Posts Tagged ‘ガンバ大阪



22
Jul
11

Clock ticking on Petrovic…

Urawa Reds latest bout of underachievement could see them “starting again” again next season…

It wasn’t supposed to have gone like this.

When Zeljko Petrovic arrived at the start of the season he was adamant that his beloved Urawa should not be kicking their heels in the middle-reaches of the table, and insisted that he had arrived to drag them back to the top where they belonged.

“What you see in Saitama is in Manchester or in Munich or in Barcelona, Real Madrid – it’s the same level, Urawa is the same level in Asia,” he said.

“I haven’t come here to be 9th or 7th or 8th, I like to be the best or one of the best.”

And, in a way, he has lived up to that promise, with Reds not finding themselves in any of those league positions so far. Sadly though, they have not been anywhere near being one of the best either, and the side are yet to move out of the bottom half of the table.

Despite experiencing their customary slow-start things seemed to be looking up when they hammered Grampus 3-0 in Saitama in April, and Petrovic reiterated his goal after that game.

“What I want for Urawa Reds is if you play a bad season, a very bad season, you will be in the first four. And if you play a good season you have to be champion. Not ‘good season champion, bad season number 10, 8, 11’.”

They failed to build on this victory though, and after a barren patch without wins in May and June Petrovic’s future was starting to be called into question, with the side heading into a crucial run of four games that could have spelled the end.

Although they didn’t lose any of those matches they can’t be said to have come out of them as a better team, and despite beating Avispa, three draws against Grampus, Gamba and Yamagata leave them just outside the relegation zone and suggest that there are still several problems to be overcome.

Aside from Genki Haraguchi, who is finally showing more than just potential, very few players are playing at anywhere near the best of their ability, and the absence of a striker is without doubt the biggest of their concerns at this moment in time.

While the departure of Edmilson has hardly helped matters this was a problem while he was still with the team, and his lumbering presence in the final third was not doing a great deal to improve Reds’ attacking forays.

His countryman Mazola has proved equally inept in front of goal, and his hat-trick of misses against Gamba wonderfully summed up the side’s form in 2011 so far.

Reds fans are now pinning their hopes on new striker Ranko Despotovic, although nobody really knows what to expect of him or how long it will take him to settle with the side – if he does at all – and even Petrovic admitted to being a little in the dark about the Serbia international.

“This is Japan, you need maybe adaptation but I don’t have the time. Normally he’s a finisher; scorer, running, good professional. This is my information, I never saw him play. But I hope he’s also a little bit of a target man because how we play you need somebody there to get the ball and play to the side.”

One player who should be out to the side but hasn’t been very often this year is Naoki Yamada.

Naoki, who is undoubtedly one of the most naturally gifted members of the Urawa squad, has struggled to find a regular place in the team this season, and it seems to me that Petrovic is still unsure about him. After the Gamba game the coach singled Haraguchi and Shunki Takahashi out for praise, but suggested that Naoki was not quite there yet. 

“I’m so proud of Genki. I know that when I started he was totally different. When I started with Shunki he was totally different. Naoki is coming. All young players are much, much better. One makes maybe faster progression than other ones but this is normal.”

Normal it may be, but, as Petrovic himself said, time is one thing he doesn’t have much of, and while he will surely see out the rest of this season it might not be long before we are re-setting the timer for yet another new coach in Saitama.

24
Jun
11

Usami rightly made to wait

Takashi Usami’s recent call-up to the full national team, despite not getting on the pitch in the Kirin Cup, meant he missed out on Japan Under-22’s Olympic qualifiers. While there’s no doubting the youngster’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with either decision though…

I was delighted when Takashi Usami struck his wonderful goal against Shimizu S-Pulse a couple of weekends back, as it was nice to see the young forward doing exactly what he does best; playing football. And playing it very well.

Prior to that goal he had spent two weeks in the media for doing absolutely nothing. Or, to be totally correct, for having nothing done with him.

The cause of most of this excitement was initially his first inclusion in the Samurai Blue squad for the Kirin Cup.

