Posts Tagged ‘Manchester City

23
May
12

Hopeless

When all’s lost, there’s always hope. Why? Why can’t there just be nothing…

As the cliché goes, it’s the hope that kills you.

Bearing that in mind, as a Manchester United fan I had done my best not to have any; I was hopeless, you could say.

Even when United were eight points clear with just six games to go I refused to say that it was over – that the twentieth title was in the bag.

I remember a Japanese friend laughing at my hesitancy, and deep down I have to admit that it felt as good as done.

But as good as done is not good enough, and with each subsequent game things started to slowly unravel.

Defeat to Wigan was a hiccup, but Sir Alex would surely give the team a kick up the arse and have them back in gear again for the next game.

And that he did, they beat Villa and were then at home to Everton. 4-2 up with seven minutes to go, it looked like another step towards an improbable triumph – don’t forget, United themselves had made up a five-point gap on their “noisy neighbours” Manchester City to establish their lead on the final straight.

But again they messed up, and two goals conceded in three minutes turned a vital three points into one and, in my opinion (and that of Patrice Evra), cost them the title.

As I so often touch upon when discussing the J.League, the psychological aspects of football are absolutely crucial, and that slip-up undoubtedly threw the players off their concentration and introduced nervousness at the worst possible time.

Next came the derby with City, and with their expensively-assembled squad sensing blood the unthinkable came true and they ground out the win that took them back to the top of the table.

But, don’t forget, there’s always hope. Goddammit, there’s always hope.

Both teams won their next games meaning it would all be decided on the final day of the season.

Thankfully City were at home to QPR though, so it was inevitable they’d win and take the title. I didn’t have to get my hopes up.

Things progressed as expected and they took a first half lead through their Argentinean full-back Pablo Zabaleta. Still, with United also leading against Sunderland, just one goal would send the trophy to the red half of Manchester instead.

There it was again, like those annoying and unavoidable Japanese politicians who drive down your street repeating nothing but their name over and over again; always in the background.

And just after half-time somebody decided to turn the volume up. Djibril Cisse equalised for QPR and United went top. I refused to celebrate or be tricked into anything though, knowing full well that Mark Hughes’ side wouldn’t be able to hold on for the best part of 40 minutes.

My heart-rate was helped a little by Joey Barton a few minutes later, bless him, when he did what he does best and acted like an absolute bell-end to get himself sent off before trying to start a fight with half of the city of Manchester as he left the pitch.

“Ok, just as I thought, there’s no chance. The title’s City’s.”

Then the car stopped right outside my apartment. The noise was deafening and it was all but impossible to ignore: Jamie Mackie had put QPR ahead. City needed two goals.

By this point I don’t mind admitting I was in quite a state. I couldn’t sit still but had nowhere to go. Time couldn’t move quickly enough. In fact, I felt sure it wasn’t moving at all.

All I knew was that I couldn’t do it. Whatever it took I wasn’t to think about it. It was impossible. City were going to win.

But 90 minutes were up. It was still 2-1 to QPR and I did it, I gave in to hope. And that was it. A couple of minutes, a couple of goals and everything was snatched away.

I said that the draw with Everton was what cost the title but I can’t help but feel I’m also partly to blame. I was seduced and – to return to my laboured metaphor – I returned a wave to that irritant and his incessantly-smiling cronies in their white gloves, and I paid the price.

I certainly won’t let it happen again.

I hope.

29
Aug
11

Tsumarinos

Recently I asked the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine why the fun was being taken out of football so often these days…

After the euphoria of the Nadeshiko victory and the sheer enjoyment and excitement of that tournament, watching Paraguay and Venezuela kick, moan, shove and bore their way to a 0-0 draw and their own penalty shoot-out in the Copa America semi-final was hugely depressing.

Paraguay managed to book their place in the final despite the fact that they won none of their games in the tournament, and thankfully they were eventually made to pay for their negativity as Uruguay swept them aside 3-0.

The day before that game a UAE player had made headlines after a penalty incident of his own.

Awana Diab spun around as he reached the penalty spot before backheeling the ball (rather tamely, I’m not sure what the goalkeeper was doing) into the net. He was immediately substituted by his coach and threatened with fines and possible expulsion from the national team.

Then Mario Balotelli of Manchester City suffered a similar punishment after showboating instead of simply scoring in a pre-season friendly against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

I don’t really understand all this. Why is football suddenly supposed to be so serious? It is a sport that is meant to be enjoyed by players and fans alike, and if an individual has the ability (and the guts) to try something a little different then why not?

Neither of these games were especially important (UAE won 7-2 against Lebanon, Man City were trying to “expand their brand” in the USA), and football players have always had their own way of dealing with opponents (or teammates) who try and show-off.

Tricksters are fully aware of the fact that a kick from a defender – or, as in the famous picture of Vinnie Jones and Paul Gascoigne, a more painful attack – or a bollocking from a colleague if it doesn’t come off are the justifiable punishments they run the risk of receiving.

It is with this over-emphasis on seriousness and winning at any cost in mind that I for one say ‘no, it’s not’ to Kazushi Kimura’s question, “Is it ok to win this way?” after Yokohama F. Marinos beat Vissel Kobe 1-0 in Round 6.

At some point last season – when I had learned enough Japanese to start making some (bad) jokes – I began to refer to Kimura’s side as Tsumarinos (mixing tsumaranai – boring – with the team’s name).

This was because the team rarely offered up any particularly exciting football, sat in the no-man’s-land of mid-table mediocrity and, most importantly, played their home games in without doubt the worst football stadium in Japan – Yokohama International Stadium.

Through absolutely no fault of the fans – of whom there are often upwards of 20,000 – the place is a soulless vacuum, and perhaps if they played every match at Mitsuzawa then my initial impression of the team would have been different.

