Posts Tagged ‘イングランド


Would the Samurai Blue slay the Three Lions?

Japan have the look of a well-oiled machine at the moment, while England continue to crunch functionally through the gears. This week I pondered who would come out on top if the two were to come head-to-head anytime soon…

After Japan got the final round of World Cup qualifiers off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Oman I was asked an interesting question.

Somebody on twitter wondered who I thought would win between the Samurai Blue and England if they were to play a two-legged home and away contest.

My response was that surely Japan would be the favourites.

The manner in which they so easily overcame Oman and then destroyed Jordan should be taken with a pinch of salt, but, at the same time, it is an indicator of just how good this side is when compared to previous squads.

The team which did so well at the 2010 World Cup finals was impressive but far from convincing in the last stage of qualifying, drawing three times and winning just once at home.

While beating the team teams ranked 97th and 80th in the world looks fairly standard, then, for Japan such comfortable victories are not traditionally the norm.

Not only did they manage to gather the six points with a 9-0 aggregate scoreline but the swagger and poise with which they cast their opponents aside demonstrated that Alberto Zaccheroni’s team has tremendous belief in their own ability.

Contrast that with perhaps the least interesting England side in living memory and you can see why I would give Japan the edge.

24 hours before Keisuke Honda and co. picked up a strong point away to Australia to confirm their place at the top of Group B, the Three Lions bored the world to tears in an excruciating performance against France at the European Championships.

In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck there was undoubted potential to attack a dodgy-looking French defence, but instead of trying their luck the English players opted for a ‘solid’ approach.

Part of this problem is undoubtedly mental – goalscorer (header from a free-kick, of course) Joleon Lescott commented after the match that, “You know what you will get with an English team – plenty of pride and passion” – but there was also a depressing lack of basic ability on display amongst those in the white shirt.

This was most obvious when James Milner failed to convert after rounding the keeper early on, and although the angle was tight, his rigidity and complete absence of technique wonderfully summed up the English style.

There is always plenty of talk in England about the impact that foreign imports to the Premier League have had on the domestic game, but the national team stubbornly refuses to move on from the idea that success comes from playing the game with “pride” and “passion.”

The steadily increasing contact between Japanese players and the European game is having a positive influence on the Samurai Blue, though.

Keisuke Honda, who was the pivot from which all of Japan’s positive play stemmed against Oman, Jordan, and Australia, was in no doubt as to why the current crop of players are the best he has been involved with.

“The reason is very simple,” he said after the demolition of Jordan. “Now we have many players who play overseas. Japanese players always like ball possession and passing but foreign football always attacks more directly.

“Yatto-san [Yasuhito Endo] and [Makoto] Hasebe-san have great passing skills and our attackers are very direct so that combination is very good for us.”

The Australia game provided a far sterner test – not least because the pitch in Brisbane had been used for a rugby match just three days earlier and the referee was seemingly taking charge of a football match for the first time – but Japan did well to deal with the Socceroos more “English” style of attack (long, high balls up front and crosses into the box at any opportunity).

I asked Yasuhito Endo after the Jordan game if this was the best Japan team he had played in, and while he didn’t go quite that far he did suggest it was unique.

“I feel that the national team is always very good but in this team we have many special players,” he said. “Opponents now are afraid of Japan.”

England would be no different, and Zac Japan could certainly teach Roy Hodgson’s team a thing or two about the beautiful game.


The Italians’ Jobs

Fabio Capello didn’t enjoy much succes with England and recently called an end to his spell in charge. Alberto Zacchroni’s time in Japan has gone a lot more smoothly…

The only thing that the Japanese and English national teams had in common of late was the fact that the head coach of both sides was Italian.

While the Samurai Blue have gone from strength to strength under Alberto Zaccheroni and firmly established themselves as Asia’s top side, England have trudged from mediocre display to scandal and back again on Fabio Capello’s watch.

At the start of the month the former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach finally decided that enough was enough and handed in his resignation.

The reason he gave for his departure was the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy because of his upcoming trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – younger brother of Terry’s long-time central-defensive partner for England, Rio.

Capello claimed to be angry that the resolution was made without his approval and quit on principle. At the time of writing that means the Three Lions have neither a manager or a captain, with the European Championships just four months away – although Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is clear favourite to take over in the role that Sir Alex Ferguson has described as a ‘poisoned chalice’.

