Posts Tagged ‘Ryoichi Maeda

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.

30
Sep
11

Striking a different note

Since the J.League began it has almost always been the local players creating the chances, while foreign imports have taken the glory by banging in the goals. That looks like it is changing slowly…

In recent weeks I’ve noticed something strange has been going on in the J.League.

While everybody’s attention has been distracted by the sea of tricky little creative midfielders and energetic full-backs pouring overseas, a new type of Japanese player has been slowly coming into being back home.

A glance at the scoring charts confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things and my suspicions were true; the country is producing goalscorers.

Eight out of the top ten in J1 after Round 26 were Japanese, and all of them were into double-figures.

Alongside the usual suspects Ryoichi Maeda and Keiji Tamada were the experienced Yuzo Tashiro and Shingo Akamine, as well as four younger strikers Mike Havenaar, Tadanari Lee, Junya Tanaka and Yu Kobayashi.

Of course, there has always been the odd Japanese player in and around the top of the list, and the fact that half of those listed above are over 25 suggests that this is not a wholly new phenomenon.

However, having so many homegrown strikers leading the line for their clubs – and leading the way in the scoring charts – is certainly a recent development.

Indeed, as recently as April 2010 the reputation of Japanese strikers was far less flattering, and in an interview with the then-Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong Tese, a common perception of the nation’s front-men was aired

“Japanese forwards are not like forwards, they are like midfielders,” the North Korean international told me. “It looks like they don’t want to score goals.

“The most important thing for a forward is to be an egoist,” he continued. “If you have five opportunities and only get one goal that is ok. The other four times everyone expresses their disappointment with you but the forward only needs to get the one goal.”

And thanks, I believe, to two interconnected reasons it looks like this way of thinking is finally being embraced on a wider scale by the nation’s goal-getters.

The first contributing factor is the wonderful desire and ability of the Japanese to fine-tune and perfect things.

Japanese teams were producing plenty of Captain Tsubasa-inspired assist merchants, but the absence of anybody to put the chances away meant there was an aspect to be worked at and tweaked.

This goal was undoubtedly assisted as the image of ‘the striker’ started to shift, with the influence of foreign players, both positive and negative, also aiding the process.

The likes of Leo Messi and David Villa have proven that you don’t need to be 180cm and 80kg to be a centre-forward so more Japanese players, who ordinarily are neither of these things, are starting to be given chances and, more importantly, to believe they can play up-front.  

Initially J.League clubs assumed they needed a Brazilian to spearhead the attack but as many of these imports turned out to be well below par – and, of course, the money that attracted them moved to the Middle East – chances have started to be handed to homegrown talent instead.

Playing alongside the better foreign players to come to these shores and taking the positives from their styles and mental approaches has also benefited this generation of players, so too the increasing visibility of international leagues.  

Yuji Ono – who along with Kensuke Nagai, Genki Omae and Hidetaka Kanazono is another of the new breed of aggressive, goal-hungry strikers – made this clear when I interviewed him at the start of the season.

“The reason that so many young players like myself are playing now,” he explained, “is because, unlike before, we can watch foreign football on TV.”

It is now possible to study the technique of the best forwards in the world and to fashion your own style from their best bits. Tadanari Lee is another who has developed in this way, listing Raul, Filippo Inzaghi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dennis Bergkamp as the players he tries to learn from.

This diligent approach has undoubtedly helped the Japanese striker out of its shell, but for the species to continue its evolution it may soon be time to set the DVDs aside.

Centre-forward is the position which most demands the ability to be unpredictable and spontaneous. Having proven that they have the instincts, then, it is now time for the home-grown No. 9s to start trusting in them.

08
Jul
11

The Mixed Zone with… Yuji Ono

Here is the second installment of my column for the J. League website, The Mixed Zone with…

This month I caught up with Yokohama F. Marinos’ young forward Yuji Ono,and you can read it here.

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.

