Posts Tagged ‘Arsenal

13
Jun
12

Miyaichi-ban

Ryo Miyaichi has earned a lot of admirers in the past year-and-a-half, as much for his off-field performances as those on it…

I knew absolutely nothing about Ryo Miyaichi before he was plucked from the obscurity of Japanese High School football by Arsene Wenger back in 2010, and only kept half an eye on him when he was first loaned out to Feyenoord.

More and more Japanese players are making the journey west so I saw no reason to pay special attention to the former Chukyo Dai Chukyo winger.

To me the deal represented a fairly low-risk move by Arsenal: if he struggled to adapt he could easily be shipped out without anybody noticing, while Wenger would again be lauded for having an eye for natural – and cheap (or, more precisely, free) – talent if he turned out to be something special.

His impressive spells on loan at Feyenoord and then Bolton suggest that it may very well be the latter though, and his stock has risen even higher since he was called up to the national team by Alberto Zaccheroni for the final match in the third round of World Cup qualifying against Uzbekistan in Toyota.

I spoke to him in the mixed zone after that game, and gained my first real insight into what had enabled him to progress so rapidly through the ranks.

As well as being an obviously very gifted footballer, his mentality and personality hugely impressed me and he appears to have all the tools to fulfil his vast potential.

I asked if he was ok to try a conversation in English, fully expecting him to say no, but he smiled and said he’d give it a go.

He then expressed himself clearly and openly in his second language for several minutes, after just over a year outside of Japan, and it was clear he was having a lot of fun in England.

“I enjoy it every day, I can play at a higher level,” he said.

“I’m happy to play in the Premier League and also I’m living alone so I am really enjoying every day.”

After the match with Oman I spoke with his next-door neighbour in Bolton, the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

He, too, remarked upon Miyaichi’s personality.

“He’s really keen and he’s confident in himself and he can go forward,” he said.

“He’s still really, really young. At that age if you are at Arsenal that means you are a good player.”

I don’t socialise with them so can’t possibly claim to know for sure how other Japanese players in Europe spend their free time, but the impression is that many of them seem to relax together, in effect segregating themselves from their non-Japanese teammates.

As an Englishman living overseas I know full well how nice it is to spend time with people who share a common language and culture.

However, at the same time I know that I must put in the effort to truly benefit from and enjoy my time in Japan.

Miyaichi seems to have no problem with that side of living overseas.

Mixed zones – especially during national team camps, when papers and websites are in need of daily comments – tend to be fairly serious and stressful.

At a training session ahead of the Oman game though, I joined a group huddled around Miyaichi and was surprised to hear them discussing the Omani food that his neighbour had made for him.

Sensing a rare opportunity for some light-hearted conversation I asked what he thought of English cuisine.

I don’t really like English food,” he replied, almost apologetically.

This is a fairly common response (and completely incorrect one) but I persevered and – tongue-in-cheek – asked what his thoughts were on the traditional fish and chips.

Politely he said with a grin, “Fish and Chips is bad for you.”

Of course, such questioning is not exactly hard-hitting journalism.

Miyaichi’s relaxed and friendly manner is a breath of fresh air though, and the way he deals with the pressures of his newfound stardom off the pitch as well as on it mark him out as one who could really go on to achieve great things.

I did, however, discover something he’s not good at when I asked Al Habsi about the preparation of their dinners.

“I do all of it,” he laughed.

“He’s too young. He has to learn how to cook.”

07
Dec
11

The Mixed Zone with…Freddie Ljungberg

There aren’t many big-name foreign players in the J.League at the moment, with the money that used to attract them now in the oil-rich regions in the Middle East.

Not all players are just in it for the cash though, and my interview with Freddie Ljungberg revealed a player who is interested in a lot more than his pay-cheque.

16
Nov
11

Former Arsenal star Ljungberg aims high with S-Pulse

Freddie Ljungberg’s arrival at Shimizu S-Pulse was completely unexpected and served to revitalise the side in the second half of the 2011 J.League season.

Last week I sat down with the former Sweden captain to find out why he chose to come to Japan and what he is looking to achieve in his time here.

22
Sep
11

S-Pulse ready with Freddie

Shimizu S-Pulse are aiming for the very top, and their latest signing shows that they are serious about getting there…

The question on everybody’s lips was how? How did Shimizu S-Pulse manage to sign Freddie Ljungberg?

During the J.League’s early years, players in the twilight of their careers often turned up for one last pay-day before retirement, but now the money is in the Middle-East, not Japan.

Ljungberg will almost certainly have been offered better terms by clubs in other parts of the world, then, so why did he choose Shizuoka?

The answer seems to lie with Afshin Ghotbi’s powers of persuasion.

“I have a lot of relationships abroad and I spoke with a lot of different people about him – people that have played alongside him, people that know him – and we spent almost two weeks on the phone every day talking to each other,” S-Pulse’s head coach explained to me.

