Posts Tagged ‘李忠成

24
Jan
12

Striking Out

Two Japanese strikers recently enjoyed different levels of success in securing overseas moves, with perhaps little more than their birthdays being the decisive factor…

I recently met Tadanari Lee for a coffee in Southampton, and he was clearly very excited about his move to the Championship club.

The transition from big-fish-in-a-little-pond to small-fry with a point to prove will take some getting used to – at one point a fellow customer struck up conversation with us and Lee was successfully able to pass himself off as a student at the local university, not something that would be achievable in Hiroshima – but I believe he has all the right attributes to adapt to and succeed in the English game.

While Lee did seal his deal, Ryoichi Maeda’s trial with fellow promotion chasers West Ham was unsuccessful, though.

That looks to have been the Jubilo hitman’s final chance to prove himself outside of the J.League, and it is a real shame that he will not have the opportunity to test himself in a different environment.

He suggested as much ahead of his try-out with the Hammers. 

“It might be a bit late to be taking on the challenge of playing abroad, but I hope to grow into a better player in Europe and bring that to the national team,” he was reported as saying by Reuters.

“At my age, this is likely my last chance to play overseas and I want to do everything possible to make it happen.”

This desire on the player’s part suggests Jubilo’s claim that the move didn’t happen because terms couldn’t be agreed may not be the whole truth.

When contrasted with the way in which Southampton pulled out all the stops to get Lee on board, the element of luck and timing which comes into play with such transfers moves even more clearly into focus.

The now-former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker initially had his visa application turned down, but he was eventually granted special dispensation as “an exceptional talent that will enhance the game [in England]”.

Maeda is one of the most natural Japanese strikers I have seen, and his consistently impressive goalscoring record suggests that he really should have been given an opportunity as well.

To me, the four-year difference in the two players’ ages is the main reason why Lee has been given his chance and Maeda missed the boat.

While Maeda being 30 was not perhaps a stumbling block in the move to West Ham – Sam Allardyce wouldn’t have bothered giving him a trial if he considered the player to be too old – his age will almost certainly have put-off other clubs.

More importantly though, he is unfortunate to belong to a generation of players who were never really trusted or rated in Europe at their peak.

Until the last couple of years Japanese players were considered too weak to survive in more combative leagues, and Maeda’s scoring achievements in the J.League may not have been treated with the respect they deserve outside of Japan.

As more and more players carve out successful careers in the top leagues this myth is slowly being proved wrong; hence why Lee, at just 26, has been offered his shot.

If Maeda had been born a few years later he, too, would surely have earned some overseas experience.

This is a problem that several older Japanese players are currently facing, and they are being forced to choose between seeing out the remainder of their careers in the J.League, or taking any offers that come their way.

Eiji Kawashima, who will soon turn 29, finds himself at a club in the basement of the Belgian league, where he was very nearly joined by his Japan teammate Yuichi Komano.

While Kawashima may still have one more move in him – goalkeepers do have the potential to play for longer – a switch to  bottom club Sint-Truidense would surely have been the only chance for Komano, and would have been a little bit of a transfer-for-the-sake-of-it.

It is a shame for the likes of Maeda and Komano, but the fact that the next generation are being given more opportunities is fantastic for the continuing development of the Japanese game – both with regards to technique and mentality.

Lee is the perfect embodiment of the newly-confident Japanese player, and if he can hit the ground running then he won’t be anonymous in England for much longer.

17
Jan
12

Lee takes a gamble to become a Saint

A couple of weeks ago I headed to Southampton to speak to Saints’ new signing Tadanari Lee.

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The former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker spoke of his reasons for moving to The Championship side, focusing on his desire to improve as a player.

30
Sep
11

Striking a different note

Since the J.League began it has almost always been the local players creating the chances, while foreign imports have taken the glory by banging in the goals. That looks like it is changing slowly…

In recent weeks I’ve noticed something strange has been going on in the J.League.

While everybody’s attention has been distracted by the sea of tricky little creative midfielders and energetic full-backs pouring overseas, a new type of Japanese player has been slowly coming into being back home.

A glance at the scoring charts confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things and my suspicions were true; the country is producing goalscorers.

Eight out of the top ten in J1 after Round 26 were Japanese, and all of them were into double-figures.