Despite the fact that head coach Alberto Zaccheroni made it fairly clear when announcing the squad that Usami was unlikely to feature, this did not stop the speculation and anticipation from building around him, and not a training session passed without the player and coach being asked about the chances of a debut being made.

The hype around the 19-year-old was then heightened when the rumours that have long been circulating about him signing for Bayern Munich picked up some speed. The fact that one of the biggest clubs in the world were seemingly on the verge of recruiting the player only added to the sense of confusion about his lack of participation in the games.

Then, having not gotten onto the pitch for the full-side, Usami was denied the opportunity to do so for the Under-22s in their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait – with Takashi Sekizuka’s decision not to include him in the squad again sparking much head-scratching and disbelief among the football community.

I, for one, don’t really see what the problem is though.

Firstly, while I would have liked, as a football fan, to have seen Gamba’s No. 11 take part in the Kirin Cup, I think it made perfect sense not to play him.

Zac stated that his primary motivation in calling Usami up was so that he could have the opportunity to work and speak with him over a prolonged period of time in training. He also made it clear that the player still had a lot to learn, and focused on the difference between league and international football.

If, as is expected, the player does move to Europe in the not-too-distant future then the chances to work with him for such a substantial amount of time will become fewer and farther between.

With that in mind it made perfect sense for Zac to have taken this opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Usami, and to see for himself just how much potential the player has.

It was also understandable that the coach chose to keep his impressions to himself and not to send Usami out onto the pitch, where every fan, coach and journalist would be poring over his every movement, touch, pass and shot.

Of course, coping with such attention cannot be delayed forever, and there is certainly the argument that the longer it is put off the greater the sense of expectation will be.

However, entering the fray too early could have hindered Usami’s development, with there being the chance that it could go too badly – or too well.

Imagine he had come off the bench and struck the winner against the Czech’s – ensuring victory for Japan, the Golden Boot award and, most probably – when considering that the prize is almost always given to goalscorers in Japan, regardless of how well other players perform – the MVP award for Usami.

This would have been a hell of a lot to live up to.

Of course, things could have gone in completely the opposite direction and he could have had a nightmare debut and his confidence could have taken a large knock.

While unfortunate, and no fault of his own, his absence from the U-22s is also understandable.

Sekizuka san spent 10 days working on a system with particular players and, having been with Zac and co. during that time, Usami was not around for any of those sessions.

So why recall him? Even bringing in a player as gifted as Usami could upset the balance of the side at a time when mistakes could be very costly.

It is a real shame for the player that he is currently stuck in a kind of no-man’s land between the U-22 and full national teams, but I have no doubt at all that he will get his chance sooner or later.

16
Jun
11

Ono confident of success for Marinos

Last week I visited Yokohama F. Marinos training ground and interviewed their young striker Yuji Ono.

Despite being just 18 he has his head very much screwed on and has high hopes for this season and beyond.

21
Mar
11

An exodus of talent

More and more players are leaving the J.League for Europe in what is mostly a positive development for Japanese football.

The lack of money coming in to compensate for these departures is a concern though, as I discussed in Number 1 Shimbun this month.

19
Mar
11

The mark of champions

After the first round of J.League matches had concluded it was easy to see why it is likely to be the same teams chasing the title in 2011.

None of the title contenders have had an easy start to the J.League season, but while they have not had everything their own way they have shown exactly why they are the teams who will be challenging for the championship come December.

Gamba, for instance, had a difficult opening match against local rivals Cerezo – which came soon after both teams had been in ACL action in midweek – but they demonstrated tremendous resilience to recover not just from that rarest of thing – a missed Yasuhito Endo penalty – but also to re-take the lead almost instantly after Cerezo had got themselves back in the game.

Such recoveries were also on display in both Kashima and Nagoya, with the league’s other two heavyweights being frustrated on their own patches by the resilient and adventurous Omiya Ardija and Yokohama F. Marinos.

While defeats looked to be on the cards for both teams as the clock ran down, they both managed to salvage crucial points at the death though. These last-gasp goals not only ensured the sides didn’t start the season with a loss, but they will also have served as psychological boosts which will benefit the teams in two ways.

