Posts Tagged ‘Akihiro Ienaga

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.

01
Jun
11

Japan v. Peru preview

The 2011 Kirin Cup gets underway this evening when Japan take on Peru in Niigata.

Here’s my preview of the match for The Daily Yomiuri.

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.

02
Mar
11

Plymouth in trouble

Last week I focused on the current troubles at Plymouth Argyle for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column. Below please find the English and Japanese versions of the article.

Plymouth Argyle currently sit 19th in England’s League One but at the moment they are fighting for more than their place in the league.

The club were recently served with a winding up order after their Japanese investors – Yasuaki Kagami and George Synan of K&K Shonan Corporation – had reneged on an agreement to provide much-needed funds, and although they were just about able to cover their bills by the most recent deadline on February 9th, next time they may not be so lucky.

In December Mr. Kagami and Mr. Synan signed an agreement to provide £2,000,000 to the club in four installments, the first of which was due to be paid on the last working day of December and the second on the last working day of January. Neither payment has arrived.

Peter Ridsdale – the former Leeds United and Cardiff City chairman who has been brought in as an unpaid ‘football consultant’ at Plymouth – warned that fans should not get too excited about the club’s most recent escape, and highlighted how dire the situation is when he told BBC Spotlight that.

“It was good news in the sense that we’ve paid the petition debt and are up to date with the revenue, but that’s just the first hurdle we’ve got over. Today isn’t a day of celebration, today is just a sober reminder of the fact that we’ve still got a lot of people to pay money to.”

So how did things get to this point? Well, in April 2008 Mr. Kagami made his first investment into Plymouth – which was then a Championship club – acquiring 20% of the club’s shares. Then, In July 2009, he formed a consortium with Sir Roy Gardner (former chairman of Manchester United) and Keith Todd and increased his stake to 51% (Mr. Kagami owning 38%, while Sir. Gardner and Mr. Todd held 13% between them) – making K&K Shonan the majority shareholder.

This investment was purportedly to form ties between Argyle and football clubs in Japan and the U.S (Mr. Kagami’s co-investor Mr. Synan is American), to turn Plymouth into a Premier League side within five years and to complete the development of their stadium, Home Park.

To achieve an impact in Japan the club appointed the legendary Yasuhiko Okudera as honorary president – although he has declined to comment on his involvement at the club entirely – and soon set about trying to recruit some Japanese players.

While visa issues meant that this was far from easy (they failed in an attempt to secure Akihiro Ienaga, for example), they did manage to sign former Japan U17 and U23 goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi (who couldn’t be registered outright and so instead became the first (and so far only) recipient of the ‘Plymouth Argyle International Scholarship’).

Unfortunately things have not gone according to plan though, and, after three managers in as many years and experiencing relegation to League One, Plymouth now found themselves on the brink.

As fans of Tokyo Verdy, Oita Trinita and, of course, Yokohama Flugels can attest to, these are stressful times and you do all you can to help save your club.

With that in mind, Andy Hancock – a Plymouth supporter who studies in Yokohama – decided to take advantage of the unique position he was in and launched a petition to force K&K Shonan Corp. into paying up.

In just two weeks he gathered  6,023 signatures from fans of 69 different football clubs in 84 countries, but found nobody involved at K&K Shonan willing to receive it. He made numerous attempts to arrange for a civilised handover to either Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan which were all rejected, then found nobody willing to accept the petition when he tried to deliver it to the company directly.

Indeed, the investors have been anything but familiar faces since they became involved at the club and when I visited Home Park in January 2010 a member of staff commented on the fact that Mr. Kagami had never actually attended a Plymouth game, something that is still the case.

As it stands, Plymouth – who have frequently been unable to pay players and staff on time of late – are due to settle their next tax bill on February 22nd but at the time of writing they are still to receive any of the promised funds from Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan.