01
Dec
10

Interview with Alan Wilkie, part one

I recently interviewed Alan Wilkie before he returned to England after a year-and-a-half stint working for the JFA in Tokyo. The interview ran over two weeks in Weekly Soccer Magazine, with this, the first half, appearing in the November 16th issue.

Alan Wilkie, a former English Premier League referee who famously sent Eric Cantona off just before his kung-fu kick incident in 1996, has been working as Top Referee Instructor for the JFA for the past eighteen months.

His contract ends this week so we met for a pint and some fish and chips to discuss his thoughts on football in Japan. This week’s column will focus on the stadiums, fans and players, next week the more meaty issue of referees will be tackled.

While being impressed by many aspects of the J.League, one thing which has frustrated Alan is the distance supporters often are from the pitch.

“I think they need to rebuild stadia. At the moment, playing football with a running track is not attractive. I went to Yamagata on Saturday and used binoculars to watch the game. Outrageous!”

Furthermore, he believes that the lack of permanent homes for many clubs has a detrimental effect on the game here.

“I go to Jubilo and, “Oh, they’re not playing here, they’re playing at Ecopa.” Impossible. It’s impossible to have belonging. The only thing I should check is, ‘are they at home this week?’

“I think there is a need to focus on the heart and soul of football, which is ownership. You’re born to it and you die with it. My son is black and white (Newcastle United), his partner is red and white (Sunderland). So, the first photo of my grandson with anything to do with football, I draped a black and white scarf over him. So I claimed him – he is my grandson and he is Newcastle!”

The lack of belonging in Japan provides a stark contrast to the way fans operate in England.

“What it means to supporters [in England] is, I give a penalty kick against Manchester City and I get a bullet sent to my home. I get an envelope and in the envelope are broken razor blades. I don’t condone it but that’s what it means to them.”

“A bit of aggression’s good, in the right places. Controlled aggression. I don’t think you see controlled aggression on the pitch. The only time I’ve ever come across any aggression in Japan is on the metro! People will push you, people will kill you if there is a seat!”

He also notes another difference on the pitch.

“Sophistication. It can be stoppage time and it can be 3-0 and the team who are nil will still be going for it. That’s a lack of sophistication. Know when you’re beaten and just see the game out.”

Talk of sophistication inevitably leads to Alberto Zaccheroni (you know how much I admire his fashion), and Alan is confident the Italian can do well here.

“If you are successful in Italy as a coach then you can be successful anywhere. I’m sure that his methods – coaching, food, preparation and everything – will be top class.

“Those moving and playing abroad will come back to Japan as better players and with better understanding of the game. The goalkeeper for instance is quite clearly, personal opinion, the best goalkeeper in Japan.”

And how about the other positions? Who has stood out for him?

“Best defender, Nagatomo. He has introduced, as well as his electric pace, some cynicism, or professionalism. In midfield I like Hasebe, but also Matsui. They’re different but I like Hasebe because he’s also introduced some professionalism.

“Up-front, Maeda. Without question the most naturally gifted forward player in Japan. All he ever thinks about is goals. He would kill his mother to score a goal and I like that. Alan Shearer would kill his mother to score a goal and then say sorry!”

He also identifies several players who he feels will ensure a bright future for Japanese football.

“Kanazaki; I think he will play for Japan many, many times. Gamba have a precocious young player, Usami and Ono from Yokohama F. Marinos will be a star.

“I love Makino! Because he’s crazy! Spontaneous, flexible – he’s your man. I don’t think he’s developed enough to go to Europe yet. I think he has the possibility but he needs to work on his concentration. Because of his flexibility and his character, he tends to do silly things!”

29
Oct
10

Not just a sweater

I have just started a column for Weekly Soccer Magazine 「週刊サッカーマガジン」and will be posting English versions of the articles here at Sakka Nihon. If you would like to read them in Japanese please check out 「蹴球ベイベー」 in the magazine which is available from most convenience stores and news-stands.

