Posts Tagged ‘ショーン・キャロル

16
Feb
11

The Back Post: Okada laid base for Zac’s success

Takeshi Okada left Japan in good shape for his successor Alberto Zaccheroni, providing him with some healthy heads and a strong heart.

I discussed the subject in more detail in my latest column for The Daily Yomiuri.

15
Feb
11

Land of the Rising Sons

After Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the Asian Cup final there was only one thing I could write about for last week’s Soccer Magazine…

The Samurai Blue’s success at the Asian Cup last week rounded off a hugely successful twelve months for Japanese football, and it doesn’t look as if the games’ development will be slowing down any time soon.

The ability to come from behind was key to Japan’s success in Qatar, and this mental strength is a relatively new addition to the side’s armoury. Compare the never-say-die spirit that was on display in 2011, for instance, with their infamous experience in Doha back in 1993. Rather than being the victim and conceding late goals, Japan is now the kind of side that is inflicting them on their opponents.

Turning a defeat or draw into a win in such a manner is the hallmark of all great teams, and if Japan can maintain such resilience over the next three-and-a-half years they will certainly put themselves in a position to progress beyond the last 16 in Brazil.

The foundations for this development can be accredited in no small part to Takeshi Okada, who identified the importance of mental strength when preparing his team for the World Cup in South Africa.

“When we talk about athletes and sports, there are three areas in which people compete,” he said. “There is the physical aspect, there is the technical aspect and there is the mental aspect.”

While many were ridiculing his ‘Best 4’ ambition, Okada san remained committed to the target, citing the importance of a strong psychology and refusing to accept that Japan did not have what it took to go that far. He reasoned that, “If you look back on Japan’s long history, even before the era of bushido or the samurai warrior way, there has always been, within the Japanese, the ability to fight, the ability to compete. It’s just that these abilities have been dimmed somewhat in recent times because now we live in a very safe and convenient society. I can say that, in a sense, this fundamental fighting spirit of ours, the switch has been turned off and therefore it’s only a matter of turning on this switch again.”

His steadfast belief in the players appears to have been the catalyst to do just this. While they did fall short of the semifinals last June, their performances at the finals – and since – have brought about a mental shift within the team, and the players now have the belief that they can compete with sides they may previously have been intimidated by.

The win over Argentina, which got Alberto Zaccheroni off to an incredible start, was undoubtedly a great result but it did have to be taken in context (with the Argentines here for little more than to pick up a sizeable paycheck) and it was important not to get too carried away.

Seven games down the line, however, and with the side still unbeaten under Zac they are starting to look like they possess genuine potential.

The number of players now plying their trade in Europe is certainly helping, and the manner in which Japan dealt with Australia’s aerial onslaught in the final demonstrated that experience in more physical leagues is paying dividends.

With the level of the J.League also improving year-on-year the number of quality players available for selection is on the rise, and the strength-in-depth that Zaccheroni has at his disposal is vital, as the man himself attested to after the final.

“This is an excellent team and we have excellent players so I am proud to manage them. What is great about the team is that the players who started on the bench can produce results on the pitch as well.”

Indeed, when you can bring on the likes of Hajime Hosogai, Daiki Iwamasa, Yosuke Kashgiwagi and, of course, Tadanari Lee (and you are without players such as Tulio, Yuji Nakazawa, Mu Kanazaki, Kengo Nakamura, Takayuki Morimoto, Yuki Abe, Tomoaki Makino, Shinji Kagawa, Daisuke Matsui… the list really does go on) you certainly do have a group of players to be envied.

There is, of course, still plenty of room for improvement, and the team must be careful not to become complacent. If they can stay focused though, then Japan really could become a force to be reckoned with in the international game.

15
Feb
11

A Rey of light

A few weeks ago I attended Kashiwa Reysol’s 2011 season conference and had a far better Saturday night than I’d been expecting.

Yellow is my favourite colour. To me it reflects positivity, and as soon as you add a splash to the picture everything becomes a lot warmer and more vibrant.

As such, I was disappointed at the end of the 2009 J.League season when the colour drained from J1 substantially as JEF United – ever-present in the top-flight since the league’s inception in 1993 – were relegated, along with their Chiba neighbours, Kashiwa Reysol.

