Posts Tagged ‘Freddie Ljungberg

14
Feb
12

Scout doubts

J.League clubs are allowed four foreign players on their books – three from anywhere around the globe, plus one from an AFC-affiliated country.  Sadly, existing relationships result in these berths being filled very unimaginatively…  

It is always interesting to look at the new squads as they take shape ahead of the season kick-off, and this year is no exception.

Some clubs have recruited very well, and Vissel Kobe signing Takuya Nozawa, Hideo Hashimoto, Yuzo Tashiro and Masahiko Inoha looks like particularly good business.

Some individual transfers stand out too. Shoki Hirai’s loan move to Albirex Niigata could well reignite a promising career that has stalled of late, and the returns of Tomoaki Makino and Yuki Abe to Japan with Urawa Reds also whet the appetite.

One thing which I am less than thrilled about, though, is the depressingly formulaic way in which the majority of clubs have gone about filling their four available foreigner slots.

As per-usual the bulk of these places are taken up by Brazilians or Koreans – plus a handful of Australians – with existing relationships and a lack of imagination preventing anything more adventurous taking place.

Freddie Ljungberg, Mihael Mikic, Calvin Jong-a-pin, Danilson and Ranko Despotovic are the only foreign players not to come from the usual places, and at a time when more and more Japanese players are heading off to Europe I struggle to understand why traffic isn’t coming the other way.

 I frequently ask officials at J.League clubs why efforts aren’t made to bring in English, Spanish, Italian, German or French players – either youngsters looking to develop or veterans to pass on some experience – and am repeatedly told that money is the issue.

Sorry, but I’m not buying that (no pun intended).

Sure, top Premier League or La Liga players (or even crap ones) are never going to be viable options, but picking up a decent centre back from Serie B or a seasoned striker from Ligue 1 is surely not beyond the realms of possibility?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been – and still are, Leandro Domingues and Jorge Wagner were sensational for champions Reysol last year – some excellent Brazilian players in the J.League, while there is also an impressive list of Koreans who have enjoyed great success here.

However, remember Carlao? Or Max? How about Tartar? Anderson? Rogerinho? Hugo? Roger?

All of them were on the books at J1 clubs last season. All of them achieved as much as I did on a J.League pitch last season (some of them managing as many minutes out there as I did).

Are you seriously telling me that a player from the Championship in England or the Dutch Eredivisie would constitute more of a gamble? Of course they wouldn’t. The problem they do have, though, is that they are not represented by the agents who appear to have a fairly cosy monopoly over transfers into the J.League.

Last year I watched one match and genuinely laughed out loud at the appearance of one Brazilian on the pitch. I honestly doubted whether he was a footballer, and couldn’t believe he was in possession of a pair of boots, let alone a professional contract.

Having asked around a little I discovered his arrival in Japan had been facilitated as part of a deal involving another of his countrymen: a buy-one-get-one-free (or one-and-a-half-free, he was a big lad), if you like. Such a set-up between clubs and agents is only healthy for one party, and that is certainly not the club.

A prime example comes with the rapid return of Juninho to the J.League, a matter of weeks after it looked like he had bade farewell.

The 34-year-old enjoyed a fantastic nine years with Kawasaki Frontale and seems to genuinely have an affinity with Japan (although I did feel he should have stuck around for the Emperor’s Cup before he left).

Last season he was a shadow of his former self though, with injuries and age taking their unfortunate toll on his game. It looked like his time was up.

Then, all of a sudden, he was back. And with one of the biggest clubs, too. The re-arrival of Marquinhos is similarly surprising.

Are clubs’ scouting networks really so poor that they can’t find anybody better than a couple of journeyman?

Sadly, perhaps yes, they are. Or perhaps club officials are just not strong enough to say no to those who are offering the players.

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.

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.




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