日本の企業に踊らされた!? イングランドの3部クラブ

今回は日本人の投資家絡みで、荒波に飲まれそうなクラブを話を紹介したい。イングランドのリーグ1(3部)に所属するプリマスのことだ。現在リーグ19位だが、残留以上の問題を抱えている。

同チームをバックアップしている日本の投資会社『K&K湘南マネジメント』の加賀見保明さんとジョージ・サイナンさんがクラブに一銭も払っていないのだ。2月9日、クラブは存続に必要な金額をかき集めたものの、財政面の支援を受けるのは難しく、最悪クラブは解散命令を通達されるかもしれない。

昨年12月、加賀見さんとサイナンさんはクラブに200万ポンド(約2億6000万円)を4分割で支払うことに合意。12月と1月末に振り込まれる予定だったが、どちらも未払いだった。この事実もありプリマスのピーター・リズデール会長は「2月に資金を得たからといって、喜ぶわけにはいかない」とコメント。BBC(英国放送)ではこう語った。

「一つ目のハードルを越えただけ。まだお金を支払わなければならない」

さて、なぜこんなことが起きたのか。08年4月、加賀見さんが当時2部のプリマスに最初の投資を行なった。クラブの株の2割を保有するというのだ。翌年の7月、彼はサ-・ロイ・ガードナー(前マンU会長)、キース・トッドと事業を始め、株の51%(加賀見さんが38%で、サ-・ガードナー、トッドさんが2人で13%)を担う運びになった。この投資はプリマスと日米(サイナンさんはアメリカ人)両国の力で、クラブを5年でプレミアリーグに昇格させ、新スタジアムを完成させる野望の下に始まったものだ。クラブは日本で名前を広めるため、あの奥寺康彦さんを名誉会長に指名、GKの林彰洋を獲得するなど「日本ブーム」に沸きつつあった。だが、ビザ等の問題で家長昭博の獲得を断念、クラブの運営は困難を極めた。以降、肝心のピッチでも結果を残せず3部に落ち、ファンもストレスを溜めている。

横浜在住のプリマスサポーター、アンディ・ハンコックさんもその一人。彼は地理的な利点を生かし、『K&K湘南』に資本金を支払うよう請願書を送った。その後2週間で84カ国のサッカーファン6023人から署名を集めたが、同社に受け取ってもらえなかったという。

投資家の連中はクラブに携わった初日から今日に至るまで「よそよそしい」としか言いようがない。昨年、僕がホームパーク(クラブの本拠地)を訪れた際、スタッフが「加賀見さんは一度もホームゲームを見に来たことがない」と言っていたけれど、それは今も変わらない。

クラブはこの号の発売日(2月22日)に、英国税務署に未払いの税金を支払う予定だけど、現状を踏まえると何とも酷な話だ。

09
Jan
11

Ienaga gets his chance

The number of Japanese players earning themselves moves to Europe is steadily on the rise so for last week’s Soccer Magazine column I focused on the chances of one of them, Akihiro Ienaga, making the grade at Mallorca in Spain. 

Twelve months after getting relegated from J1 with Oita Trinita, Akihiro Ienaga has completed a remarkable turnaround and, having secured a move to R.C.D Mallorca, will look to become the first Japanese player to really make his mark in Spain’s Primera Liga.

I have a sneaking suspicion he may just do it, although I am certainly not alone in that opinion.

Since 2008 he has helped Oita to a Nabisco Cup triumph and been instrumental in Cerezo Osaka’s spectacular surge into the AFC Champions League, but there was always the fear that he would never fulfil his full potential.

While Ienaga’s talent has never been in doubt, his attitude has sometimes held him back and as the likes of Keisuke Honda – with whom he played for Gamba Osaka junior youth – began to earn reputations for themselves on the pitch, Ienaga found himself out on loan in each of the last three seasons – largely because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Akira Nishino.

It looked as if a move abroad may be the best solution for him to really make the step up, and last January I visited Plymouth Argyle in England, where Ienaga had spent some time on trial.

Chief Operating Officer of the club, Tony Campbell, remarked on the player’s standout ability amongst the various Japanese players who had visited the club, and suggested that his mentality was perhaps more suited to a European style of play.

“When Ienaga came over he said he really enjoyed training in England because it was different. On one of our training sessions we turned the goals round, so they had to get the ball in behind and score. He’d never done it, but he loved it, because it was different.”

Endo Yasuhito is also a big Ienaga fan, and back in August selected him as his favourite current J.League player.

“Now I like Ienaga, he is a great player with huge potential. I feel he could make it into the national team and also abroad as well.”

Ienaga will now have the opportunity to prove his former teammate right, and at the same time will have the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of previous Japanese players who have tried and failed in Spain.

Shunsuke Nakamura is the most recent to have come up short in the country during his period at Espanyol, where he struggled to adapt with the Spanish style after too long in the inferior SPL. Before him went the likes of Shoji Jo and Yoshito Okubo who were also given chances in the country – the latter interestingly also at Mallorca – but failed to make the grade.

