawa’s manager has been in charge for a long time,” he said. “After the game the players were talking a lot about many things, and I think it would be good if we were able to do that before the game too.”

Football Channel:Getty, Friday 10th March, 2017

Depsite the array of attacking talent at Yoon Jong-hwan’s disposal it was centre-back Matej Jonjic who found the net against Urawa, and the new addition from Incheon United was also keen to emphasise the gap between last year’s overall league winner and the returnees from J2.

“They are in the top three teams in the J.League, playing in the Champions League,” the Croatian said. “We just came from the second division; the difference is obvious. We have to work harder and try to work on our mistakes.

“We started too slow and I think we were missing some confidence in this game. After my goal we tried to come back, but it was too late.”

Souza agreed that Cerezo’s hesitant start was what cost them the game against Urawa.

“They’re a very high quality team so if you give them the freedom to build up like we did in the first half then that will happen,” the Brazilian said. “In the second half we pushed up a bit more and I think things went better then.

“We need to work on our defending but it’s not just that and there are many areas we need to correct. That’s not to say everything was bad though, and as well as fixing the things that need improving we also need to keep going with the areas that worked well.”

Indeed, Cerezo did cause Reds some problems in the second half, and with better finishing they could have made for a nervy end to the game for their hosts. That fact provided a source of some optimism for Souza.

“In J1 the level of the players and the tactics is higher, but we play with good connections going forward and I think we are capable of causing opponents problems.”

A fit Kiyotake would certainly improve the team in that respect, although Souza refused to build the new No.46 up too much, clearly unwilling to talk down any of the players currently in the first eleven.

“We’re a very good team and Kiyotake is a great player who plays for the national team, but that’s up to the coach to think about so please ask him,” the 28-year-old added with a grin.

In Yoon the club certainly have a boss capable of building a solid outfit, with the South Korean having worked wonders at Sagan Tosu before he was controversially fired with them top of the table in August 2014.

He has made his aims very clear this year too, and Jonjic insists the players are focused on ending the play-off jinx by finishing in the top half of the table.

“The manager already said his goal before the season started, so we just follow his ideas and his goals and let’s see where we will be after the season. He said top nine, so the club have made that goal and we will follow that and are trying our best to reach it.”

A win in what is sure to be a packed Sapporo Dome on Saturday would certainly lay down a marker on the way to that target. Defeat, however, could strike an early psychological blow to Cerezo’s ambitions.

25
Feb
17

Antlers start reign with own-goal loss

The new J.League season got up and running in characteristically unpredictable fashion today, with last year’s two best sides both losing their first matches. I was in Kashima to see the champions Antlers splutter in their opener against FC Tokyo…

The Japan News, 25th February, 2017

KASHIMA, Ibaraki — FC Tokyo caused an upset on the opening day of the J.League season, winning 1-0 away to reigning champion Kashima Antlers on Saturday.

It took an own goal to separate the sides, with the result ultimately decided by unfortunate Kashima substitute Yuto Misao in the 82nd minute.

Both teams had spells in the ascendancy during a closely contested battle, but FC Tokyo coach Yoshiyuki Shinoda was pleased his team was able to start with such an impressive scalp.

“It was the opening game of the season, so we were still a little rusty in some respects,” the 45-year-old said.

“Antlers are not the kind of opponent you can play for a draw against though, and we knew we had to aim to score goals over the whole 90 minutes if we wanted to take anything from this game.”

The visitors certainly started as the more expansive of the two sides, and their first sighter on goal came in the seventh minute when new signing Yoshito Okubo stung the fingers of Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun Tae with an effort from close range.

Yojiro Takahagi then fired straight at Kwoun from distance in the 37th minute, before an unmarked Kensuke Nagai somehow failed to meet a Sei Muroya cross two minutes later.

Pedro Junior reminded Tokyo of the threat Antlers pose on the break with a swift counter in the 43rd minute, but the impressive Muroya recovered well to shut down the danger.

Fourteen minutes after the break it was Okubo’s turn to contribute a glaring miss to the proceedings.

The three-time J1 top scorer signed from Kawasaki Frontale over the offseason looked odds on to score, but got a little overexcited and lashed wildly over from point-blank range after Nagai had prodded a corner in his direction.

The Japan News, Saturday 25th February, 2017

He was almost punished for that miss less than a minute later, but Tokyo keeper Akihiro Hayashi did well to foil Pedro Junior on another quick break.

“If Hayashi hadn’t made that save at 0-0 things could have been different,” Shinoda observed afterwards.

