Posts Tagged ‘原口元気

22
May
12

S-Pulse among new contenders as old guard struggles

The J.League is steadily earning a reputation for being an open and competitive division. The first third of this season has been no exception, and while some of the bigger clubs struggle in the lower-reaches of the table several unfancied sides are leading the way in J1.

On Saturday I was at Saitama Stadium to see two of these sides – Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse – go head-to-head, and gathered some thoughts from those involved on their title chances in 2012.

31
Jan
12

Should I stay or should I go?

Scouts from overseas are incresingly looking to recruit Japanese players, for whom the lure of foreign football is hard to resist. Sometimes though, staying put could be the best thing to do…

Since the 2010 World Cup finals Japanese players have become – rather like Luis Vuitton handbags for the nation’s women – a must-have accessory for many European clubs.

Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Arsenal are three of the biggest sides to have picked up bargains, in Yuto Nagatomo, Takashi Usami and Ryo Miyaichi. Others, including Shinji Kagawa and Atsuto Uchida, have developed into regulars at their new teams, and enjoyed great success in their domestic divisions and the Champions League.

While several have been able to make the step-up with relative ease, however, many more have seen their progress grind to something of a halt overseas.

Among those whose stories have been far from idyllic are Eiji Kawashima, who is languishing near the bottom of the Belgian First Division for the second consecutive season with Lierse, Kisho Yano, who struggled for minutes at Freiburg and is desperately seeking a transfer, and Tomoaki Makino (Koln), Yuki Abe (Leicester City) and Masahiko Inoha (Hajduk Split), all three of whom have already moved on – the former pair back to Japan with Urawa.

The reality of living and working overseas is not the same as the idea of it – particularly for Japanese players.

Japan, like England, is an island country and thus fairly inward-looking. Foreign travel is far from the norm here – and when people do venture abroad it is usually as part of carefully planned, all-Japanese tour groups – and the level of English is among the worst in the world.

When players who are used to being wrapped in cotton wool back home are suddenly thrust into a completely alien environment, then, it can be difficult.

Further to this, with the level of the J.League constantly increasing, a move to a different country may not always be the best option.

I spoke to Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s winger Mihael Mikic shortly after Inoha had sealed his move to Hajduk Split last July, and the Croatian couldn’t believe the Japan international had made such a choice.

“I cannot understand that Inoha from Kashima Antlers is going to go to Hajduk Split in Croatia. This I cannot understand,” he said.

“You know the Croatian League has only one good team; that is Dinamo Zagreb. Dinamo Zagreb for the last six years is the champion. All the other teams are not a high level, you know? But maybe he’s thinking something. Somebody from Europe will see him,” he continued.

“But I think now, in this moment, he has a better chance if he stays and then goes to a team in Germany or Italy or Holland.”

The apparent desperation of players to head overseas in an anywhere-will-do style can come off and provide a great life-experience, but playing-wise it can backfire, and such a plunge should not be taken lightly.

“[They] must make the choice of a good league; Bundesliga, Serie A, Spanish league, England or Italy,” Mikic went on to explain.

“These five leagues, or France or Holland – that is also ok. In Russia the fight for the six top teams is also good, but now another country in Europe? That is not a good choice. That is my opinion.” 

His words came to ring true in the case of Inoha, and as well as placing his national team spot in jeopardy the 26-year-old must also now think very carefully about his next step.

He most likely does not want to swallow his pride and come back to Japan at this point, but will another European team be willing to give him a chance?

If he had heeded Mikic’s advice and continued to establish himself at Antlers then a side in a bigger league may well have been convinced by his undoubted ability and come in with an offer, either now or perhaps in the summer.

That is something that the likes of Hiroki Sakai, Genki Haraguchi and Hiroshi Kiyotake must certainly bear in mind, with the next 12 months almost certain to bring speculation and offers for their services from overseas.

All three of those players have the potential to become the next Kagawa or Uchida, but they need the right club to facilitate that progression – and for the time being that may well be their current employer.

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.

21
Oct
11

Shooting Stars

Football fans the world over love a new star. The constant hunger for fresh articles analysing their performances, critiquing them and predicting or declaring their downfall make it difficult to arive at balanced judgments of their true abilities. In Japan this is process is particularly pronounced and shelf-life seems to be set at around six months….

A couple of years ago it seemed as if all of Japan’s prospects at the 2010 World Cup depended solely upon Shunsuke Nakamura.

He was the media darling and his struggles with injury and poor form created thousands of column inches in the build-up to the tournament.

Then Keisuke Honda came along and became the go-to guy for comments, seemingly established as the new face of the Samurai Blue.

While the CSKA Moscow ‘star’ is still of central importance to the success of the national team his is not the name most spotted on shirts at the stadium at the moment though, with first Shinji Kagawa and then Yuto Nagatomo rising to the top of the pile on the back of their moves to Europe. 

Of course, every country likes to have their hero, and a new face upon which to pin a nation’s hopes is not in any way unique to Japanese football.

The frequency with which the idol is changed here – and the speed at which they are elevated to the summit – is fairly unusual though.

The reason I say ‘star’ in relation to Honda is not meant in any way to detract from his abilities as a player, but in all truth he is yet to really achieve enough to warrant the term.

Yes, he scored a couple of goals at the World Cup and looks to have the ability to make it in one of the bigger leagues, but at 25 he is still stuck in Russia and very few fans outside of Japan know much, if anything, about him.

The manner in which home-grown success stories are overblown in Japan projects daunting expectations onto the players though, and this most recently resulted in Kagawa cutting a forlorn figure around the team in the build-up to the Tajikistan game.

“I want to get my goal. If I can score then maybe my performance will jump up,” he said when questioned for the umpteenth time about the ‘slump in form’ that had seen him go three games without scoring for the national team.

Just three games.

“I only want to focus on the next match and I want to play to my real ability,” he continued. “But this time maybe the most important thing is to not think. If I can play like that then maybe that will be my best performance.”

That last observation hit the nail firmly on the head. My impressions from watching him of late were that he had been trying to do too much. Trying to carry the team. Trying to live up to his billing.

He clearly has the ability so let’s just let him play the game the way that comes naturally to him – and has brought about his success to date – and not get on his back when things aren’t going exactly to plan. 

His magnificent pair of goals against Tajikistan (although I still think the second was a cross, and so did Yasuhito Endo) demonstrate that he has lost none of the ability that caused his rapid rise from J2 to the Bundesliga.

Even so, he felt the need to qualify this after the game, telling reporters that, “my confidence depends on what happens in the future. I have to keep going.”

While it is good to seek improvement, the players should not fear their next game and the negative headlines that may appear if their performance dips a little.

Football players are not tarento. Their shelf-life is not just six months and they will have ups and downs. We don’t need a new face every time the leaves change.

Hiroshi Kiyotake and Genki Haraguchi seem to be the next duo vying to be the latest luminous-booted starlet who proves that Japan’s Got Talent, but let’s not get carried away.

Genki’s had a good season considering the atrocious form of his club, while Kiyotake’s settled well into the national team in his first few appearances.

We shouldn’t forget the old proverb about the foolishness of constructing houses on sand.

 Instead of building players up too quickly and then knocking them down with similar haste, let’s give them a bit of time to lay their foundations before we proclaim them as ‘world class’ or past it.

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.




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