Ienaga is perhaps a different breed of player to his predecessors though, and his openness to new ideas will certainly stand him in good stead in La Liga. His former coach at Oita, Ranko Popovic, is delighted that ‘Aki’ has received this opportunity, referring to the progress he has made since he started working with him two seasons ago.

“Aki had some difficulties at the start with changing some things and I was very strict with him. He learned though and he is a very good player.”

Popovic recalls one instance in particular that underlined the player’s ability.

“I played him volante in one game and he had never played there before. People said I was crazy to force him into this position but he was the Man of the Match.

“I saw big potential in him and now we are seeing the fruits of that. I told him at Oita, ‘You must be the best. I don’t want you in the middle, if you are in the middle you don’t exist to me. You must be the best.’”

Such harsh treatment can go one of two ways, with the player either choosing to rise to the task or give up entirely. Ienaga’s quality is shown in the fact that he did the former, and his decision to take on this latest challenge in Spain could see him grow even more in the next few years.

23
Dec
10

Osaka Nihon

For my column in this week’s Weekly Soccer Magazine I considered the fact that J1 will be without a representative from the capital next season, while another city, Osaka, is further establishing itself as the home of Japanese football. 

FC Tokyo’s relegation made official what we have known for a while: the economic, political and cultural capital is most certainly not the first city of Japanese football.

And a quick glance at the J.League teams appearing in next season’s Asian Champions League means it is not particularly difficult to see where the power really lies.

As Kiyoshi Okuma’s side gear up for the Tokyo derbies next season – when they face Verdy in J2 – Osaka’s two teams, Gamba and Cerezo, will be leading the charge into the ACL.

Nagoya Grampus won their first ever J.League title this season, Montedio Yamagata did fantastically to further establish themselves in the top-flight and, at the bottom of the table, Vissel Kobe seized upon Tokyo’s feeble end to the season and put together a seven-game unbeaten run to remarkably stay in J1.

While the achievements of these sides are impressive though, my team of the year would have to be Cerezo.

The club, like Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2009, will make their debut in the ACL next season just over a year after they were playing second division football.

Since achieving promotion from J2, the team’s positive and attacking style has been a joy to watch, and, while many were fearful for the side’s chances in the top-flight after the departure of Shinji Kagawa, some of the combination play of Akihiro Ienaga, Takashi Inui and Adriano in the final third has been spectacular.

I saw the team play twice in the middle of their seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, first away to Jubilo and then at home FC Tokyo, and the energy and enthusiasm on display was fantastic.

When I played football back in England players would often shout “It’s still 0-0!” when my team scored first (not something that happened very often), in order to ensure that we all stayed focused. During Cerezo games somebody must have been doing likewise, and it looked like the team thought they absolutely must score every time they were in possession.

The speed at which they moved the ball from front to back and created chance after chance gave the impression of a team very much enjoying their football.

As well as causing their opponents many problems when on the offence, Levir Culpi’s side were not the easiest to break down either. Their duo of Brazilian midfield anchors, Amaral and Martinez, provided the perfect platform from which to build and a defence marshalled superbly by Teruyuki Moniwa saw the side finish with the second best goals against record and the best goal difference in the division.

While the demands on the team’s relatively slim squad meant they were unable to provide a real challenge for the title, they excelled when the pressure was really on at the end of the season, winning  five of their last six games – including the last four, during which they scored 14 times.

Cerezo justifiably took a lot of the headlines this season, but the perception of the black and blue half of the city continues to puzzle me.

Gamba have finished outside of the top three just once in the last seven years, have one of the league’s finest managers and this season provided the J.League Young Player of the Year in Takashi Usami.

The club receives very little recognition for all its success though, and this year just one Gamba player made it into the J.League Best Eleven – Yasuhito Endo, who was appearing for a record-breaking eighth consecutive time.

Endo’s relaxed attitude perhaps sums up the understated coverage his team receives. When I asked him why he thought he was always in the team of the year he smiled and replied, “I don’t know,” before adding that, “I want to be in (the Best Eleven) however many times I can – until I retire. I’m not satisfied to be second (in the league) and, of course, I have a strong desire to win.” 

This focus on the future rather than reflecting on past achievements – which Cerezo also epitomised by insisting on pushing on after their promotion – perhaps gives the clearest insight of all as to why it is now Osaka’s clubs that are at the forefront of the Japanese game.




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