“I think he likes my regime, I like his mentality. He will be a great addition to our team and hopefully he can get S-Pulse to the championship that we desire so much, sooner rather than later.”

Ghotbi believes that the capture of the former Arsenal man means everything is now in place to achieve this ambitious aim.

“I already have Shinji Ono and [Naohiro] Takahara who are icons of Japanese football and I think Freddie is an icon of international football. So it could maybe complete creating the leaders in the team to bring our younger players faster to the level that they need to come to.”

As well as creating success on the pitch, he also believes it can improve the image of the club and the J.League overseas.

“I’ve no doubt he’s going to be an icon for the league and a great attraction for the J.League on an international scale.”

The early signs on this front are good.

When I arrived at S-Pulse’s Miho training ground the day after the Shizuoka Derby, for instance, Mamiko Fujioka was already there.

Fujioka-san had lived in Sweden for a year, during which time she developed a keen interest in Swedish football – and of course the country’s then-captain, Freddie.

She had travelled from Kyoto for the Jubilo match and arrived over an hour before the public training session began the next day in the hope of meeting her hero.

As the signed Sweden shirt she had on proved, she had succeeded in this aim, and was literally jumping for joy.

Of course, Freddie also has a great deal to offer on the pitch, and he explained at his unveiling just how he could improve the side.

“[The coach] wants me to help move the ball and help us to maybe be a bit more calm and to create chances for my teammates – to use my experience of big games and winning things and get that mentality to the other players.”

Indeed, despite having made his name at Arsenal as an attacking midfielder, he entered the action a little deeper on his debut, a position that Alex Brosque feels he is perfectly suited to.

“That’s mainly to try and get him on the ball as much as we can. If we’re able to do that with him and Shinji on the field I think we can be a bit more dangerous.”

He actually replaced Shinji in that game though, so I asked the S-Pulse captain if he felt there was room for them both in the side. 

“Yes, I think so,” he replied, eagerly. “If we want to play football then maybe I need to get the ball further back from closer to the defenders and manage the team from defensive midfield.”  

Ljungberg agreed, and insisted that having them work in tandem was eventually the aim.

“Of course we can, otherwise there wouldn’t be any point (in me coming to Shimizu). He’s a good football player so, of course. I’m looking forward to that.

“It depends how we play, whether I play forwards or if we play with two defensive and I’ll play just in front. Sometimes here they play with one in behind and two in front and then we share the responsibility. It’s up to the coach.”

Having such a wealth of options and talented players certainly looks great on paper, and if Ono and Ljungberg can both stay fit then S-Pulse really could have a chance to turn the theory into practice.

16
Sep
11

Ljungberg brings spark to S-Pulse

Shimizu S-Pulse surprised everybody a couple of weeks ago when they announced the capture of former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.

The ex-Sweden captain made his debut in last weekend’s Shizuoka Derby, and I was there to get his thoughts, and those of his coach and teammates, on his arrival in Japan.

29
Aug
11

Debate goes on

I have many problems with the English Premier League, but the manner in which the games create and encourage debate is one thing that the J.League would do well to learn from.

Since I moved to Japan I have lost touch a little with the English Premier League. I keep up with the scores and bigger news stories but being 6,000 miles away I don’t really feel like I am involved in the narrative of the season.

I wasn’t really that much closer to the action when I lived back in Brighton as I played matches at weekends, but in England it is impossible to avoid the football.

And to be honest, I was actually getting a little tired of the overhyped Premier League and that was part of the reason that I developed an interest in the J.League.

One thing that I do really miss though is the coverage of the game on television, and the way in which everybody has – and is encouraged to have – an opinion.

An excellent case in point was provided by the Newcastle v. Arsenal game on the first day of the season, which I watched in the pub with a group of friends.

While the match failed to live up to the previous fixture between the sides – Arsenal unbelievably threw away a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 at St. James’ Park last season – it more than delivered when it came to talking points.

First of all Newcastle’s Joey Barton – a player who is never far away from trouble – had his leg stamped on by Arsenal’s Alex Song, something that the referee didn’t see but the TV cameras did.

The real excitement came about a quarter of an hour before full-time, though.

Barton was again the central figure, and after Arsenal’s new striker Gervinho flung himself to the turf in a bid to win a penalty the midfielder dragged him up by the scruff of the neck before finding himself on the ground after he was struck on the head.

The pub was instantly ablaze with discussion, abuse and laughter as replays showed from multiple angles that Barton had barely been touched and that mere seconds after being outraged by an overreaction to gain an advantage he had done the same thing.

He was variously described as clever, a cheat, an idiot and a range of things far too colourful for me to write here as Gervinho received his marching orders.

Then, in the post-match interviews players and coaches from both sides were asked about the incident and the pundits in the studio further analysed the situation.

This is something that just doesn’t happen in Japan, where controversial incidents are hardly ever given airtime.

