Posts Tagged ‘浦和レッズ



30
Nov
11

Overseas experience boosts Japan’s Olympic footing

Japan Under-22s took one step closer to the London Olympics after winning their two most recent qualifiers against Bahrain and Syria.

Former Kashiwa Reysol forward Yuki Otsu opened his international account with a goal in each victory, and I considered the impact of overseas experience on the next generation of Japanese internationals for The Daily Yomiuri.

16
Nov
11

Difference between Dwight and wrong

Sometimes, if nothing else is working, bringing in a new coach and some fresh ideas can be just what the doctor ordered. All too often these days football clubs jump to this last resort a little too quickly though…

Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the most successful manager ever, has just celebrated his 25th anniversary in charge of Manchester United.

He has been on the bench for over 1,400 matches, and, despite a difficult start at the club, things clicked into place in his fourth season when United won the FA Cup in 1990.

Three years later, his seventh as manager, United finally won the league and, in his quarter of a century at the helm to-date, 37 trophies have been won – including 12 Premier League titles.

Now, of course, Sir Alex is a freak and it would be ridiculous to compare the fate of 99% of the world’s other managers with him.

However, his record and the patience with which he was treated in his early days at United do raise an interesting question: was he given time because those in charge sensed success, or did the achievements come about because he was given time?

Football has changed in many ways since Sir Alex took the reins at a struggling United in 1986. The increasing effect of money on the sport and the consequent – and ridiculous – expectations of sponsors and supporters mean that it would be very difficult to display such loyalty in the modern era.

However, constantly chopping and changing the guy in charge does not mean you will enjoy success, as two of the J.League’s biggest clubs have recently demonstrated.

Urawa Reds have struggled since they won the Asian Champions League in 2007. This has been by far their worst season in recent years, and they had little choice but to fire Zeljko Petrovic after their former player led them into the heart of the relegation battle (and particularly after he announced to the media his decision to quit at the end of the season before informing his bosses).

That does mean they have had four head coaches in as many years since they became kings of the continent though, and you can’t help but wonder how much better off they’d have been if they’d given one of their German coaches another season or two to build a team.

A more bizarre example is provided by JEF United who, the day after Petrovic was sacked, announced that their coach Dwight Lodeweges was also on his way.

At the time, despite having lost two games in a row, JEF were just three points away from a place in J1.

They may have been disappointed not to be more certain of a return to the top-flight, but even before the season had started Dwight had told me that promotion to J1 was not being taken for granted.

“I do want promotion, absolutely. I’ve got no idea how real that is, I mean, can we?” he said. “I’m more or less busy with putting a foundation underneath this team and building from there. I’m not really looking at J1, I’m looking at how do I get the team better. And if that is enough to get promotion, yeah, beautiful. If not, maybe it’ll take another year.”

He also touched upon the club’s fall from grace prior to his arrival, suggesting that perhaps those in the front office had not made the best decisions.

“You’ve got to wonder, you’ve got to analyse what has happened there. Not from me because I wasn’t here in the past, but I think if you’re the club.”

Those at the top may have been far from enthralled with the style of football, but to replace him with technical director Sugao Kanbe at such a crucial point of the season was bewildering. And it didn’t work.

The three games they played after giving Lodeweges the boot yielded just two points and one goal, effectively condemning JEF to the second division for a third straight season.

In an earlier column on promotion from J2 I quoted Dwight who had said, “It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things.” Never has that seemed a more fitting observation.

Both Reds and JEF, with their trigger-happy approaches to recruitment, should provide a lesson to other aspiring clubs.

While it is important to keep things fresh and avoid stagnation, consistency is often key. Sometimes change is not for the best.

12
Nov
11

Okashi(i)

In my opinion, the Nabisco is very much a cup half empty…

The Japanese word for snacks, okashi, is strikingly similar to the word for strange, okashii. With that in mind it is particularly fitting that the J.League Cup – a pretty bizarre competition – is sponsored by the confectionary company Nabisco.

This year’s final was contested by two teams who have been having far from their best seasons – as indeed it invariably is.

The three previous showpieces – which admittedly are great occasions and generate a terrific atmosphere – have seen Jubilo Iwata, FC Tokyo and Oita Trinita emerge triumphant.

None of those sides were seriously challenging on any other fronts at the time, and for the latter two the tournament actually appeared to be something of a curse as they suffered relegation to J2 in the season following their victories.

While the teams that are in with a chance of winning the league or even the Emperor’s Cup – which carries the huge, and fitting, bonus of an ACL spot – focus on frying their bigger fish, the also-rans are left to fight over the crumbs.

Kashima Antlers will have been delighted to get one over their old rivals and pick up yet another trophy at Reds’ expense, but they would surely rather have been battling it out for the league title or to become the Kings of Asia.

Indeed, this was the first time that Oswaldo Oliveira had won the Nabisco Cup – the only domestic trophy he hadn’t collected in his time at the club – and while he will no doubt be happy to have collected the full set, he must also be feeling a little disheartened that Antlers are now having to settle for the smaller trinkets.

He even hinted at as much after the final, telling reporters in the press conference that, “because we are no longer in a realistic position to win the league we had a responsibility to win a title and so perhaps I focused on this competition a little more than I usually would.”

It could be argued that Reds deserved to win the championship more than Antlers, though.

Yes, they were largely outplayed in the final and the game was effectively ended as a spectacle with the over-enthusiastic refereeing of Mr. Tojo (Naoki’s first caution was a little harsh – although he, admittedly, knew he had received it and was stupid to fly in for the second tackle – while Aoki’s second yellow card was truly bizarre), but they had worked three times as hard as their opponents to get to the final.

