Posts Tagged ‘槙野智章

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.

16
May
12

All bets are off

When it comes to calling the outcome of games my luck has been well and truly out of late. Then again, is anybody able to predict what will happen in the J.League…? 

I’m tempted to give up.

I always like to try and call the outcome of games with fellow journalists and fans ahead of matches, but in recent weeks almost every single prediction I have made has been wrong.

Perhaps worryingly for somebody in my profession my woeful inaccuracy is actually starting to become something of a defining characteristic.

I have never been one to benefit financially from betting on games, at university I used to buy a weekly “accumulator” – where a couple of pounds could become hundreds if the outcome of a handful of matches was correctly guessed – without ever coming close to striking it lucky.

Granted, I never did quite as badly as a friend who burst into the living room one Saturday afternoon with a list of about 20 matches which would have earned him tens of thousands, only to discover that the first one had already finished unfavourably, but my poor form did continue with my first few Toto attempts in Japan.

I’m now ¥100 a week better off after kicking that habit.

Rather surprisingly considering my lack of form in the field, last season I provided J.League game previews for a sports gambling website, part of which involved me having to guess the result.

After the first two rounds I had a fairly poor record and was reminded that my success rate would have an impact on whether or not I held onto the job.

I usually try my best to take negative feedback on board, but not that time.

I pointed out to my employer that part of the beauty of football – particularly in Japan – is that you never know for sure who is going to come out on top, before adding that the entire betting industry is built upon the premise of people thinking they know what is going to happen when they don’t.

They said they understood and I didn’t receive any more complaints – although, as I said, I no longer have that job. Hmm…

Anyway, thankfully it is not only me who struggles, and J.League players, too, are bemused by the lack of predictability in their division.

I recently interviewed Urawa Reds’ Tomoaki Makino, and he cited the erratic results in J1 as his favourite aspect of the domestic league.

“Compared to other leagues you don’t know which team is going to become champions,” he said.

“In Spain it is Barcelona or Real, Germany is Bayern or Dortmund. Japan is not like that. Every team has a chance to win the league. That’s the best, most interesting thing about football in Japan.”

Makino’s former Sanfrecce teammate Mihael Mikic agrees that the almost random nature of results makes for a fascinating competition.

“It’s unbelievable. At the beginning of this year I was thinking about who can be champions, and I thought it would be maybe from five or six teams,” the Croatian told me after his team’s 4-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale moved them into second place.

“Then I was thinking about who will go to J2. I thought maybe Sapporo, Tosu and, I was thinking third, I don’t know.

“But now Tosu is up and only Sapporo stays [lower down], so I don’t know who will go to J2 next year! It’s unbelievable how this league is so close.”

The three most recent champions – Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus, and Kashima Antlers – all found themselves in the bottom half of the division after ten games, while unfancied sides such as Tosu, Shimizu S-Pulse and, of course, early pacesetters Vegalta Sendai are riding high.

It is tempting to suggest that those clubs will of course slip-up at some point soon, and that the natural order will be resumed, but recent seasons suggest that may not be the case.

Nobody expected Reysol to be so consistently good last year (or appalling this), for example, and Mikic feels that psychology is vital.

“I think this year the race will be very, very tight and who keeps their nerve and their confidence will win the league.”

Well, I think it’s fair to say that I’m losing my nerve, and my confidence is shot so perhaps I should give the predictions a rest for a while and just enjoy the games?

10
May
12

The Mixed Zone with…Tomoaki Makino

For the latest installment of my interview series on the J.League website I chatted with Urawa Reds and Japan defender Tomaki Makino.

Amongst other things he spoke about his year playing in Germany and subsequent return to the J.League, his role for the national team, and just what Japanese players need to do to be successful overseas.

02
May
12

Makino gives Reds lift during loan stint

Last week I visited Urawa Reds’ training ground in Saitama to interview defender Tomoaki Makino.