Firstly, they themselves will take great confidence from their refusal to give up, and the realization that they always have a goal in them will serve them well as the season progresses.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, opponents will always have lingering doubts in the backs of their minds about the possibility of securing a win against either side.

Omiya had the lead three times against Antlers, and Marinos were beating Nagoya until the fifth minute of injury time but both teams took just a point back home with them instead of three.

This is no coincidence, and the results came about largely because the best teams always know how to adjust to their current set of circumstances.

Before the season kicked off Daiki Iwamasa and Oswaldo Oliveira were both asked if it was strange to come into the season not as defending champions. Their answers demonstrated the resolve that drove Kashima to three successive championships.

Iwamasa put a positive spin on the situation, saying, “In one respect it’s good that we can start the season as a challenger. We’re at a point where we have to be modest and humble about ourselves so it’s good.”

Oliveira, meanwhile, made it clear that his side must now react to the position they find themselves in, “(It’s) not strange. It really was a disappointment, but we have to know how to deal with this situation.
 


He then continued by exhibiting the enjoyment he gets out of having to adapt in this manner. “I love to prepare football teams, I love to see players growing and doing their best. This is what keeps me motivated.”

In a sense he approaches each season as if it were a puzzle, and relishes each new challenge as he looks to rearrange and fit the pieces accordingly to achieve success.

He pays fantastic attention to detail, and on the rare occasion that the pieces don’t fall into place, he does his utmost to work out why and how best to remedy the situation.

“We can see numbers of the last J.League (season): our defence was the best, we were the team who lost the least number of games, (but) we drew 12 matches – at least 6 of them we should win. So I think this made the difference for us. What you have to do now is try to identify the points and work on it.”

Dragan Stojkovic displayed a similar flexibility last season, and was rightfully proud of the fact that his team never lost back-to-back matches in the league in 2010.

Of course, a home draw on the opening day of the season would not have been what Oliveira was after before the game with Omiya – as his frustration after full time showed.

Teams from lower down the division will always cause the odd upset though, and after a little time to cool off he will almost certainly see this point as one gained rather than two lost, and make his next move accordingly.

Such sense of purpose is what sets the best apart from the rest.

04
Mar
11

J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm

02
Mar
11

Free Market

More Japanese players are making their way to the European leagues, but their departures often leave their former clubs with a gap in the first team and very little money with which to plug it.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said, “I went to the cinema at 4pm to watch ‘The King’s Speech’. When I came out and saw what had happened, I nearly had a stutter too!” AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, meanwhile, thought it was ‘crazy’, while Arsene Wenger described it as ‘unfair’ (although he tends to think pretty much everything is unfair these days).

Yes, it was of course the ridiculous activity that took place in the final hours of the English January transfer window.

Things had already been progressing in a characteristically brash fashion throughout the month-long window, with Darren Bent moving from Sunderland to Aston Villa for £24 million and Man City exchanging £27 million for Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko. As the clock ticked down these deals began to look fairly modest, though.

First of all, news broke that Chelsea were set to buy Fernando Torres from Liverpool for a staggering £50 million. Before this information could be fully digested it was then announced that Andy Carroll – who had played just 41 Premier League games and scored 11 goals for Newcastle United – would be replacing Torres at Anfield for £35 million.

This made Carroll the eighth most expensive footballer of all time, despite the fact that he has just one full international cap and has only had half a season as a first-team regular in the Premier League.

In total, English clubs spent more between them than the rest of the top European leagues put together (£225 million) – and all this at a time when UEFA is attempting to cut back the gross overspending by European, and in particular English, clubs. Despite their best efforts though, as long as clubs can counter their losses with profits there is no actual limit on how much you are allowed to spend.

With the market not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon then, it would perhaps be wise of the J.League to reconsider the way that it conducts its own transfer activity.

Players here almost always move to a new club without a fee, by virtue of the fact that they are usually only on one-year contracts. This (and the vastly inferior budgets Japanese clubs operate on, of course) does prevent the crazy spending (and levels of debt) that occurs in England, but it also means that clubs very rarely make any kind of profit on players they are producing.