While I was unhappy to see JEF go down, Kashiwa represented the bigger loss to me, with a trip to Hitachi Dai providing one of the best atmospheres in Japanese football.

The supporters – as they always should be in football stadiums – are right on top of the action and use their close proximity to the pitch to great effect. They taunt and intimidate opposing players, and possess a unique sense of humour that is lacking in the majority of J.League stadiums.

For this reason I was pleased when the side made an instant return to the top-flight – after a terrific season in J2 where they only lost two games – and headed eagerly along to Kashiwa City Civic Cultural Hall last weekend for their 2011 season conference.

This was the first time I had been to such an event and all I really expected was for a handful of local journalists to be firing some simple questions at the coach and new players while a few supporters milled around for a picture or autograph.  

How wrong I was. The hall was a sellout, and once the 1,200 seats had been filled the remaining fans who had ventured out had to stand. The atmosphere, too, was more boisterous than I’d anticipated (caused, in no small part, by head coach Nelsinho who declined the opportunity to introduce the club’s slogan for the season in the usually straight-laced manner in favour of a far more interactive ‘call-back’: “1, 2, 3…” he began. “Vittoria!” came the response. “Not loud enough,” he challenged, “One more time: 1, 2, 3…”, “Vittoria!”)

And the entertainment for the evening didn’t stop there: Kazushige Kirihata struck a couple of catwalk-esque poses when modelling the new goalkeepers’ kit, Jorge Wagner, the team’s latest addition from Brazil, introduced himself in Japanese (which was actually slightly more efficient than his translator, who forgot what he was translating at one point), and An Young Hak joked that North Korea had deliberately lost their final Asian Cup match so he could be back in time to appear at the event.

In fact, except for a mystifyingly long and serious description of the new kit for 2011 (which was delivered by an official from manufacturers Yonex and lasted longer than Nelsinho’s address to the audience) the majority of the conference was a light-hearted and enjoyable affair.

Indeed, the new signings all paid reference to the effect that the character of the club – and their inimitable fans – had on their decisions to join, and while such remarks are a must at any unveiling, they certainly sound more genuine when applied to Reysol.

Former Omiya midfielder An commented that, “My impression was that Kashiwa have a fevered support. Many people came today so I now realise the challenge; I want to play for such passionate supporters,” while Tatsuya Masushima, signed from Kyoto Sanga, said, “The fans here are fantastic. They have an influence on the opposing team right from the warm-up and I’m really looking forward to that.”

Of course, there was some serious talk of football as well, and as much as Kashiwa thrive upon their status as a compact, community club, their coach knows that they really have to put the effort in on the pitch as well as off it in the season ahead.

“2011 is a big season. Kashiwa is a winning team but we will have to compete because I think the level in J1 is high,” he said, before insisting that he is prepared and feels he has the players to succeed in J1.

“I have many plans, of course. We have tall players and creative players and our forwards are all capable of scoring goals.”

One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.

23
Jan
11

Commercial Breakdown

TV coverage of football in Japan, as I have touched upon before, has many problems. Cutting to commercials during a penalty-shoot-out was not something I had ever expected though.

The constant repetition of the same commercials at halftime and inbetween games I can make my peace with (I have grown up watching the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League after all). The irritating slogans that keep popping up to remind me who is sponsoring the show – as if it needed reinforcing – are also something that I have now come to expect of football coverage on TV in Japan. Cutting off in the middle, actually, just before the very end of, a penalty shoot-out for the ad-break, however, is absolutely ridiculous.

For anybody who missed it (although perhaps that’s the wrong turn of phrase, we all missed it), let me provide a brief recap.

Risshodai Shonan and Takigawa Ni had played out a tense semifinal to see who would join Kumiyama in the final of the 2011 All Japan High School tournament and, just as in Kumiyama’s semifinal with Ryutsu Keizaidai Kashiwa, the game had progressed to a penalty shoot-out.

Unlike the first match – which had produced four goals in regulation time and was concluded efficiently before Kumiyama had to take their fifth penalty – the second did not feature the sharpest of shooting. Takuo Ikeda and Taiki Katou had both missed open goals in the final five minutes for Risshodai and although they had gone someway to making up for those errors by converting their penalty kicks, neither side was able to end the match.