After the live broadcast had concluded it was over to ‘Match of the Day’, the BBC’s trademark highlights show, by which time the debate had taken on a far more inclusive edge as Barton himself had now been commenting on the incident via his Twitter account.

The game had ended 0-0, but whereas in Japan that would almost certainly condemn the coverage to a 10-second clip of a wayward shot by one of the clubs’ national team players, 15 minutes of highlights and analysis took place, during which it was agreed that most of the individuals involved in the melee were partly at fault.

The J.League is obviously hesitant to draw attention to any of the negative aspects of its game (mistakes by officials, cheating, violence – of which there are plenty) but I think it is misguided in thinking that airing them will detract from the image of the game.

Fans want to be entertained and footballers embarrassing themselves by cheating is very entertaining. It can also be argued that the more airtime given to bad sportsmanship the less likely players are to try and get away with it – although I’m not so sure about that.

Barton didn’t seem to mind that his integrity was being called into question, and was more than happy to take part in the interactive culture of English football, tweeting just before the programme began, “Right, off now to watch MOTD, its what sat nights are all about.”

In England it’s not just Saturday nights when opinions about football are aired though, and the J.League could learn a thing or two from English coverage of the beautiful (and sometimes ugly) game.

19
Jan
11

The Back Post – Self-belief the key for Miyaichi

The last month or so has seen several more Japanese players head to Europe, including the 18-year-old High School player Ryo Miyaichi, who has just signed for Arsenal.

While the number of players moving abroad is increasing and can only be a good thing for the game here, the level of self-belief Japanese players have in their own abilities is still up for debate, as I discussed in today’s Daily Yomiuri. 

17
Jan
11

Cup of Kings

There may no longer be a huge amount of prestige attached to winning the English FA Cup – largely because there is no real benefit of winning the tournament – but the winners of the football association cup in Japan certainly have an extra incentive.

Although many see the Emperor’s Cup as little more than a consolation prize, I am happy that the winners get Japan’s fourth and final Asian Champions League spot. As far as I’m concerned, winning a trophy is more of an achievement than finishing fourth in the league and the ‘Champions’ league should be contested by champions.

Speaking after Kashima defeated Shimizu on New Year’s Day, Oswaldo Oliveira was delighted to have won the competition for the second time and his comments highlighted the importance of adding the extra incentive of a Champions League spot to the competition.

“I was worrying about this (qualifying for the Champions League) because it will be our fourth time to play in the tournament since 2008. If we missed out on 2011, I would feel very sad.”

“I couldn’t allow myself to end the year without winning a title so this victory means a lot to me.”

Match-winner Takuya Nozawa also reflected on the value of the victory, commenting that, “We really wanted to qualify for the Asian Champions League and we got it done. Although we weren’t able to win four straight J.League titles I feel that in part we made up for it by winning the Emperor’s Cup.”

This hits the nail on the head, and while a strong league finish demonstrates consistency over the course of the season it does not bring with it the same thrills and tensions as a cup run. Players should want to be winning trophies rather than finishing in third place in the league.

Last weekend was the third round of the famous English FA Cup – the tournament on which the Emperor’s Cup is based. Despite the history and tradition attached to this trophy however, very few of England’s big teams are really too concerned with the competition any more, with fourth place in the Premier League offering more financial gain and the chance of Champions League football. The FA Cup does not currently provide a gateway to that continental competition.

In last year’s third round – when Premier League teams enter the draw – Manchester United lost at home to Leeds United, who are now playing in the third tier of English football, while Liverpool fell to defeat against Championship side Reading at Anfield; both teams had bigger fish to fry.

This lack of interest in the cup was then contrasted by the depressingly over-the-top celebrations by Tottenham Hotspur when they beat Manchester City to secure fourth-place in the Premier League.

Champagne corks were popping and the manager, Harry Redknapp, was showered by a bucket of iced water as the players celebrated their achievement.

Redknapp, who had won the FA Cup with his former side Portsmouth in 2008, made it abundantly clear which success he valued more greatly, exclaiming that.

“It’s even better than winning the Cup. The Cup you can win with some lucky draws. You all know that if you can get some nice draws, three or four wins and you are there. But I think this a better achievement.”

He then continued by claiming that, having secured a qualification spot for the European competition, his team’s final league position didn’t actually matter too much.

“I just wanted to finish fourth but the chairman has just asked me who Arsenal are playing on Sunday and I think he wants to see if we can finish above them. I’m just happy with fourth.”

This is a sad indication of the plight of modern football, with finishing fourth in one competition – not even a medal position in other sports – being deemed of greater value than coming first in another.

Unfortunately, such an attitude is understandable though, and, while it would be great for teams to want to win a trophy for nothing more than prestige and glory, the financial pressures on professional clubs these days mean that is just not realistic.

By having the final ACL position tied up with victory in the Emperor’s Cup, the JFA is doing better than the English FA in keeping its teams interested in its cup competition though, and as long as that bonus is attached to lifting the trophy, J.League teams will have to keep treating the tournament with respect.




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