There have been suggestions that Capello merely used the latest furore concerning the Chelsea defender as an excuse to escape, with players, fans and the media never taking to his dictatorial approach and frequently bemoaning his basic grasp of English.

I for one wouldn’t particularly blame him if that was the case, and think that this last complaint in particular  nicely sums up the malaise surrounding English football.

As much talk as there is about the game developing and opening up to different ways of thinking it is still a very rigid institution which, when combined with the huge egos of many of the members of the national team and the bitter rivalries that exist between the teammates’ clubs, shows very little sign of improving anytime soon.

Last time I checked, Alberto Zaccheroni doesn’t speak Japanese, but a very different culture here means that has never become an issue – nor should it.

At the end of last year I was interviewed by the TV show ‘Foot!’, and was asked what my thoughts were concerning the future of the Japanese national team.

I answered then, and stand by the claim, that I can see the side going on to become better than my nation in the next three or four World Cups.

The reasons for this are threefold: Firstly, the professional game here has the huge benefit of still being incredibly young. In the early stages of development improvement can be made on a steeper incline than a country which has a long history – as former Shimizu S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol coach Steve Perryman once explained to me.

“If you’re managing the Brazil national team, to improve them 1% is very difficult,” he said.

“Because of where Japan have come from they can improve 7, 8%, or 10%. There’s an improvement gap to go into and they are the best people to find it. And the other people aren’t getting away from them, they’re coming closer all the time.”

Secondly, the structure of youth development here is fantastic and the organisation and facilities for aspiring players are superb.

Finally – and most importantly – Japanese culture encourages the desire to learn, and players here are ready, willing and able to pick up ideas from coaches and teammates from all over the world.

English football, on the other hand, has a long and distinguished history which certainly brings added pressure – and, according to Perryman’s theory, less room for improvement.

Add to this a fairly basic and inflexible approach to the youth game, and a generation of players whose main principles are centred around “getting stuck in” and the lack of progression doesn’t look so surprising.

With that in mind, perhaps a more ‘old-school’ style coach like Redknapp is better suited to the position, and may earn respect more readily from the players.

Quite whether such an attitude is for the best in the long run is certainly up for debate though.

Temporary improvement may take place, but until longer-term changes are made Japan will keep edging closer and closer – and may soon overtake.


Brighton coming home

Japanese football fans are, on the whole, great. Sometimes, there’s just nothing quite like home, though…

Since I arrived back in my hometown of Brighton there was only one subject on everyone’s lips.

After over 14 years without a permanent home my local team, Brighton and Hove Albion of The Championship, had a new ground – the spectacular Amex Community Stadium.

Work began on the venue just before I moved to Japan, and each visit home since had revealed it in a slightly more completed form.

This time it was ready to go, and driving past one night I pulled in to have a closer look.

I was stopped by a security guard who introduced himself as ‘Shrek’ (he was bald, apparently used to be a lot fatter – he was still an impressively built gentleman – and had a tattoo of the character on his right forearm).

I explained my business and rather than being asked to get off the premises I was greeted warmly and soon found myself involved in conversation about the club.

A week or so later I was getting a cab home and within 10 seconds was asked by the driver if I had been to the new stadium yet. No need to specify which stadium or even check and see if I had an interest in football – I was in Brighton, the club had a new ground and it was where everybody wanted to be.

At that point I hadn’t been, but I informed the cabbie that I had my ticket for the weekend’s game against Blackpool and would be making my debut then.

Saturday rolled around and my friend Ben picked me up on the way, after which we collected Joe – President of the local bowls club – and his wife (sadly I didn’t catch her name, so I hope she won’t take offence to being referred to as ‘Mrs. Joe’).

As we cleared a hill on the approach to the ground and it came into view, Joe proceeded to tell us of his days walking to their old stadium, The Goldstone Ground, 58 years ago, and exclaimed that he never thought he’d live to see the day that his beloved club moved just ten minutes from his house.

Mrs. Joe then explained with a chuckle that every time they had driven past during the stadium’s construction Joe had cheered and instructed her to do the same.

Inside the ground the atmosphere was fantastic, and after an absence of over two years from English matches it didn’t take long to be reminded of the biggest difference between Japanese football grounds and those back home; the banter.

Initially there was rivalry between each stand of home fans. The West Stand (where I was seated) began with “We’re the West Stand, We’re the West Stand, We’re the West Stand Brighton Boys!” – challenging the North Stand, behind the goal to our left, to do better. If they succeeded we came back louder, if they weren’t loud enough we jeered.