With the score still tied after the eighth round of spot kicks I was on the edge of my seat (well my bed), engrossed in the natural drama of the shoot-out.

And then it disappeared. First the pictures were submerged under an advert for a copy company (I mean, how many copy companies are there? Do they really need to advertise anyway?), and then, with the commentators still jabbering excitedly away, they cut entirely to a commercial break.

‘You’re kidding, right?’ I said (although I think I used slightly rougher language), before leaping up and frantically changing the channels. Nothing. The game hadn’t been shifted to a different channel, it was just gone. With, as it turned out, just two more kicks to go. What’s that, 60 seconds, perhaps?  All because the schedule dictated that the show must take a break at that point.

Now, I am often frustrated by television coverage of football in Japan (something I will undoubtedly discuss here at a later date). My most frequent complaint is that it all too often refuses to discuss controversial events – with penalty decisions, red cards and diving rarely, if ever, addressed. While this is annoying, to cut a live sporting event off right before its conclusion is just incredible. Why not delay the commercials until the game had ended?

Something similar did happen in England a couple of years ago, when Everton youngster Dan Gosling’s extra-time winner against Liverpool in an FA Cup replay was missed by the viewing public as the channel, ITV, cut to an advert for tic-tacs.

This was down to a technical fault rather than having been a conscious decision on the part of the programme-makers though – and it caused quite a stir, provoking over 1,000 complaints within 24 hours and drawing an apology from the executive chairman of the channel, who said:

“As a football fan myself I was glued to the match and was as disappointed as anyone to miss the goal. [The] glitch was inexcusable and we are awaiting the results of our technical inquiry so we can put in place stringent procedures to address this.”

Gosling’s goal, like the conclusion to the Takigawa-Risshodai shoot-out, was shown in replays once coverage continued, but this is just not the same as seeing it live, especially when you have become so gripped by the action.

I am sure nobody from NTV – who were airing the game – has declared the decision ‘inexcusable’, and it is disappointing that such an exciting day of football was spoiled by something that could so easily have been prevented.

I certainly learned a lesson from my semifinal experience and didn’t take any risks with the final; instead of sitting in front of the TV I headed to Kokuritsu where I enjoyed all eight goals live and uninterrupted.

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.

31
Dec
10

Where’s the Endo the road?

I wanted to write a season review and look ahead to the next one for my last Soccer Magazine column of 2010. The congested structure of the Japanese football season made this a little tricky though…

As I sat on the plane to England for my hard-earned Christmas holiday I began to write this week’s column. Seeing as the 2010 season has almost concluded and the New Year is fast approaching, a reflection on the past season and look forward to the next initially seemed like a good idea.

Then I stumbled upon a problem. Just when did the last season begin, when would it finish and when exactly would the new one begin? I began to go through my notes and searched for a period in the last year-and-a-half when there hadn’t been any Japanese football taking place.

It turned out there hadn’t been one, and there wasn’t going to be for some time to come.

To demonstrate the intensity of the schedule, put yourself into the shoes of Endo Yasuhito for a moment.

The 2009 J.League season started in March and officially came to an end with a 2-0 victory over JEF last December, but there was still the Emperor’s Cup which didn’t conclude until New Year’s Day 2010.

A couple of weeks after winning that he was training with the national team in preparation for the East Asian Championship and just 10 days after China secured victory at Kokuritsu he was back in action for Gamba, playing against Suwon in Korea in the ACL.

The 2010 J.League season was then underway, but, mercifully, after just 12 rounds of matches there was a break. Oh, not for Yatto, as this ‘break’ was for the World Cup and he was off to South Africa (via Switzerland and Austria).

After playing every minute for Okada san at the tournament there was still no time to put his feet up as J.League games were back on and his team needed him after a fairly miserable showing in the first part of the season. 

He helped to turn things around for Nishino san, got his regular spot in the J.League Best Eleven and can finally look forward to…the Emperor’s Cup. Again?! Oh well, just three more matches at the most and then he can take some time off.

But wait! The Asian Cup! 

OK, if he can just put it in in Qatar and then surely he can take it easy for a little while?

