Posts Tagged ‘蹴球ベイべー

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?

24
Jun
11

Usami rightly made to wait

Takashi Usami’s recent call-up to the full national team, despite not getting on the pitch in the Kirin Cup, meant he missed out on Japan Under-22’s Olympic qualifiers. While there’s no doubting the youngster’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with either decision though…

I was delighted when Takashi Usami struck his wonderful goal against Shimizu S-Pulse a couple of weekends back, as it was nice to see the young forward doing exactly what he does best; playing football. And playing it very well.

Prior to that goal he had spent two weeks in the media for doing absolutely nothing. Or, to be totally correct, for having nothing done with him.

The cause of most of this excitement was initially his first inclusion in the Samurai Blue squad for the Kirin Cup.

Despite the fact that head coach Alberto Zaccheroni made it fairly clear when announcing the squad that Usami was unlikely to feature, this did not stop the speculation and anticipation from building around him, and not a training session passed without the player and coach being asked about the chances of a debut being made.

The hype around the 19-year-old was then heightened when the rumours that have long been circulating about him signing for Bayern Munich picked up some speed. The fact that one of the biggest clubs in the world were seemingly on the verge of recruiting the player only added to the sense of confusion about his lack of participation in the games.

Then, having not gotten onto the pitch for the full-side, Usami was denied the opportunity to do so for the Under-22s in their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait – with Takashi Sekizuka’s decision not to include him in the squad again sparking much head-scratching and disbelief among the football community.

I, for one, don’t really see what the problem is though.

Firstly, while I would have liked, as a football fan, to have seen Gamba’s No. 11 take part in the Kirin Cup, I think it made perfect sense not to play him.

Zac stated that his primary motivation in calling Usami up was so that he could have the opportunity to work and speak with him over a prolonged period of time in training. He also made it clear that the player still had a lot to learn, and focused on the difference between league and international football.

If, as is expected, the player does move to Europe in the not-too-distant future then the chances to work with him for such a substantial amount of time will become fewer and farther between.

With that in mind it made perfect sense for Zac to have taken this opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Usami, and to see for himself just how much potential the player has.

It was also understandable that the coach chose to keep his impressions to himself and not to send Usami out onto the pitch, where every fan, coach and journalist would be poring over his every movement, touch, pass and shot.

Of course, coping with such attention cannot be delayed forever, and there is certainly the argument that the longer it is put off the greater the sense of expectation will be.

However, entering the fray too early could have hindered Usami’s development, with there being the chance that it could go too badly – or too well.

Imagine he had come off the bench and struck the winner against the Czech’s – ensuring victory for Japan, the Golden Boot award and, most probably – when considering that the prize is almost always given to goalscorers in Japan, regardless of how well other players perform – the MVP award for Usami.

This would have been a hell of a lot to live up to.

Of course, things could have gone in completely the opposite direction and he could have had a nightmare debut and his confidence could have taken a large knock.

While unfortunate, and no fault of his own, his absence from the U-22s is also understandable.

Sekizuka san spent 10 days working on a system with particular players and, having been with Zac and co. during that time, Usami was not around for any of those sessions.

So why recall him? Even bringing in a player as gifted as Usami could upset the balance of the side at a time when mistakes could be very costly.

It is a real shame for the player that he is currently stuck in a kind of no-man’s land between the U-22 and full national teams, but I have no doubt at all that he will get his chance sooner or later.

16
Jun
11

Timing key for Kawashima

Eiji Kawashima understandably wants to move up a level after an impressive season with Lierse SK in the Belgian First Division. As a ‘keeper being Number 1 at a lesser club is usually preferable to being Number 2 at a bigger one though…

During the Kirin Cup I attended several Japan training sessions and while everyone else was busying themselves with notes on 3-4-3 and Zac’s stop-start efforts to get the players to understand the tricky new formation, my gaze was drawn to the other end of the pitch where the goalkeepers were being put through their paces by Maurizio Guido.

It wasn’t only Signor Guido’s enthusiastic motivational cries that drew me to his session though, with Japan’s No. 1 Eiji Kawashima giving as good as he got.

Something I have noticed in Japan is the relative lack of verbal communication on the pitch. There may be the odd call here and there but the players generally move about almost silently, seemingly relying on little more than telepathic understanding or by following the routines practiced in training to the letter.

The former Kawasaki Frontale stopper was flinging himself about his six-yard box, yelling with every step, dive and catch though, and the concentration on his face was no different to that seen during matches.

Being so vocal is an absolutely vital aspect of goalkeeping, something that the Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech made clear after his side’s clash with the Samurai Blue at Nissan Stadium.

“You need to communicate with everybody around,” he said, “because a big part of goalkeeping is to be able to organize people in front of you.”

Kawashima can certainly do this, and even in training he is anything but easy on those in front of him, constantly barking orders to get his defence in line and hassling Akihiro Ienaga for being too far forward in his new role as a defensive-midfielder.

The 28-year-old’s rapid progression over the past 12 months has unsurprisingly led to rumours of a switch to a bigger European league, with West Bromwich Albion of the Premier League his most likely destination.