He was keen to talk his future ambitions, J.League referees and the Olympics and you can read the full article here.

14
Feb
12

Scout doubts

J.League clubs are allowed four foreign players on their books – three from anywhere around the globe, plus one from an AFC-affiliated country.  Sadly, existing relationships result in these berths being filled very unimaginatively…  

It is always interesting to look at the new squads as they take shape ahead of the season kick-off, and this year is no exception.

Some clubs have recruited very well, and Vissel Kobe signing Takuya Nozawa, Hideo Hashimoto, Yuzo Tashiro and Masahiko Inoha looks like particularly good business.

Some individual transfers stand out too. Shoki Hirai’s loan move to Albirex Niigata could well reignite a promising career that has stalled of late, and the returns of Tomoaki Makino and Yuki Abe to Japan with Urawa Reds also whet the appetite.

One thing which I am less than thrilled about, though, is the depressingly formulaic way in which the majority of clubs have gone about filling their four available foreigner slots.

As per-usual the bulk of these places are taken up by Brazilians or Koreans – plus a handful of Australians – with existing relationships and a lack of imagination preventing anything more adventurous taking place.

Freddie Ljungberg, Mihael Mikic, Calvin Jong-a-pin, Danilson and Ranko Despotovic are the only foreign players not to come from the usual places, and at a time when more and more Japanese players are heading off to Europe I struggle to understand why traffic isn’t coming the other way.

 I frequently ask officials at J.League clubs why efforts aren’t made to bring in English, Spanish, Italian, German or French players – either youngsters looking to develop or veterans to pass on some experience – and am repeatedly told that money is the issue.

Sorry, but I’m not buying that (no pun intended).

Sure, top Premier League or La Liga players (or even crap ones) are never going to be viable options, but picking up a decent centre back from Serie B or a seasoned striker from Ligue 1 is surely not beyond the realms of possibility?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been – and still are, Leandro Domingues and Jorge Wagner were sensational for champions Reysol last year – some excellent Brazilian players in the J.League, while there is also an impressive list of Koreans who have enjoyed great success here.

However, remember Carlao? Or Max? How about Tartar? Anderson? Rogerinho? Hugo? Roger?

All of them were on the books at J1 clubs last season. All of them achieved as much as I did on a J.League pitch last season (some of them managing as many minutes out there as I did).

Are you seriously telling me that a player from the Championship in England or the Dutch Eredivisie would constitute more of a gamble? Of course they wouldn’t. The problem they do have, though, is that they are not represented by the agents who appear to have a fairly cosy monopoly over transfers into the J.League.

Last year I watched one match and genuinely laughed out loud at the appearance of one Brazilian on the pitch. I honestly doubted whether he was a footballer, and couldn’t believe he was in possession of a pair of boots, let alone a professional contract.

Having asked around a little I discovered his arrival in Japan had been facilitated as part of a deal involving another of his countrymen: a buy-one-get-one-free (or one-and-a-half-free, he was a big lad), if you like. Such a set-up between clubs and agents is only healthy for one party, and that is certainly not the club.

A prime example comes with the rapid return of Juninho to the J.League, a matter of weeks after it looked like he had bade farewell.

The 34-year-old enjoyed a fantastic nine years with Kawasaki Frontale and seems to genuinely have an affinity with Japan (although I did feel he should have stuck around for the Emperor’s Cup before he left).

Last season he was a shadow of his former self though, with injuries and age taking their unfortunate toll on his game. It looked like his time was up.

Then, all of a sudden, he was back. And with one of the biggest clubs, too. The re-arrival of Marquinhos is similarly surprising.

Are clubs’ scouting networks really so poor that they can’t find anybody better than a couple of journeyman?

Sadly, perhaps yes, they are. Or perhaps club officials are just not strong enough to say no to those who are offering the players.

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.

07
Apr
11

Cop out?