Alongside the usual suspects Ryoichi Maeda and Keiji Tamada were the experienced Yuzo Tashiro and Shingo Akamine, as well as four younger strikers Mike Havenaar, Tadanari Lee, Junya Tanaka and Yu Kobayashi.

Of course, there has always been the odd Japanese player in and around the top of the list, and the fact that half of those listed above are over 25 suggests that this is not a wholly new phenomenon.

However, having so many homegrown strikers leading the line for their clubs – and leading the way in the scoring charts – is certainly a recent development.

Indeed, as recently as April 2010 the reputation of Japanese strikers was far less flattering, and in an interview with the then-Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong Tese, a common perception of the nation’s front-men was aired

“Japanese forwards are not like forwards, they are like midfielders,” the North Korean international told me. “It looks like they don’t want to score goals.

“The most important thing for a forward is to be an egoist,” he continued. “If you have five opportunities and only get one goal that is ok. The other four times everyone expresses their disappointment with you but the forward only needs to get the one goal.”

And thanks, I believe, to two interconnected reasons it looks like this way of thinking is finally being embraced on a wider scale by the nation’s goal-getters.

The first contributing factor is the wonderful desire and ability of the Japanese to fine-tune and perfect things.

Japanese teams were producing plenty of Captain Tsubasa-inspired assist merchants, but the absence of anybody to put the chances away meant there was an aspect to be worked at and tweaked.

This goal was undoubtedly assisted as the image of ‘the striker’ started to shift, with the influence of foreign players, both positive and negative, also aiding the process.

The likes of Leo Messi and David Villa have proven that you don’t need to be 180cm and 80kg to be a centre-forward so more Japanese players, who ordinarily are neither of these things, are starting to be given chances and, more importantly, to believe they can play up-front.  

Initially J.League clubs assumed they needed a Brazilian to spearhead the attack but as many of these imports turned out to be well below par – and, of course, the money that attracted them moved to the Middle East – chances have started to be handed to homegrown talent instead.

Playing alongside the better foreign players to come to these shores and taking the positives from their styles and mental approaches has also benefited this generation of players, so too the increasing visibility of international leagues.  

Yuji Ono – who along with Kensuke Nagai, Genki Omae and Hidetaka Kanazono is another of the new breed of aggressive, goal-hungry strikers – made this clear when I interviewed him at the start of the season.

“The reason that so many young players like myself are playing now,” he explained, “is because, unlike before, we can watch foreign football on TV.”

It is now possible to study the technique of the best forwards in the world and to fashion your own style from their best bits. Tadanari Lee is another who has developed in this way, listing Raul, Filippo Inzaghi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dennis Bergkamp as the players he tries to learn from.

This diligent approach has undoubtedly helped the Japanese striker out of its shell, but for the species to continue its evolution it may soon be time to set the DVDs aside.

Centre-forward is the position which most demands the ability to be unpredictable and spontaneous. Having proven that they have the instincts, then, it is now time for the home-grown No. 9s to start trusting in them.

02
Sep
11

Japan v. North Korea Preview

Tonight, in spite of the impending typhoon, Japan takes on North Korea in their first World Cup qualifier for Brazil 2014.

My preview of the game, featuring comments from several Samurai Blue players, can be found here.

29
Aug
11

The Mixed Zone with…Tadanari Lee

For my most recent Mixed Zone with… I travelled to Hiroshima to meet Tadanari Lee.

You can read my interview with the Sanfrecce and Japan striker here.

23
Jul
11

Asian Cup hero Lee looking for new challenge

Last weekend I visited Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s training complex in the mountains of Yoshida, and while I was there I sat down with their No.9 Tadanari Lee.

The Japan striker spoke about the way perceptions of him have changed since the Asian Cup, his decision to switch allegiances from South Korea to Japan, and the rumours about a move overseas.

23
Jul
11

Tadanari Lee backs Nadeshiko Japan

Ahead of the Women’s World Cup final I spoke to Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Tadanari Lee about Nadeshiko Japan.

The striker, who scored the winner for the Samurai Blue in their Asian Cup final in January, had some wise words for his compatriots, and was confident they could bring the trophy home.

09
Jun
11

Stalemates still productive for Samurai Blue

The Kirin Cup may have ended a dead-tie – almost literally, with all three games ending 0-0 – but the Japanese national team were still able to take some positives from the tournament.

 

My consideration of the Samurai Blue’s performances can be found here.

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.




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