Kashima had played just two matches prior to the clash at Kokuritsu, while Urawa contested six – all of which they won.

Teams with commitments in continental competition usually have their workload lightened, and this year the difference was more extreme because of the rearranged schedule after the earthquake but such a large disparity is very odd.

There has been talk of including J2 in the tournament from next season and I personally think that would be a great idea and could really inject some life into the competition.

Many factors – sponsors’ interests and club’s budgets chief among them – need to be taken into account but as a simple suggestion, my version of the League Cup would look something like this.

Eight groups of four teams, four consisting of three from J2 and one from J1, four with two from each division. Each team would play three matches and the winner of each group plus the best two runners up would progress to the next round.

Here they would be joined by the previous season’s top four from J1 and the reigning Emperor’s Cup and Nabisco Cup champions. (If the cup winners also finished in the top four then 5th and 6th from J1 would take their byes. If a J2 team won either or both cups then only 18 or 19 second division sides would be in the group stage with 14 or 13 from J1).

From that point on it would be a simple one-legged knockout competition from an unseeded draw.

The J.League is keen to expand and improve the credibility of its second division, and this format would certainly provide J2 sides with more exposure, as well as opportunities to test themselves against stronger opponents.

There would, admittedly, still be a slight discrepancy in the number of games teams play, but it would make for a slightly more even playing field, and the tournament could truly be considered as the “J.League Cup” – a tournament worth winning.

04
Nov
11

Osako strike gives Antlers Nabisco title

Neither Kashima Antlers or Urawa Reds have been having thir best season in the J.League in 2011.

The two sides did make it to the Nabisco Cup final though, where it took 120 minutes to decide the victor.

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.

08
Jul
11

The only way is up

The 2012 season will see the final promotion place from J2 decided by an English Championship-esque play-off, and as the level of the league continues to improve I think it’s a very good idea.

 

The J.League recently announced plans to introduce a play-off system in J2 from the 2012 season, meaning that the teams finishing third to sixth would all be in with a chance of moving up to the top-flight.

While opinion is fairly divided on this – with some asking how the sixth-placed side is likely to fare in J1 when considering the abysmal top-flight form of Avispa Fukuoka, who came third in J2 in 2010 – I am all for it and think that anything which adds to the competitiveness of the second tier is good for the Japanese game.

Avispa have certainly struggled – and nothing short of a miracle will keep them from relegation this year – but prior to them the only side to have moved up to J1 from the final promotion place and been relegated straight away is Shonan Bellmare.

Before this season 11 other teams, including Shonan, had come up in the last available spot and four of them – Reds, Omiya, Kobe and Yamagata – are still there. Four  more – Sendai, Cerezo, Sanfrecce and Kofu – went back down but are now re-established in the top-flight, while the final two sides are last year’s relegated pair of FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga – the former of whom are strong favourites to make a return next season.

Although they have recovered slightly from their far from impressive start to life back in the second division, Tokyo’s promotion is definitely not a foregone conclusion though, and the growing competitiveness of J2 was demonstrated by JEF’s failure to gain an instant return last year.

JEF’s head coach Dwight Lodeweges is well aware of the difficulty in gaining promotion, and insisted before the season that just being a big club is not enough to secure a spot in the top-flight.

“It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things. What I’m trying to do now is to build a foundation but it just doesn’t happen like that, it’s not just like pushing a button and there you go. We have to do the right things and make the right choices.”

Alongside JEF and FC Tokyo this year’s J2 also features two more giants of the Japanese game who could be revitalized by a return to the top table, in Tokyo Verdy and Yokohama FC – although both sides are admittedly shadows of their former selves at this moment in time.

Add to these the likes of Tochigi, Sagan Tosu, Tokushima Vortis and Roasso Kumamoto and you have almost half a division who have either the tradition or ability – or both – to make a go of it in J1.

Indeed, the introduction of a play-off system as opposed to three automatic promotion spots may actually help sides with the ambition of gaining promotion.

While, of course, it would be foolish to claim that any team had ever achieved promotion by accident, it could be suggested that some teams have made the step-up after a season of over-achievement – which they had perhaps not fully anticipated before the first ball was kicked. 

If teams know that there are twice as many berths available with the potential to take them to J1 though, then they may be able to better equip themselves for life in the top tier if and when they get there.

The instant success enjoyed by Cerezo, Sanfrecce and, so far, Reysol after re-joining J1 backs up this argument, with each team having had promotion as their realistic target throughout their season in the second tier. 

Just as importantly, if not more so, play-offs would also add to the excitement in the division by ensuring that more teams actually have something to play for as the season nears its climax. (Relegation, something else that I believe urgently needs to be introduced, would also serve this aim).

Furthermore, just because the sixth-placed team is in with a chance of gaining promotion to J1 it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will take it, and they’ll still have to beat two of the teams above them to earn the right.

And, anyway, even if they do they can’t really do any worse than Avispa, can they?

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.

04
Mar
11

J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm

22
Dec
10

The Back Post – Reds hope to close out blue period

When I first visited Japan, Urawa Red Diamonds were one of the top teams in the J.League. Things haven’t been so smooth over the past few seasons though, and the side has just implemented it’s latest change of manager.

As Volke Finke makes way for former Reds’ player Željko Petrović, I considered the team’s recent plight and whether or not the Montenegrin will be able to return them to the top of the table for my column in the Daily Yomiuri, which you can read here.

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.




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