Posts Tagged ‘ジョシュア・ケネディ

06
Dec
11

My Team of the Year

Last night was the J.League’s annual awards ceremony, where the official word was had on the best of the 2011 season. For this week’s Soccer Magazine I decided to pick my Best XI (and a substitutes bench, just to cover my back a little).

A 4-1-2-2-1 (ish) formation best suited the players I went for – although I did have to crowbar a couple into slightly unfamiliar positions – and I tried my best to take into account players’ individual achievements rather than those of their club as a whole.

Anyway, enough excuses, here’s my team.

Goalkeeper: Takuto Hayashi (Vegalta Sendai): Ever-present in the league and a fantastic presence between the posts. Kept clean sheets in nearly half of his matches and provided a great base for the side to build from and enjoy their best ever season.

Right Back: Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa Reysol): A constant threat when his side is attacking and supplements his aggressive and direct approach play with fantastic crossing ability. Doesn’t shirk at the back either, and is the model of the modern full-back.

Centre Back: Makoto Kakuda (Vegalta Sendai): Strong in the tackle, a good organiser and, like his goalkeeper, has been integral to Vegalta’s success. Has also chipped in with a couple of goals and assists and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game at either end of the pitch.

Centre Back: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus): Still an intimidating presence at the heart of the Grampus defence. Not the quickest and, yes, he does get too much respect from referees and opponents alike, but his attitude has helped to build that persona and his performances invariably back it up.

Left Back: Jorge Wagner (Kashiwa Reysol): OK, he’s not really a left-back but that’s where he started the season and it’s where he’d play in my team. Always uses the ball intelligently and rarely loses possession. On top of that his goal tally is in the double figures.

Defensive Midfield: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka): Yet again he has been the conductor in the Gamba midfield. Always composed and totally controls the pace of the game, as well as popping up with numerous defence-splitting passes and timely goals. Pure class.

Central Midfield: Takuya Nozawa (Kashima Antlers): Usually lines up wider and further forward but, in this hypothetical team, I would use him more centrally. Another calm-and-collected player who is always thinking two or three passes ahead. Scored or set up nearly half of Antlers’ goals.

Central Midfield: Leandro Domingues (Kashiwa Reysol): Like Nozawa and Endo, Domingues is responsible for controlling the speed at which his team plays. Comfortable when collecting the ball from his defenders or in the final third and deadly in front of goal.

Right Midfield: Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Reds): A coach at Reds suggested to me earlier in the season that without Genki Urawa would already be in J2. At the time that seemed a little bit of an exaggeration but if it weren’t for his guts and goals then just think where the side would be…

Left Midfield: Ryang Yong-gi (Vegalta Sendai): Yet another great leader – can you have too many? – who plays with fantastic poise. His set-pieces provide a constant threat but he can do it in play too. Never flustered in possession and knows exactly when to release the ball and when to delay the pass.

Striker: Mike Havenaar (Ventforet Kofu): Other players perhaps have better all-round play, but his scoring record for a side at the bottom of the table is an incredible achievement. Has struck a wide variety of goals, and is about much more than his height. 

Subs: Hiroki Iikura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Naoya Kondo (Kashiwa Reysol), Wataru Hashimoto (Kashiwa Reysol); Shingo Hyodo (Yokohama F. Marinos), Hiroki Yamada (Jubilo Iwata); Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata)

That’s my team, and I’m sure that you’ll have spotted many ridiculous inclusions and glaring omissions. Please feel free to point them out and tell me who you’d have in your side, either below the line or on Twitter @seankyaroru.

03
Dec
11

J.League title race goes to the wire

Today the 2011 J.League season comes to a close with three teams still in with a chance of becoming champions.

One of Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka will be celebrating this evening, and my preview explaining all the permutations can be found here.

19
Dec
10

The Year of the Dragan

Dragan Stojkovic was named as coach of the year at the 2010 J.League Awards and was more than humble in his acceptance speech. While he may not have conceded that he was the best in the division, everybody knew that he was key to Nagoya securing their first ever title though and I outlined why in Soccer Magazine this week.

Seigo Narazaki may have scooped the MVP award, Josh Kennedy might have scored the goals and Tulio may very well be credited with being the catalyst but, whether he accepts it or not, Dragan Stojkovic was unquestionably the driving force behind Nagoya Grampus’ success this season.

The Serb did his best to be bashful in his Coach of the Year acceptance speech at last week’s J.League Awards – first refusing to agree that he was actually the top coach in the division, and then palming the credit off onto his wife – but everybody in the room knew that he was just being modest.

While his soft side was on full display at the annual gala, it was his focused, determined, ‘mean streak’ that we were all more accustomed to seeing throughout the season, and it was this that will have motivated everyone at the club to pull out all the stops to achieve what he wanted.

Stojkovic is an intelligent, amiable guy who has an aura about him – when he talks you don’t only want to listen, you feel you have to listen. He fixes you with his eyes and you sense that every word has been carefully chosen and that you really should concentrate on taking it in.

Indeed, concentration is a key word when talking about Pixie, and at the start of the season he told me that his aim was to win the league. When I reminded him of this last week, he nodded and replied.

“We had our target. We worked very hard and concentrated on the job and the players understood our aim to become champions. Communication, work and sacrifice by all – for the team. I concentrate on my team and I don’t look at other teams. I concentrate on my team.”