The first subject up for discussion was Alberto Zaccheroni’s start as Japan coach – and his knitwear… 

When Alberto Zaccheroni was first announced as the new coach of Japan it was a bit of an anti-climax.

With the Samurai Blue having performed so well in South Africa it was felt that a big-name appointment could provide the spark to take the team to an even higher level and, consequently, the reaction to Zaccheroni’s appointment was rather muted.

A big name is not always what is required though, and you need only consider two of the most well-respected coaches in the world for evidence.

Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger arrived at Manchester United and Arsenal as relative unknowns, and supporters of neither club were particularly impressed by their appointments. While they may not have been dancing in the streets when they initially took over, the pair have gone on to win fourteen Premier League titles between them and very few fans of either club could bear to think of anyone else leading their team now.

Despite the distinct lack of excitement at his unveiling in September Zaccheroni made it clear that he intended to get straight down to business and, having declared that he would be spending the majority of his time in Japan, his face (and impressive collection of sweaters) soon became a common sight at J.League stadiums around the country.

As the coach set about acquainting himself with the players he would soon be working with his eagerness appeared contagious, and when I asked Shinji Okazaki for his thoughts on the new boss after Japan defeated Paraguay he replied, “Kakkoi!” It obviously wasn’t just me who was a fan of the jumpers.

Zac, as he insisted we call him, had started to win people round but the real challenge lay in the two extremely tricky opening fixtures against Argentina and South Korea. Declaring he was not scared, the new coach stayed true to his word and set up in an attacking formation when Messi and co. visited Saitama. Again, his positivity infected the players.

With four attack-minded players on the pitch in Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda and Takayuki Morimoto, Japan refused to sit back and more than matched the tenacity, pace and aggression of their opponents.

Eiji Kawashima, Yuto Nagatomo and Kagawa  all looked full of confidence – each clearly boosted by their recent moves to Europe – and the tried and trusted pairing of Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe anchored the midfield superbly.

It was also encouraging to see the players taking a few risks, and had it not been for Hasebe trying his luck from 30 yards Okazaki may never have been given the opportunity to tuck home the momentous first goal of Zaccheroni’s reign.

Ryoichi Maeda, back in the squad having been largely unfavoured by Takeshi Okada, provided a further example of this more aggressive style of play when shrugging off the desperate lunges of Javier Mascherano and getting a shot away. All too often a Japanese striker would have opted for a pass to a teammate, and it is likely that such a strong-minded approach was in his coach’s mind when selecting the team for the Korea match, with the Jubilo man starting in place of Morimoto.

While they were unable to make it two wins from two in Seoul, it was pleasing to see them again launching their attacks quickly, and Honda in particular was peppering the goal with strikes from all angles.

Avoiding defeat to their fierce rivals – and keeping another clean-sheet – was a definite improvement on the last two meetings between the sides, and I am starting to sense a little bit of edge creeping into Japan’s play.

Not only are more players readily throwing themselves into 50/50 challenges, but the passionate pleas by captain Hasebe for a penalty (which remarkably wasn’t given) was something I cannot recall having seen too often from a Japanese player.

While the embarrassing levels of whinging and moaning at match officials in Europe is certainly not something I want to see imported by Zaccheroni, a little emotion and desire will certainly be a welcome addition to a team all too often referred to as ‘good losers’.

It is still very early, and new coaches nearly always enjoy a ‘honeymoon period’. If Zaccheroni can continue to infuse his players with such self-belief and fighting spirit though, it may not be long before the countless Fair Play awards on display in the JFA museum will be getting overshadowed – hopefully starting with the Asian Cup in January.

10
Oct
10

Japan v. Argentina

Alberto Zaccheroni got off to a flyer on Friday night, guiding Japan to an exciting 1-0 victory over Argentina in his first match in charge.

My thoughts on the match and reaction from Zaccheroni and some of the players can be found here




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