Instead it was Tokyo who went on to pick up the three points, with the winner coming eight minutes from time.

Substitute Shoya Nakajima had a shot from range more in hope than expectation, and which looked like a routine collection for Kashima keeper Kwoun.

The South Korean fluffed his lines, though, and spilled the ball into the path of fellow league debutant Misao, who couldn’t react in time to avoid inadvertently sending it into his own net.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of drama in the day’s early kick off as last year’s runner-up Urawa Reds also lost, going down 3-2 in a rollercoaster match away to Yokohama F Marinos.

Marinos took the lead through David Babunski in the 13th minute, but Rafael Silva then struck twice in three second-half minutes to put Reds 2-1 up.

Marinos secured a dramatic late win with a quickfire double of their own, as Hugo Vieira equalized in the 86th minute and Naoki Maeda converted the winner in the second minute of injury time.

Meanwhile, the newly promoted sides had muted days.

Cerezo Osaka drew 0-0 with Jubilo Iwata, while Consadole Sapporo and Shimizu S-Pulse both lost 1-0, against Vegalta Sendai and Vissel Kobe, respectively.

25
Feb
17

J.LEAGUE PREVIEW / Marinos move on after Nakamura departure

There were ructions at Yokohama F.Marinos in the off-season as club legend Shunsuke Nakamura departed in acrimonious circumstances, but coach Erick Mombaerts is unruffled heading into a new era for the Nissan Stadium club…

The Japan News, 24th February, 2016

Yokohama F.Marinos manager Erick Mombaerts insists it will be business as usual at Nissan Stadium this year, despite the headline-grabbing departure of captain Shunsuke Nakamura.

The 38-year-old Nakamura left his boyhood club for Jubilo Iwata over the offseason, with rumors swirling of discontent behind the scenes and an uneasy relationship between coach and player.

Former France U-21 coach Mombaerts is unfazed by the upheaval though, and remains firmly focused on the task at hand in his third year at the helm.

“Whether Shunsuke was here or not, the aim would be to improve on last year, to show a better performance than last season,” the 61-year-old said.

“Our style is based upon speedy play with good combinations, and the objective is to fine-tune that. That isn’t dependent upon which players have left or come in, but is always the target.

“The players who are able to play that style are the ones who will appear in the games. If Shunsuke was still here, that would be the aim, and it doesn’t change because he’s not.”

The ongoing shift to a younger, more dynamic Marinos is epitomized by the team’s new captain, Manabu Saito.

“He’s a very important player at this club and I hope he will take on the extra responsibility this season,” Mombaerts said of his decision to select the livewire forward as Nakamura’s successor.

“He’s a national team player and gives everything he has in every single game, so I’m sure he can lead the team.”

Saito, who will also assume Nakamura’s No. 10 shirt, was chosen ahead of more experienced members of the squad, but knows he has their full backing.

“Many people are supporting me — Bomber [Yuji Nakazawa], Machi [Kosuke Nakamachi], Yuzo [Kurihara] — and so along with their help I will try to add something of myself,” the 26-year-old said.

The Japan News, 24th February, 2017

“It’s not the case of wondering what will happen now that I’m captain, but instead to just work at improving the team. I think for that to happen it is important there are many voices being heard.

“There’s been a turnover of players and of course a legend has left, but Marinos will keep going.”

Cayman Togashi is another player who represents the emerging generation of talent at Marinos, and echoed the sentiments of both his coach and new captain.

“We want to continue with the things we were doing last year while also adding some new elements and trying to get some cohesion between the two,” the 23-year-old striker said.

“Of course, now we don’t have an absolute star player in the same mold as Shunsuke, but I feel that unconsciously the team is in the situation of feeling, ‘right, let’s get things done by ourselves.’

“Manabu has been made captain, but it’s not just up to him, and I think we are now in a position whereby all of us have to take responsibility.”

Nakamura played 338 times during two stints with his boyhood club — punctuated by a successful spell in Europe — but only appeared in just over half of his team’s league games in the two seasons since Mombaerts took charge.

In that time the club finished seventh and 10th in the overall table, and Mombaerts is looking to lift the team up a notch this campaign.

“Coaches all over the world say they want to win the league, that the target is to become champions, but that is easy to say,” he explained.

“What is actually important is to improve the performance of the team from last year to make the team better than before. That comes from working hard every day — not just words, but actually putting it into practice — and the results correspond with that.

“I want to raise the level of the team and have us move up the table and compete with the top sides. It is not words but playing quality that leads to results.”




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