Nagoya not only became champions but they did it by the biggest margin ever and sealed the title with three games to spare. This didn’t surprise their coach either.

“I had confidence we would finish it before the last game and I saw the players’ confidence and desire and belief to finish three or four games before the finish. We had a strong mentality and we believed. We didn’t care about Kashima or Gamba or Cerezo, we wanted to finish the job.

“What was important was that we didn’t make mistakes. If you lose one game it can be a problem to come back. We never lost twice in a row.”

Top scorer Josh Kennedy also paid reference to the fact that Grampus never lost back-to-back matches, and alluded to the focus that Pixie had instilled in the team.

“Everybody knows that we didn’t lose two games in a row and we played very consistent football. Every time we lost we bounced back and won the game and got back on the winning way.”

The Australian then gave a glowing assessment of his coach, and credited Stojkovic with bringing out the best of his ability.

“Under him I’ve played the best football of my career so I only have praise for him. We won the championship and I guess it’s only normal that he receives an award. He shouldn’t just receive it because we won though, I think he deserves it.”

It doesn’t look as if Nagoya’s concentration will be wavering anytime soon either, with Pixie focused on further success next season – perhaps even emulating that of his former coach and good friend, Arsene Wenger.

“He is a very important person to me and I love to talk with him about football and much more,” Pixie said of the Arsenal manager. “We want to play like Arsenal and, as I said three years ago, I want my team to play beautiful football. I don’t know about results but that is my target, to play beautiful football.”

He fired a warning shot to anyone who thinks that his side will start to favour aesthetics over achievements though, insisting that Grampus will be back next season with exactly the same target.

“Next year we will try very hard to win again. We will add two or three players, that is enough. Everything is possible and I believe in my team and myself.”

02
Dec
10

The back post – Pixie’s planning pays off

Last month Nagoya Grampus won the J.League for the first time, ending Kashima Antlers’ recent dominance over the division. I considered the key reasons behind this success in my column for the Daily Yomiuri, ‘The Back Post’.

Nagoya Grampus sealed its first ever J.League championship at the weekend, and head coach Dragan “Pixie” Stojkovic should be congratulated on a job very well done.

It is easy to dismiss the Red Whales’ achievement as a direct result of the club’s financial clout, but winning a domestic title is no mean feat, regardless of the budget you are operating on.

There are a host of teams around the world who have tried and failed to buy success, and while many clubs get carried away with the funds available to them often overloading on attacking players Nagoya has taken a slightly more measured approach.

In short, Stojkovic has opted to build a team rather than a bloated collection of individuals. After finishing in ninth place in 2009, sixteen points behind champions Kashima Antlers, seasoned Urawa Reds centerback Marcus Tulio Tanaka, 21-year-old Mu Kanazaki from relegated Oita Trinita and Consadole Sapporo’s Guatemalan enforcer Danilson were all brought in to boost the squad, with Stojkovic suggesting at the start of the season that such acquisitions were vital if the side were to triumph in the league.

The Serb, speaking at the J.League’s “Kick-off Conference” in January, was adamant that success not only comes from having the best players, but also by virtue of having the most options.

“Football is now about the squad and that is why I feel that the team this year is better equipped for success,” he said. “Now we have much more strength-in-depth.”

The wealth of backups available has been invaluable throughout the season, and as their title rivals slowly fell away Nagoya was able to use the full extent of its resources and keep ploughing on.

The first elevens of Shimizu S-Pulse and Gamba Osaka, for example, are both capable of matching Grampus’ first choice lineup, but once injuries and suspensions came into play and these teams lost key players they did not have others of the same calibre to bring in and replace them.

Clubs who would have benefited from experienced squad players such as Igor Burzanovic and Alessandro Santos have not only been handicapped by injuries this season, but the increasing number of J.League players earning moves abroad has also proved a hindrance, with important players moving on and not being replaced.

Kashima lost half of their back four when Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo departed for pastures new, while perennial runnersup Kawasaki Frontale had the spine ripped from their team when Eiji Kawashima and Chong Tae Se headed to Europe on the back of their impressive World Cup campaigns.

Nagoya, on the other hand, remained intact, and when they did have to deal with injuries they coped with a minimum of fuss. Both Tulio and Kanazaki have been unavailable for selection in recent weeks, for instance, but Mitsuru Chiyotanda and Yoshizumi Ogawa have slotted into the team effortlessly in their absence.

Nagoya’s talismanic front-man and top-scorer Josh Kennedy is well aware of the importance of having top players in reserve, and after a hard-fought win over Jubilo Iwata in March he was effusive in his praise of the squad.

“I think this year that the one thing we do have, we have a really good bench and we should benefit from that. The guys who come on should also be starting; theyd probably start in any other J.League team, so it’s a a big plus for us to have those options.”

Also, while initially appearing to be a disappointment, Kennedy suggested the team’s failure to qualify for the 2010 Asian Champions League may actually have been a blessing in disguise.

“We’ve got a little bit more depth, whereas last season we were stretched with the Champions League and Emperor’s Cup, which took a lot out of us. We didn’t really have the players to back up the starting eleven players and replace people.”

That depth has proved invaluable this time around and, as their closest contenders stumbled along the way, Stojkovic’s careful planning ensured Nagoya was able to stay fresh and focused all the way to the finish line.




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