Marinos started this season brightly though – winning three of their first five games, scoring ten goals in the process – and in Yuji Ono they have one of the most exciting young talents in the J.League. After his explosive cameo in the rollercoaster 3-2 win against Avispa back in May it looked like I was going to have to re-arrange my position on the side.

But then things took a turn for the worse.

In recent weeks the team have maintained their strong form and returned to the top of the table for the first time in years, but they have done so by playing some fairly uninspiring football – usually sealing the three points by one-goal margins.

The best example was perhaps their game against Montedio Yamagata at Mitsuzawa (great atmosphere) when they scored within 15 seconds and then tried to bore poor Montedio into submission for the next hour. Yamagata persevered with their quick passing style and found a way back into the game though, only for the point to be snatched cruelly away by Kim Kun-hoan’s 95th minute winner.

Of course, the fans and players probably couldn’t care less how the wins come about – and last-gasp winners like Kim’s certainly bring excitement – but I personally like to see a team playing to their full attacking potential and winning games – or losing them – with a bit of bravado.

 Tsumarinos have the potential to do that, but do they have the guts?

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.

01
Dec
10

Oversensitivity

After a year-and-a-half living in Japan I had almost forgotten that football fans could get quite nasty. The recent will-he-won’t he involving Wayne Rooney and the two Manchester clubs reminded me of how high passions can run though, and provided the subject of my column for Weekly Soccer Magazine at the start of November.

A few weeks ago Wayne Rooney shocked football fans the world over by declaring that he wanted to leave Manchester United. He claimed that the club was lacking in ambition and that he felt he needed to move on.

Rumours immediately started that he would be heading to newly-rich neighbours Manchester City and, during United’s Champions League match with Bursaspor of Turkey, fans unfurled a collection of banners expressing their anger with the player’s actions (including one calling him a ‘whore’).

A couple of days later, a gang wearing balaclavas gathered outside the player’s house and made death threats. They (and he) needn’t have worried though, as he decided to stay in the end and was reportedly rewarded with a nice new £180,000 (¥23,000,000) a week contract.

All very exciting, but why am I discussing it in my column on Japanese football? I hear you ask.

Well, this episode and the reaction it sparked in the fans highlighted one of the biggest differences between supporters – and what is acceptable behaviour by them – in England and Japan.

In particular, the fury stirred up by the suggestion that Rooney may follow his ex-strike partner Carlos Tevez across the city and swap the red shirt for a blue one provided an interesting contrast to the way that rivalries are played out in the J.League.

In the past couple of months here, the GM of Urawa Reds has had to issue a formal apology to FC Tokyo after some of the club’s fans displayed a banner mocking their rivals, and Gamba Osaka supporters were reprimanded for raising flags bearing the trophies their club had won as a direct taunt to the visiting Cerezo Osaka fans behind the opposite goal.

Nobody’s life was threatened, no physical contact had occurred but the message was clear; goading of the opposition is not acceptable.

But why? I’m all for safety, fair play and a wholesome, rounded, enjoyable environment in which people of all ages, races and sexes can enjoy the game. Quite how a teasing flag here or cleverly-worded chant there calls this into doubt is a little beyond me though.

At Old Trafford there is a permanent banner featuring a counter of the number of years the blue half of the city have gone without winning a trophy (currently 34). City, meanwhile, shortly after snatching Tevez from United, launched a series of billboard ads to antagonise the Red Devils featuring an image of the striker and reading “Welcome to Manchester”.

Furthermore, a huge percentage of the songs sung in English football stadiums are not in support of a team but instead directed against the opponent (or the referee). While instances such as those mentioned above suggest that the tide is changing a little in Japan, the majority of fans here still focus all of their attention on supporting their team and very little abusing the other ones.

There has, of course, been a lot more time for rivalries to develop in England, and it is not always easy to keep them confined to playful songs or flags. The wave of hooliganism that shamed the game in the 70s and 80s has been almost totally removed though, and the banter in the stadiums is a defining characteristic and vital element of the English game.

In fact, I feel that that is one of the only things missing from the live football experience in Japan.

Instead of the authorities overreacting to the slightest piece of baiting in J.League arenas, the positive impact a little tension can have on the atmosphere in stadiums should be appreciated.

While it is understandable to have concerns about heading down a road towards potential conflict, physical violence is highly unlikely to become a problem in the country, and I actually believe that allowing a little animosity to creep into the atmosphere at the stadium would add to the allure of going to a live match rather than detract from it.     

If such oversensitivity continues though, and supporters continually have their attempts at creating a little bit of hostility stamped down upon, then the league may never be able to truly develop into one of the most exciting in the world.




If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

  • RT @tochigisc: 【10/24町田戦】 今節にて、 #矢野貴章 がJリーグでの通算500試合出場を達成いたしました。 #栃木SC #全員戦力 #町田対栃木 #Jリーグ #柏レイソル #アルビレックス新潟 #名古屋グランパス https://t.co/PpnhGCc… 1 day ago
  • RT @doshinsports: 18日に64歳のお誕生日を迎えた #ペトロビッチ監督 報道陣からウィスキーをプレゼント。今年は来日16年目にちなんで16年もののスコッチウィスキーと、厚岸を。チーム作りへの情熱は全く衰えませんが「体は64歳だ」と笑っていました。おめでとうご… 6 days ago
  • RT @puigortoneda: 尊敬する同志の樋口監督、お疲れさまでした。今シーズンのあなたの偉大な仕事を心から祝福致します。常に素晴らしいサッカーを目指しているあなたのチームと対戦できたことを光栄に思います。樋口さんの今後の更なる活躍を心より祈っています。 https:… 6 days ago

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