Oh no, hang on, then the 2011 ACL and J.League season will be getting underway, then there’s another ‘break’ – this time for the Copa America – the end of the J.League, probably the Emperor’s Cup (there’s always the Emperor’s Cup – if only he had Tulio’s timing when it came to injuries)…it never seems to end – and potentially won’t until January 2012, almost three years after this sequence began.

This, of course, is an extreme case but it demonstrates wonderfully the problems that the current fixture list makes possible for the best Japanese players.

Also, while only a small minority of players take part in this whole schedule, the J.League as a whole is not helped by all of these mini-breaks which disrupt the flow of the season and detract from the momentum of the title chase and relegation battle.

The only answer, in my opinion, has to be a shift to the European August – May season.

This would not interfere with Japan’s major bi-annual tournaments (the Asian Cup – interestingly, with the 2022 World Cup in mind – is only being held in January this time because of the intensity of Qatar’s summer) and commitments such as the East Asian Championship could always be used to provide University or fringe players with vital national team experience.

The Nabisco Cup could cease it’s group format and become a simple knockout competition – which would make it easier for it and the Emperor’s Cup to run within the regular season – and it would also mean that clubs could easier deal with the increasingly frequent loss of their best players to the European leagues, with their departures coming in the Japanese off-season, rather than in the very middle.

Bringing about such changes would surely provide J.League players with more recuperation time and, most importantly, give the league the chance to run consistently, from start to finish with no breaks – which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

23
Dec
10

Osaka Nihon

For my column in this week’s Weekly Soccer Magazine I considered the fact that J1 will be without a representative from the capital next season, while another city, Osaka, is further establishing itself as the home of Japanese football. 

FC Tokyo’s relegation made official what we have known for a while: the economic, political and cultural capital is most certainly not the first city of Japanese football.

And a quick glance at the J.League teams appearing in next season’s Asian Champions League means it is not particularly difficult to see where the power really lies.

As Kiyoshi Okuma’s side gear up for the Tokyo derbies next season – when they face Verdy in J2 – Osaka’s two teams, Gamba and Cerezo, will be leading the charge into the ACL.

Nagoya Grampus won their first ever J.League title this season, Montedio Yamagata did fantastically to further establish themselves in the top-flight and, at the bottom of the table, Vissel Kobe seized upon Tokyo’s feeble end to the season and put together a seven-game unbeaten run to remarkably stay in J1.

While the achievements of these sides are impressive though, my team of the year would have to be Cerezo.

The club, like Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2009, will make their debut in the ACL next season just over a year after they were playing second division football.

Since achieving promotion from J2, the team’s positive and attacking style has been a joy to watch, and, while many were fearful for the side’s chances in the top-flight after the departure of Shinji Kagawa, some of the combination play of Akihiro Ienaga, Takashi Inui and Adriano in the final third has been spectacular.

I saw the team play twice in the middle of their seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, first away to Jubilo and then at home FC Tokyo, and the energy and enthusiasm on display was fantastic.

When I played football back in England players would often shout “It’s still 0-0!” when my team scored first (not something that happened very often), in order to ensure that we all stayed focused. During Cerezo games somebody must have been doing likewise, and it looked like the team thought they absolutely must score every time they were in possession.

The speed at which they moved the ball from front to back and created chance after chance gave the impression of a team very much enjoying their football.

As well as causing their opponents many problems when on the offence, Levir Culpi’s side were not the easiest to break down either. Their duo of Brazilian midfield anchors, Amaral and Martinez, provided the perfect platform from which to build and a defence marshalled superbly by Teruyuki Moniwa saw the side finish with the second best goals against record and the best goal difference in the division.

While the demands on the team’s relatively slim squad meant they were unable to provide a real challenge for the title, they excelled when the pressure was really on at the end of the season, winning  five of their last six games – including the last four, during which they scored 14 times.

Cerezo justifiably took a lot of the headlines this season, but the perception of the black and blue half of the city continues to puzzle me.

Gamba have finished outside of the top three just once in the last seven years, have one of the league’s finest managers and this season provided the J.League Young Player of the Year in Takashi Usami.

The club receives very little recognition for all its success though, and this year just one Gamba player made it into the J.League Best Eleven – Yasuhito Endo, who was appearing for a record-breaking eighth consecutive time.