Once everybody was in fine enough voice, the attention turned to the Blackpool fans who had started to sing, with us taunting “We forgot that you were here!”

Another contrast to Japan is the absence of fan leaders – everything happens naturally and spontaneously. Although some people are self-appointed chant-starters, anyone can stand up and start a song or yell some encouragement or abuse at the players or officials.

This, too, can provide much amusement. As well as enabling anybody with a passionate or witty streak to get the crowd going, it also offers up the opportunity for people to make absolute fools of themselves.

My next trip to the stadium served up the perfect example of this, with a guy behind me deciding at about the 30-minute mark that the referee was not very good.

He spent the next hour-and-a-half (Brighton beat Sunderland 1-0 in extra-time) hurling abuse at the man in the middle, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his team was in the process of beating a Premier League side.

While everybody around exchanged glances and smirks at his outbursts nobody really minded though, and such strange characters are part of the wonderful tapestry of English football stadiums. In a strange way, I’ll miss him once I’m back in Japan.


Cultural Conflict

Returning home to the riots in England provided a stark contrast to the social order I had become used to in Japan. Football, as is so often the case, provided an interesting backdrop against which to compare the two cultures.

“Japan are actually quite a good football team, aren’t they.”

That’s what my brother said to me during the Samurai Blue’s comprehensive win over, an admittedly below-par, South Korea last week.

It was, I think, the first time I’d sat down and watched a Japan game with him since I’d moved to Tokyo and seeing as it’s normally me telling him all about Japanese football it was interesting to hear his thoughts on it.

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this though, and pointed out that, yes, actually they’d got to the second round at the World Cup and were the reigning Asian champions.

It turned out he wasn’t being ignorant and patronising though, but that he instead meant it literally.

“They play as a whole team, like a club, rather than a national team,” he explained. “Whereas the England team always looks like a bunch of players from different teams who’ve been thrown together, Japan looks more like the players know each other and how each other play.”

This observation of the Japanese style – teamwork, not a group of individuals etc. – is, of course, not exactly a new one but it seemed a particularly fitting distinction for an Englishman to make in a wider context because of something else that had been going on since I returned to the UK.

On Saturday 6th August riots broke out in Tottenham, North London. These scenes, which included people attacking police, setting fire to cars and looting local businesses, quickly spread around the capital and soon to other cities including Manchester and Liverpool.

The individuals responsible for the acts of theft and violence were from some of the poorest areas in the country, and while their actions were obviously the result of deeper-lying social problems (which are far beyond my ability to try and explain or fully understand), they came pretty much from nowhere and took the nation by surprise.

Claims were made that they were a reaction against “the rich people” and “the government, Conservatives or whoever” and that it was to “show the police we’re not scared of them and we can do what we want”, (all genuine comments from looters).

Having been in Japan in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunami this demonstrated the different ways that my country and my adopted country cope in times of difficulty – and it was very sad.

Scenes such as those which were unfolding in England are very rarely, if ever, justifiable, but they can sometimes be expected. As transportation was hit and supplies were not being delivered in Kanto, Ibaraki and Tohoku in the days and weeks after the tragedy in March, for example, it would perhaps not have been surprising if people had started to get angry and aggressive, looting essentials and reacting against the government and other officials who were failing to provide detailed or clear information.

This didn’t happen, and never looked like it would, though. While there are, of course, also negatives to the meek and unquestioning response that was the norm in Japan, in terms of maintaining social order and getting back to normal as quickly as possible the manner in which Japan and the Japanese people responded was the best for the majority.

Of course, the football was also affected by the disaster in Tohoku, with the J.League postponing five rounds of matches, Japan pulling out of the Copa America and charity events being arranged at many clubs to assist in the recovery process.

There was also an impact upon the game in England, with the Three Lions’ friendly with Holland being postponed as the fans’ and players’ safety could not be guaranteed (although I’m sure Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong could handle themselves against any English hooligans), and the domestic leagues and cups having to call off some games as the officers required to police the events were needed more urgently elsewhere.

All in all it was a very unsavoury return to my home country, and England’s return to the dark-ages of hooliganism and mindless violence was made all the more stark as I watched the collective and dynamic way that an ever-improving – and still unbeaten – Zac Japan disposed of their old rivals.

If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

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March 2023