Whereas outfield players can usually play in a couple of positions and be broken in gradually with substitute appearances though, this is not an option for goalkeepers. The only way they can retain their sharpness, and confidence, is by being between the posts every week.

Cech, again, had wise words to say on the matter, pointing out that a reserve goalkeeper’s chances are not only determined by their form, but also that of their rival for the jersey.

“I think it’s always better when you start as Number 1 and then you can take it from there and keep your position in the goal. If you start as Number 2 then obviously it’s more difficult, it doesn’t all really depend only on you it depends on the other goalkeeper as well.”

While a certain amount of time adapting can be afforded, too long sitting on the bench will not only harm his form but may also call his place in the national team into question, then, and Alberto Zaccheroni will certainly have a keen interest in his goalkeeper’s next move, with Eiji having been an integral part of the Italian’s unbeaten start at the helm of the national team.

The man himself is more than aware of this, but concedes that if he wants to play at the highest level he may have to take a little bit of a gamble.

“For me, always, it’s really important to play. Always,” he said after the Czech game. “Of course, I know the Premier League is a really higher level than the others, but I think I can try.”

“It depends on the situation. Even if I’m the second goalkeeper if there is a possibility to become the first, of course I can try.”

Cech agrees that a lot can be learned on the training pitch too, but maintains that too long away from the pitch can be detrimental to a goalkeeper’s career.

“It will be another experience, already being there and working every day with a team which plays Premier League.”

“You can learn always by watching as well but, as I said, if you hope to be always playing for the national team, of course it’s better when you play.”

Eiji must be careful then, and must make sure that he chooses the right club at the right time.

08
Jun
11

Ghotbi calls for unity, not division

Shimizu S-Pulse’s head coach Afshin Ghotbi was the target of a ridiculous banner at the recent Shizuoka derby, but the  Iranian-American refused to get angry with the perpetrators, instead taking the high-road.

I have spoken several times about my desire to see more passion in Japanese football stadiums, and at Nihondaira for the Shizuoka derby I got it.

While the catalyst was a reprehensible banner that nobody with an ounce of intelligence would condone, the reaction by the Shimizu supporters, and that of the Jubilo fans in response, served to create an electric atmosphere.

As news and pictures began to appear online of the S-Pulse fans storming the away end and attempting to remove the banner in question I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find the scenes exciting.

The Shimizu fans were quite rightly enraged by the offensive message on display, and immediately set about removing it from the stand. The Jubilo fans, meanwhile – many of whom were doubtless unaware what the banner said, and may have reacted differently if they had – also assumed the defensive and stood their ground.

As a result a new chapter has been added to this famous fixture.

Afshin Ghotbi himself, while unaware at the time what was happening, admitted to being moved by his fans’ actions, telling me that, “I think that the reaction is in a way very honorable. They really love their club so much, they love their manager so much that they stood up for him and tried to defend him. Not so much the fight, but the fact that they actually went and tried to remove the banner.”

His thoughts on the individuals responsible for the banner – two teenage Jubilo supporters – differ from mine slightly though.

I would personally like to see them banned from attending J.League games again. I appreciate that they are young (and stupid) but can’t help but feel that there is more to their actions than just an act of immaturity.

If they had just shouted something out in the heat of the moment in a misguided attempt to stand out and/or impress those around them then they could just be dismissed as naïve (and stupid). But to take the time and effort to gather the materials and make a banner suggests that they may actually believe that Mr. Ghotbi is somehow a justifiable recipient of such abuse.

The S-Pulse coach takes a far more tolerant – and, admittedly, productive – stance though, and would welcome the opportunity to share an audience with them.

“It would be an interesting thing to meet with those two fans, face-to-face,” he said. “Just to enlighten them and give them a hug and show them that we’re all the same.

“We were born in different places but in the end we’re human beings. Maybe that experience can show them the right direction, because they’re young – they’re just young people and I think they don’t know any better.”

He does believe that the J.League should exert more control over what messages are displayed in its stadiums though, pointing out that they are symbols of the entire club, not just the people unfurling them.

  

“There should be some guidelines on which banners can go up representing that particular club and they should be checked at the entrance by the leaders of that club.”

Although he is clear that these measures should not be “strict”, he does feel that certain subjects have no business in a football stadium, stating simply that, “Really there’s no place for political statements when it comes to football matches.”

The timing of the attack is also hard to understand, with Japan still in recovery from one of the biggest tragedies in its recent history – and one which has sparked assistance from all over the world.

“We experienced such an enormous, historic tragedy with the tsunami, and those kind of events should unite us more than anything else,” he said.

This is far from being the first time that the Iranian-American has experienced discrimination though, and after a lifetime as what he terms “a global citizen” he refuses to be overly concerned by the event, instead suggesting that it should be used to bring about a positive development in the Japanese game.

“If we do the right things now it can create a moment of growth for all Japanese people and Japanese football.”

One thing that has certainly been heightened is the animosity between Shizuoka’s two clubs, and I am certain that there will be plenty of passion on display the next time the sides meet.




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