The will-they-won’t-they concerning Japan’s participation in the Copa America is dragging on a bit so I decided to clear it up for Weekly Soccer Magazine.

The J.League and JFA certainly have some tricky decisions to make over the coming weeks, and just how the five rounds of postponed J.League matches can be made up in an already packed schedule is not an easy problem to solve. 

Luckily I have had a lot of time on my hands lately though, and so have been able to come up with the answer for Mr. Ogura and Mr. Ohigashi: and the good news is that the J.League and Copa America can both still go ahead.

Essentially there were three options available:

Option 1. The national team travel to Argentina with any players that Zac wants to take and the J.League keeps the mid-season break as scheduled. The five rounds of matches are then made up throughout the course of the season, with one extra round per month in May, June, September, October and November.

Option 2. The national team withdraw from the Copa America and during that scheduled five week break the J.League make up the matches.

Option 3. The national team still take part in the Copa America and the J.League play rounds 2-6 at the same time. Either Zac is asked to function without any J.League regulars, or clubs are asked for their co-operation in the matter.

 

None of these options are ideal and somewhere along the line somebody is going to have to compromise. However, the recent events in Tohoku mean that flexibility is required – and should be expected – to resolve the situation.

Initially I was leaning towards the first option. All of the J.League players are professional athletes who are paid to keep themsleves in top physical condition. As such, asking them to play five matches a month rather than four is not a particulalry big demand. As a fellow journalist pointed out to me the other day, if Crawley Town of the English Blue Square Premier League (5th Division) can play twice a week, then surely J.League players can.

The problem with this option though was the break in the middle of the season. The more I considered it, the more that five-week period bugged me. It would essentially be a week for each player who is actually likely to be missing from the J.League and featuring for Japan in Argentina (Nishikawa, Inoha, Tulio, Endo, Maeda). This seems like an awful lot of time to be wasting when there are games to be played, and so I began to consider option 2.

The national team pulling out of the Copa America would ease the strain on the players but it just seems a little drastic – again bearing in mind the number who will actually be missing from the J.League. There are a few other domestic players who are on the fringes of the national team (Iwamasa, Kashiwagi, Fujimoto, Honda) but their spots could easily be filled by young J.Leaguers yet to cement places at their clubs, or J2 or University players.

 

And so I settled for option 3; the best of both. But, are J.League teams asked to get by without their stars or does Zac have to choose his squad solely from overseas players and the lesser-lights?

The latter. The Copa America is, essentially, meaningless. Japan are travelling to Argentina to gain experience (and probably make a few yen, of course), and none of the J.League players who will be missing out are lacking in either. The European-based players will have finished their seasons by then and will bring more than enough quality to the squad, with the remaining places being taken up by satellite members of J1 teams, second division players and members of Sekizuka’s Under-22 team.

If I were in charge, for example, my squad would look something like this:

Eiji Kawashima, Shuichi Gonda, Shunsuke Ando; Atsuto Uchida, Takuya Okamoto, Michihiro Yasuda, Maya Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino, Yasuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo; Yuki Abe, Makoto Hasebe, Hajime Hosogai, Keigo Higashi, Akihiro Ienaga, Ryo Miyaichi, Kazuya Yamamura, Daisuke Matsui; Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Takayuki Morimoto, Shoki Hirai.  

Still a strong line-up, with some potential Samurai Blue regulars of the future getting some crucial experience around the full national team, while the J.League can go about its business as usual until December.

So there you have it, problem solved.

25
Mar
11

Moral support

Sometimes when it feels like nothing can be done, even the smallest gestures can go a long way.

I would like to dedicate this week’s column to the victims of the tragic earthquake and tsunami of March 11th and offer my deepest condolences to their familes, friends and anybody affected by the catastrophe. Football is entirely irrelevant at times like this.

Who wins and loses, whether the referee was right or wrong, and if a player stays or goes are all put into stark perspective by such horrific events, and it has been incredibly difficult to give the game a moment’s thought over the past 10 days.