Endo’s relaxed attitude perhaps sums up the understated coverage his team receives. When I asked him why he thought he was always in the team of the year he smiled and replied, “I don’t know,” before adding that, “I want to be in (the Best Eleven) however many times I can – until I retire. I’m not satisfied to be second (in the league) and, of course, I have a strong desire to win.” 

This focus on the future rather than reflecting on past achievements – which Cerezo also epitomised by insisting on pushing on after their promotion – perhaps gives the clearest insight of all as to why it is now Osaka’s clubs that are at the forefront of the Japanese game.

10
Dec
10

Future looks bright for Japanese football

Last month I saw a great deal of the Japan U21s and the Nadeshiko in action at the Asian Games in Guangzhou – where both picked up gold. The success of the two sides, in particular Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team, consequently provided the topic of discussion for my Soccer Magazine column this week.

As I mentioned briefly in last week’s column, I spent most of November in China covering the men’s and women’s football tournaments at the Asian Games in Guangzhou. I would like to congratulate both the U21s and Nadeshiko on winning the country’s first ever gold medals in the competition; the future looks very bright for Japanese football.

Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team was particularly impressive and, while developing a winning mentality at such a young age is key, it was not just their ultimate success that pleased me, but more so the way that they went about it.

I was in Tianhe Stadium for their first match against China, and it would have been very easy for the players to have buckled under the pressure in such a hostile atmosphere. The team remained calm and focused though, settling quickly and more than matching the physicality of their opponents.

Having established an early foothold in the game, they went on to comfortably defeat the hosts 3-0, thanks largely to the directness of their sharp, incisive attacks.

Instrumental in this display were captain Kazuya Yamamura and striker Kensuke Nagai.

Yamamura controlled the midfield effortlessly, commanding respect in the midst of the action and maintaining an astonishing level of composure when in possession for one so inexperienced.

Nagai, meanwhile, had me very excited indeed. The soon-to-be-ex Fukuoka University player displayed many of the traits that are all too often lacking in Japanese forwards, most noticeably that he is always trying to score. Whenever he had the ball he would look to commit defenders and create a scoring chance, and his attitude was epitomised in his comments after the victory over China.

Despite having every reason to be more than content with his performance and the plaudits it had evoked, he instead fired a warning to the rest of the competition.

“I am happy to have scored one and set one up today but I feel I can do more. I want to score in the next game as well.”

This he did, claiming the opener against Malaysia and eventually going on to become the top-scorer in the competition, with five goals in his six games.

It was nice to see a proper striker leading the line with such gusto, and the rest of the team did not shirk their responsibilities either with Japan’s 17 goals coming from an astonishing 10 different scorers.

This included a couple from defenders – including Yuki Saneto’s decider in the tense final with an impressive UAE side.

Saneto’s goal was not only remarkable for being his first ever for the national team but it also bore a strange similarity to that converted by Azusa Iwashimizu in the women’s gold medal match a few days earlier.

Both players wore the number 2 shirts, the ball entered the same side of the same goal at the same end of the ground for both players, with Iwashimizu scoring in the 73rd minute, while Saneto’s came just a minute later!

There was a vibrancy to the U21s as a whole, and the likes of Ryohei Yamazaki, Kota Mizunuma, Keigo Higashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi – all of whom also got on the scoresheet at some point – were industrious, enthusiastic and positive throughout.

As well as clicking on the attack, the defences of both Japanese teams were solid and the women didn’t concede at all, while the men only let in one goal in the competition.

In addition to performing well between the sticks, goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando also proved to be a breath of fresh air in the mixed zone, offering up honest opinions (such as stating his wish to play South Korea in the final, and declaring that Japan would beat them if they did), and allowing volunteers to pose with his hard-earned gold medal after the final match!

Discipline was important to the team’s triumph, but so too was spontaneity, and I sincerely hope that Zaccheroni – who was a smiling presence pitchside as the team received their medals – allows the players that do graduate to the top team to retain the open and relaxed attitudes that were on display in Guangzhou as they progress up the ranks.

05
Dec
10

Vissel stay afloat

The J.League season came to a close on Saturday and I was at Saitama Stadium to see Vissel Kobe miraculously save their season.

