Posts Tagged ‘Eiji Kawashima

20
Jun
12

Football Against Adversity: A Japanese Odyssey

The Inside Left is a new online football journal which, in their own words, is “dedicated to telling thought-provoking football stories – no news, gossip or reports, just the best comment, analysis and anecdotes from players, managers, supporters and a team of talented contributors who span the length and breadth of the globe, as well as the depths of the league pyramid.”

My small contribution to that grand aim was a piece on the increasing relevance of football to Japanese culture, something that was emphasised in the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11th, 2011.

12
Jun
12

Japan aims to stay on roll in clash with Australia

Japan’s first two games in the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014 went better than anybody could have expected, with 3-0 and 6-0 home wins over Oman and Jordan, respectively.

Tonight they take on Australia in what is sure to be their toughest game yet. The players are confident, though, and as Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda, Eiji Kawashima and Yuto Nagatomo said after the romp over Jordan, they are aiming for a third consecutive win in Brisbane.

02
Mar
12

Zac: Japan doomed by lack of will

Japan lost 1-0 to Uzbekistan on Wednesday night, condemning Alberto Zaccheroni to his first home defeat in charge of the Samurai Blue.

After the match I gathered reaction from Zac and the players for The Daily Yomiuri.

29
Feb
12

Zaccheroni’s building project ready for next battle

Japan play their final match of the 3rd Round of Asian Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup against Uzbekistan tonight.

Both teams are already through so all eyes are on Alberto Zaccheroni’s team selection, and in particular Ryo Miyaichi.

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.

24
Jan
12

Striking Out

Two Japanese strikers recently enjoyed different levels of success in securing overseas moves, with perhaps little more than their birthdays being the decisive factor…

I recently met Tadanari Lee for a coffee in Southampton, and he was clearly very excited about his move to the Championship club.

The transition from big-fish-in-a-little-pond to small-fry with a point to prove will take some getting used to – at one point a fellow customer struck up conversation with us and Lee was successfully able to pass himself off as a student at the local university, not something that would be achievable in Hiroshima – but I believe he has all the right attributes to adapt to and succeed in the English game.

While Lee did seal his deal, Ryoichi Maeda’s trial with fellow promotion chasers West Ham was unsuccessful, though.

That looks to have been the Jubilo hitman’s final chance to prove himself outside of the J.League, and it is a real shame that he will not have the opportunity to test himself in a different environment.

He suggested as much ahead of his try-out with the Hammers. 

“It might be a bit late to be taking on the challenge of playing abroad, but I hope to grow into a better player in Europe and bring that to the national team,” he was reported as saying by Reuters.

“At my age, this is likely my last chance to play overseas and I want to do everything possible to make it happen.”

This desire on the player’s part suggests Jubilo’s claim that the move didn’t happen because terms couldn’t be agreed may not be the whole truth.

When contrasted with the way in which Southampton pulled out all the stops to get Lee on board, the element of luck and timing which comes into play with such transfers moves even more clearly into focus.

The now-former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker initially had his visa application turned down, but he was eventually granted special dispensation as “an exceptional talent that will enhance the game [in England]”.

Maeda is one of the most natural Japanese strikers I have seen, and his consistently impressive goalscoring record suggests that he really should have been given an opportunity as well.

To me, the four-year difference in the two players’ ages is the main reason why Lee has been given his chance and Maeda missed the boat.

While Maeda being 30 was not perhaps a stumbling block in the move to West Ham – Sam Allardyce wouldn’t have bothered giving him a trial if he considered the player to be too old – his age will almost certainly have put-off other clubs.

More importantly though, he is unfortunate to belong to a generation of players who were never really trusted or rated in Europe at their peak.

Until the last couple of years Japanese players were considered too weak to survive in more combative leagues, and Maeda’s scoring achievements in the J.League may not have been treated with the respect they deserve outside of Japan.

As more and more players carve out successful careers in the top leagues this myth is slowly being proved wrong; hence why Lee, at just 26, has been offered his shot.

If Maeda had been born a few years later he, too, would surely have earned some overseas experience.

This is a problem that several older Japanese players are currently facing, and they are being forced to choose between seeing out the remainder of their careers in the J.League, or taking any offers that come their way.

Eiji Kawashima, who will soon turn 29, finds himself at a club in the basement of the Belgian league, where he was very nearly joined by his Japan teammate Yuichi Komano.