The overwhelming popularity of the sport around the world means that it does have the potential to help though, if only in the smallest of ways.

Take, for example, the solidarity shown by Japanese players in Europe who were in action the day after the earthquake and tsunami struck. Although they were unable to assist – like most of us – in physical or practical ways, they were unanimous in their offers of moral support for their country, and had their sentiments echoed by teammates and opponents alike.

Yuto Nagatomo was the first to play and was joined in wearing a black armband in respect of the victims by his Internazionale teammates and the players of Brescia. Samuel Eto’o, upon scoring Inter’s goal, celebrated by poignantly hugging the Japanese fullback.

Nagatomo confessed he found it difficult to focus before the game but said he hoped his participation could, in some way, provide strength to those back home. “It was terrible. I felt totally shocked. Before the game I was totally confused as I kept thinking about what was happening in Japan” he was quoted as saying on Goal.com.

“I managed to set aside all the negative thoughts and I focused on the game (though). I thought that being a good soccer player I could give courage to my people.”

Tomoaki Makino, meanwhile, has been using the medium of Twitter to lend support to his compatriots. “At times like this we need to get together, hand in hand. It’s just a little but I think it can give everyone strength,” he sent on the evening of the tragedy.

Although several Japanese are absent, there are foreigners in Japan who are doing their best to fill in. Machida Zelvia coach Ranko Popovic, for example, has expressed his desire to help the country recover from the situation. “I love the Japanese people, they are incredible.” he said. “I am Japanese now, I am part of this. If you are part of the good times you must also be part of the bad times too. We must give our maximum, mental and physical.”

I have been hugely impressed and moved by the reaction and behaviour of the Japanese people during this difficult time and commend the great flexibility and adaptation that everybody has shown. This extends to the J.League and JFA who have acted swiftly and sensibly to postpone all domestic league football for the foreseeable future as well as the scheduled national team friendly against Montenegro in Shizuoka on Friday.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the decision to keep the March 29th fixture in place, and believe this will be an excellent chance to show solidarity and pay respect to the victims. It will also provide an opportunity to raise huge funds for the recovery effort, although this would have been even truer if New Zealand were making the journey to Osaka having recently experienced a similar tragedy of their own.

Popovic agrees, and draws upon his own playing days during the war in former Yugoslavia to demonstrate the healing power football can have, even in the toughest of times. “All of our hearts and souls are with the Japanese people and I know they have more important things to think about but it is important to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and football can help to do that,” he explains.

“Everybody is different, but I experienced the same in Serbia in the war – I lost my house – but playing gave me the power. “Now we have to be a unit and all of the world is with Japan. People where I am from especially understand. We know disaster and catastrophe and how it feels to lose lives and houses. Now we must work for the people who have lost their lives and those that are left behind. This is our message.”

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.

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.




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

  • RT @tochigisc: 【10/24町田戦】 今節にて、 #矢野貴章 がJリーグでの通算500試合出場を達成いたしました。 #栃木SC #全員戦力 #町田対栃木 #Jリーグ #柏レイソル #アルビレックス新潟 #名古屋グランパス https://t.co/PpnhGCc… 1 day ago
  • RT @doshinsports: 18日に64歳のお誕生日を迎えた #ペトロビッチ監督 報道陣からウィスキーをプレゼント。今年は来日16年目にちなんで16年もののスコッチウィスキーと、厚岸を。チーム作りへの情熱は全く衰えませんが「体は64歳だ」と笑っていました。おめでとうご… 5 days ago
  • RT @puigortoneda: 尊敬する同志の樋口監督、お疲れさまでした。今シーズンのあなたの偉大な仕事を心から祝福致します。常に素晴らしいサッカーを目指しているあなたのチームと対戦できたことを光栄に思います。樋口さんの今後の更なる活躍を心より祈っています。 https:… 6 days ago

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