The disparity is most clear when Japanese players transfer from the J.League to a European club and has recently been highlighted by rumours that Manchester United and Atletico Madrid are considering £20 million + offers to sign Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.

Kagawa moved to the Bundesliga last summer for a nominal fee believed to be about £300,000 – a payment that was seen as a ‘goodwill gesture’ by the German side, with Kagawa having a clause in his Cerezo Osaka contract that stated he could move to Europe for free.

Such exceptions are not uncommon in Japan and while I appreciate the gesture behind them (more Japanese players in Europe equals a stronger Japan national team and greater awareness of the J.League), it is time for a change.

In the past year there has been an explosion in the number of players moving from Japan to Europe, but almost all of the transfers involved no fee. How can J.League clubs continue to develop if no money is coming in to compensate for the departure of their best players? They can carry on nurturing young talent, but if European clubs then pluck them away a year or two down the line as well that is hardly conducive to the long-term growth of the J.League.

FC Tokyo are doing well to hold out for a fee for Yuto Nagatomo, and Omiya Ardija and Gamba Osaka’s shrewdness in tying Rafael and Takashi Usami down to longer-term contracts demonstrates that clubs are aware of the situation. With European sides taking an increased interest in Japan’s talented youngsters though, the practice should become more widespread, and fast.

A good place to start would be in Yokohama, and Marinos could do a lot worse than tie Yuji Ono down to an improved deal as quickly as possible. Seeing an academy graduate progress overseas is undoubtedly fulfilling but, unfortunately, it doesn’t pay too many bills in today’s game.

02
Feb
11

Teenage Kicks

I, like Whitney Houston, believe that children are the future. Therefore, we need to make sure they are coached properly and learn from the mistakes of their elders.

Last weekend I was playing football with some friends in Yoyogi Park and our group – which was made up of Japanese, English, French and German players – was joined by five or six junior high school kids who were having a kickabout nearby.

The numbers matched up so we made a straight game of it – gaijin and ‘oldies’ versus the Japanese youngsters – and it goes without saying that we decided to take it easy, with some of my team more than twice the age of our opponents.

That didn’t last for too long though, as they were outstanding. Their touch, awareness and composure was of a level far above that of players of 14 or 15 in England, and the match soon descended into a simple pattern: they would get the ball and pass it, then pass it again, then dribble round a couple of us and pass again, leaving us bemused and dizzy.

However, despite the fact that they were much, much better than us, the scores ended up fairly even as they seemed to have no real desire to put the ball in the net (well, between our bags).

At some point in their tricky attacks one of us would get lucky and block the ball before hoofing it away from our goal in the hope that a teammate could get to it before one of them and score.

While our approach was a little cruder and certainly not pleasing on the eye, it was rooted in a simple fact: to win a football match you need to score goals.

The complaint that Japanese players will not take a strike at goal unless they are almost in it is a common one, and ‘shoot!’ is certainly the word that I find myself shouting the most at J.League matches. While some will point to the recent 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia as evidence against this, I would counter that a) the Saudi team were absolutely disgraceful and barely showed up, and b) all five of Japan’s goals came from inside the box.

The worrying thing for me, though, and something that was driven home by the game in Yoyogi, is the fact that the problem doesn’t look likely to be going away anytime soon.

Before last season’s Super Cup between Gamba and Kashima I watched the game between the J.League Under 18s and a Japan High School XI. In this match I noted that the players were exhibiting the same good and bad points as their seniors who took to the field after them. Likewise in the recent High School championships, where the majority of players displayed fantastic technical ability but very little spontaneity or flexibility.

Japanese players often seem to me to be almost pre-programmed, and just try the same things over and over and over again regardless of the end result. A full-back or winger, for example, having been told to get to the by-line and get a cross in will do this ten times out of ten, even if an opportunity were to present itself for him to cut inside and maybe take a shot. A goalkeeper will never spot a quick counter-attack and launch the ball upfield if he has been instructed to play it short to his full-backs.

Likewise, it is rare to see players take the current score into account and adjust their approach to the game accordingly. The final between Takigawa ni and Kumiyama provided a good example of this, with Takigawa almost forfeiting their victory by refusing to close the game off at 4-1. Instead of shutting up shop they continued to play the same attacking style and Kumiyama very nearly made them pay for it, scoring two late goals and making Takigawa work much harder than they needed to for the trophy.  