My match report and round up of the day’s other important results for the Daily Yomiuri can be found here.

01
Dec
10

Interview with Alan Wilkie, Part Two

Here is the second part of my interview with Alan Wilkie, who has just concluded a stint as Top Referee Instructor for the JFA. It appeared in Weekly Soccer Magazine on the 23rd November.

In last week’s column former English Premier League referee Alan Wilkie provided his opinions on the stadiums, fans and players in Japan. Having come here to assist in referee development though, what are his thoughts on the men in the middle?

Well, upon arrival a year and a half ago, some differences were immediately clear.

“Referees would not manage or engage with the players – communication was a big problem. My initial impression was that referees in Japan referee in isolation, they are not part of the game they are peripheral to the game. That was one of the main things we had to break down as a team of coaches.”

How did the Japanese officials take to being told what they were doing wrong though?

“Once people recognised that I had something to offer the support and the camaraderie in the JFA refereeing team was very good. There are some very good people working in the JFA.

“What I try to do is influence people, I don’t tell anybody anything. I try to persuade them and give them a good example.”

The biggest problem, he believes, lies not in the ability of the officials, but in their confidence.

“The issue in Japan is that most of the referees are very, very self-conscious and self-deprecating. I will not allow the de-brief to be ‘you did this wrong, you did this wrong’. The way that I de-brief is that I get people to accept that they may have been able to do things a little better, and it works.”

Increased confidence results in increased respect – something Alan does not believe Japanese referees receive much of at the moment.

“In Japan, cautions mean nothing. You can tell nobody cares by the demeanour of the player when the referee’s cautioning him, he’ll just walk away and wave his hand. That shows complete disrespect and I’m trying to get the referees to change the yellow to a second yellow and red because it’s dissent.”

Diving and other gamesmanship is also on the rise, but Alan is surprisingly not totally against this.

“It doesn’t matter whether I think it’s negative or not, this is football. If the J.League wishes to be in the top 10, or perhaps the top 5, in the world, they will have to be able to compete and deal with exaggeration, overreaction and gamesmanship.”

2010 was a fantastic year for one J.League referee – Yuichi Nishimura, who was 4th official at the World Cup Final – and Alan is very proud of the 38-year-old’s achievement.

“Nishimura was my best pupil. The way that he handles and uses his body and the way that he engages with players is European. That’s why he’s a success.”

He also has a lot of respect for his boss, Yasuhiro Matsuzaki.

“[He] has football and refereeing at heart. His vision is to see football in Japan develop into a European style. I admire his vision very much and think he’s much-maligned and much misunderstood.”

So, as his time here comes to a close, what are his final thoughts?

“The best thing is seeing progress, seeing success, seeing referees develop. [But]I’m not finished! This is ongoing. I keep saying to the referees that if you sit and look at the good things you’ve done you’ll be left behind. Keep going.”

And has he learned anything to take back to England with him?

“I’m taking away masses and masses of training techniques because in Japan the methods of training leave England way behind. Every time they do a practical training session there’s two football teams there. In England we pretend and make referees be players, can you believe that?!”

Recent changes at the top of Japanese football also encourage him, and he expects big things of the game here in the future.

“There is a change of chairman in the J.League and I have great faith in his vision. [Kazumi Ohigashi] gives me the impression of being a man of integrity and direction.”

“Junji Ogura; I have great aspirations for him. I think he will be monumental in the development of football. Great vision and also an extremely nice man. Sometimes they don’t go hand in hand, but I think with him you will get results. I quite seriously have great hope for Japan, I really do.”




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

  • RT @alexchidiac10: Proud to make my debut for @jef_united in the first season of the @WE_League_JP ▶️ Thank you to all the #JEFUnited fans… 15 hours ago
  • RT @DaftLimmy: I remember being in somebody's house when I was 16, in 1991, and their maw and da had Beach Boys CDs. They seemed like a dea… 1 day ago
  • RT @tphoto2005: 日本代表:小城達得、横山兼三、釜本邦茂、大野毅、菊川凱夫、上田忠彦、森孝慈、宮本輝紀、片山洋、杉山隆一、山口芳忠 Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Japan4-2 at Bökelbergstadion in Mönche… 1 day ago

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