While Kawashima may still have one more move in him – goalkeepers do have the potential to play for longer – a switch to  bottom club Sint-Truidense would surely have been the only chance for Komano, and would have been a little bit of a transfer-for-the-sake-of-it.

It is a shame for the likes of Maeda and Komano, but the fact that the next generation are being given more opportunities is fantastic for the continuing development of the Japanese game – both with regards to technique and mentality.

Lee is the perfect embodiment of the newly-confident Japanese player, and if he can hit the ground running then he won’t be anonymous in England for much longer.

07
Sep
11

Stage is set for Shizuoka Derby

Earlier in the season the Shizuoka Derby made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. The return fixture is this weekend and promises to be a good’un…

This Saturday is the most eagerly anticipated Shizuoka Derby for years.

While both Jubilo and Shimizu have had more successful seasons in the past, contesting the biggest prizes in the Japanese game, this match is special because there is something perhaps more important at stake; local pride.

To an extent this is always on the line in derbies, but the clash at Ecopa Stadium is the first time the sides have squared off since the incident involving the “Ghotbi Stop Making Nuclear Bombs” banner at Nihondaira in May, and as a result the atmosphere is sure to be electric.

While that matter is now officially closed – with Afshin Ghotbi having taken it in his stride, Jubilo banning the fans responsible and Shimizu reprimanding their supporters who became involved – the scars are not completely healed.

S-Pulse fan Daisuke Matsura, for example – one of the nearly 30 Shimizu supporters who forced their way into the Jubilo end to demand the banner and were subsequently handed three-match bans by S-Pulse – cannot wait for the match.

Matsura accepted his punishment – which encompassed the league games at home to Albirex and away to Cerezo, and the Nabisco Cup clash with Ventforet at Nihondaira – and explained to me why he and his fellow supporters broke stadium rules and entered the away section.

“We knew what would happen to us (banned from few home games) if we reacted under such a situation, but we soon decided to go and stop the Iwata supporters.  It was all for our pride against them because it was derby day and not to allow them behave as they wanted in our home stadium. 

“Many people may think that we rushed towards the Jubilo side right away, but that’s wrong. My fellow supporters and I actually had a brief discussion if we would really go or not before we started running to the other side. 

“What happened in the Iwata side was far away from violence at all.  No one got injured from either group of supporters. Us Shimizu supporters simply asked them to stop and give up the banner. Of course, the Iwata supporters didn’t respond right away.” 

Although obviously angered by the content of the banner he admits to understanding the potential motivation behind it, and suggests that if the Jubilo fans had expressed themselves differently the incident may not have become so out of hand.

“I guess they tried to show their intense hate towards Shimizu on the derby day.  I kind of understand this feeling because we have that feeling as well towards Iwata.  But I guess they just picked a wrong way to show it. If it was some sort of insulting chant, I guess we could take it differently.”

An instance of verbal abuse has also made headlines this season though – with Kofu’s Mike Havenaar allegedly being racially abused at Kashiwa’s Hitachi Dai Stadium.

While no culprit has been officially identified by the club, several of the core Reysol fans have since been served with lifetime bans for “repeated bad behaviour”.

Matsura is adamant that there are no problems of racism creeping onto Japanese stands on the scale of the scenes witnessed in Russia (Roberto Carlos had a banana thrown in his direction while playing for Anzhi Makhachkala) or Belgium (where Japan No. 1 Eiji Kawashima was subjected to a “Fukushima” taunt last month), though.

“There are actually a few supporters in all clubs who behave impulsively, but they are still a minority in J.League stands” he says.

And although he and his fellow fans are fired up for this game against their local rivals he insists that no specific acts of retribution are on the cards.

“This incident will surely have increased our tension, especially for those who actually got involved and banned.  At this point, we are not preparing anything. You might see some banners and actions in Shimizu stands, but they would be nothing special, I guess.”

While there may be ‘nothing special’ planned it is sure to be a heated occasion, and with S-Pulse’s new marquee signing Freddie Ljungberg also looking set to be making his debut in the game as well  all the ingredients are in place for a cracking game of football.

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.

12
Jun
11

Players keen to keep improving under Zac

The Samurai Blue may have failed to register any goals in the recent Kirin Cup but the players certainly benefited from the time together on the training pitch. 

After the final game of the tournament against the Czech Republic I got the thoughts of Eiji Kawashima, Maya Yoshida and Keisuke Honda, all of whom are keen to keep improving.

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.




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