Every country has its own style of football; that is one of the things that makes it the most popular sport in the world. In order to compete at the very top, players and, perhaps more importantly, coaches, need to be willing to make adjustments though. The fact that the next generation of Japanese players are committing the same mistakes as the current crop suggests that this is not happening at the moment, and is something that needs to be addressed.

19
Jan
11

The Back Post – Self-belief the key for Miyaichi

The last month or so has seen several more Japanese players head to Europe, including the 18-year-old High School player Ryo Miyaichi, who has just signed for Arsenal.

While the number of players moving abroad is increasing and can only be a good thing for the game here, the level of self-belief Japanese players have in their own abilities is still up for debate, as I discussed in today’s Daily Yomiuri. 

09
Jan
11

Ienaga gets his chance

The number of Japanese players earning themselves moves to Europe is steadily on the rise so for last week’s Soccer Magazine column I focused on the chances of one of them, Akihiro Ienaga, making the grade at Mallorca in Spain. 

Twelve months after getting relegated from J1 with Oita Trinita, Akihiro Ienaga has completed a remarkable turnaround and, having secured a move to R.C.D Mallorca, will look to become the first Japanese player to really make his mark in Spain’s Primera Liga.

I have a sneaking suspicion he may just do it, although I am certainly not alone in that opinion.

Since 2008 he has helped Oita to a Nabisco Cup triumph and been instrumental in Cerezo Osaka’s spectacular surge into the AFC Champions League, but there was always the fear that he would never fulfil his full potential.

While Ienaga’s talent has never been in doubt, his attitude has sometimes held him back and as the likes of Keisuke Honda – with whom he played for Gamba Osaka junior youth – began to earn reputations for themselves on the pitch, Ienaga found himself out on loan in each of the last three seasons – largely because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Akira Nishino.

It looked as if a move abroad may be the best solution for him to really make the step up, and last January I visited Plymouth Argyle in England, where Ienaga had spent some time on trial.

Chief Operating Officer of the club, Tony Campbell, remarked on the player’s standout ability amongst the various Japanese players who had visited the club, and suggested that his mentality was perhaps more suited to a European style of play.

“When Ienaga came over he said he really enjoyed training in England because it was different. On one of our training sessions we turned the goals round, so they had to get the ball in behind and score. He’d never done it, but he loved it, because it was different.”

Endo Yasuhito is also a big Ienaga fan, and back in August selected him as his favourite current J.League player.

“Now I like Ienaga, he is a great player with huge potential. I feel he could make it into the national team and also abroad as well.”

Ienaga will now have the opportunity to prove his former teammate right, and at the same time will have the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of previous Japanese players who have tried and failed in Spain.

Shunsuke Nakamura is the most recent to have come up short in the country during his period at Espanyol, where he struggled to adapt with the Spanish style after too long in the inferior SPL. Before him went the likes of Shoji Jo and Yoshito Okubo who were also given chances in the country – the latter interestingly also at Mallorca – but failed to make the grade.

Ienaga is perhaps a different breed of player to his predecessors though, and his openness to new ideas will certainly stand him in good stead in La Liga. His former coach at Oita, Ranko Popovic, is delighted that ‘Aki’ has received this opportunity, referring to the progress he has made since he started working with him two seasons ago.

“Aki had some difficulties at the start with changing some things and I was very strict with him. He learned though and he is a very good player.”

Popovic recalls one instance in particular that underlined the player’s ability.

“I played him volante in one game and he had never played there before. People said I was crazy to force him into this position but he was the Man of the Match.

“I saw big potential in him and now we are seeing the fruits of that. I told him at Oita, ‘You must be the best. I don’t want you in the middle, if you are in the middle you don’t exist to me. You must be the best.’”

Such harsh treatment can go one of two ways, with the player either choosing to rise to the task or give up entirely. Ienaga’s quality is shown in the fact that he did the former, and his decision to take on this latest challenge in Spain could see him grow even more in the next few years.




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