Posts Tagged ‘Takashi Usami

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
Jun
11

Usami rightly made to wait

Takashi Usami’s recent call-up to the full national team, despite not getting on the pitch in the Kirin Cup, meant he missed out on Japan Under-22’s Olympic qualifiers. While there’s no doubting the youngster’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with either decision though…

I was delighted when Takashi Usami struck his wonderful goal against Shimizu S-Pulse a couple of weekends back, as it was nice to see the young forward doing exactly what he does best; playing football. And playing it very well.

Prior to that goal he had spent two weeks in the media for doing absolutely nothing. Or, to be totally correct, for having nothing done with him.

The cause of most of this excitement was initially his first inclusion in the Samurai Blue squad for the Kirin Cup.

Despite the fact that head coach Alberto Zaccheroni made it fairly clear when announcing the squad that Usami was unlikely to feature, this did not stop the speculation and anticipation from building around him, and not a training session passed without the player and coach being asked about the chances of a debut being made.

The hype around the 19-year-old was then heightened when the rumours that have long been circulating about him signing for Bayern Munich picked up some speed. The fact that one of the biggest clubs in the world were seemingly on the verge of recruiting the player only added to the sense of confusion about his lack of participation in the games.

Then, having not gotten onto the pitch for the full-side, Usami was denied the opportunity to do so for the Under-22s in their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait – with Takashi Sekizuka’s decision not to include him in the squad again sparking much head-scratching and disbelief among the football community.

I, for one, don’t really see what the problem is though.

Firstly, while I would have liked, as a football fan, to have seen Gamba’s No. 11 take part in the Kirin Cup, I think it made perfect sense not to play him.

Zac stated that his primary motivation in calling Usami up was so that he could have the opportunity to work and speak with him over a prolonged period of time in training. He also made it clear that the player still had a lot to learn, and focused on the difference between league and international football.

If, as is expected, the player does move to Europe in the not-too-distant future then the chances to work with him for such a substantial amount of time will become fewer and farther between.

With that in mind it made perfect sense for Zac to have taken this opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Usami, and to see for himself just how much potential the player has.

It was also understandable that the coach chose to keep his impressions to himself and not to send Usami out onto the pitch, where every fan, coach and journalist would be poring over his every movement, touch, pass and shot.

Of course, coping with such attention cannot be delayed forever, and there is certainly the argument that the longer it is put off the greater the sense of expectation will be.

However, entering the fray too early could have hindered Usami’s development, with there being the chance that it could go too badly – or too well.

Imagine he had come off the bench and struck the winner against the Czech’s – ensuring victory for Japan, the Golden Boot award and, most probably – when considering that the prize is almost always given to goalscorers in Japan, regardless of how well other players perform – the MVP award for Usami.

This would have been a hell of a lot to live up to.

Of course, things could have gone in completely the opposite direction and he could have had a nightmare debut and his confidence could have taken a large knock.

While unfortunate, and no fault of his own, his absence from the U-22s is also understandable.

Sekizuka san spent 10 days working on a system with particular players and, having been with Zac and co. during that time, Usami was not around for any of those sessions.

So why recall him? Even bringing in a player as gifted as Usami could upset the balance of the side at a time when mistakes could be very costly.

It is a real shame for the player that he is currently stuck in a kind of no-man’s land between the U-22 and full national teams, but I have no doubt at all that he will get his chance sooner or later.

05
Jun
11

Honda supports Usami move to Bayern

Takashi Usami has had quite a week, and no sooner had he received his first call-up to the full national team than his much-anticipated transfer to Bayern Munich appeared to have become final.

On Friday I asked Keisuke Honda what he thought of the 19-year-old, and also what his own plans were for the future.

01
Jun
11

Japan v. Peru preview

The 2011 Kirin Cup gets underway this evening when Japan take on Peru in Niigata.

Here’s my preview of the match for The Daily Yomiuri.

21
Mar
11

An exodus of talent

More and more players are leaving the J.League for Europe in what is mostly a positive development for Japanese football.

The lack of money coming in to compensate for these departures is a concern though, as I discussed in Number 1 Shimbun this month.

04
Mar
11

J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm

02
Mar
11

Free Market

More Japanese players are making their way to the European leagues, but their departures often leave their former clubs with a gap in the first team and very little money with which to plug it.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said, “I went to the cinema at 4pm to watch ‘The King’s Speech’. When I came out and saw what had happened, I nearly had a stutter too!” AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, meanwhile, thought it was ‘crazy’, while Arsene Wenger described it as ‘unfair’ (although he tends to think pretty much everything is unfair these days).

Yes, it was of course the ridiculous activity that took place in the final hours of the English January transfer window.

Things had already been progressing in a characteristically brash fashion throughout the month-long window, with Darren Bent moving from Sunderland to Aston Villa for £24 million and Man City exchanging £27 million for Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko. As the clock ticked down these deals began to look fairly modest, though.

First of all, news broke that Chelsea were set to buy Fernando Torres from Liverpool for a staggering £50 million. Before this information could be fully digested it was then announced that Andy Carroll – who had played just 41 Premier League games and scored 11 goals for Newcastle United – would be replacing Torres at Anfield for £35 million.

This made Carroll the eighth most expensive footballer of all time, despite the fact that he has just one full international cap and has only had half a season as a first-team regular in the Premier League.

In total, English clubs spent more between them than the rest of the top European leagues put together (£225 million) – and all this at a time when UEFA is attempting to cut back the gross overspending by European, and in particular English, clubs. Despite their best efforts though, as long as clubs can counter their losses with profits there is no actual limit on how much you are allowed to spend.

With the market not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon then, it would perhaps be wise of the J.League to reconsider the way that it conducts its own transfer activity.

Players here almost always move to a new club without a fee, by virtue of the fact that they are usually only on one-year contracts. This (and the vastly inferior budgets Japanese clubs operate on, of course) does prevent the crazy spending (and levels of debt) that occurs in England, but it also means that clubs very rarely make any kind of profit on players they are producing.

The disparity is most clear when Japanese players transfer from the J.League to a European club and has recently been highlighted by rumours that Manchester United and Atletico Madrid are considering £20 million + offers to sign Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.

Kagawa moved to the Bundesliga last summer for a nominal fee believed to be about £300,000 – a payment that was seen as a ‘goodwill gesture’ by the German side, with Kagawa having a clause in his Cerezo Osaka contract that stated he could move to Europe for free.

Such exceptions are not uncommon in Japan and while I appreciate the gesture behind them (more Japanese players in Europe equals a stronger Japan national team and greater awareness of the J.League), it is time for a change.

In the past year there has been an explosion in the number of players moving from Japan to Europe, but almost all of the transfers involved no fee. How can J.League clubs continue to develop if no money is coming in to compensate for the departure of their best players? They can carry on nurturing young talent, but if European clubs then pluck them away a year or two down the line as well that is hardly conducive to the long-term growth of the J.League.

FC Tokyo are doing well to hold out for a fee for Yuto Nagatomo, and Omiya Ardija and Gamba Osaka’s shrewdness in tying Rafael and Takashi Usami down to longer-term contracts demonstrates that clubs are aware of the situation. With European sides taking an increased interest in Japan’s talented youngsters though, the practice should become more widespread, and fast.

A good place to start would be in Yokohama, and Marinos could do a lot worse than tie Yuji Ono down to an improved deal as quickly as possible. Seeing an academy graduate progress overseas is undoubtedly fulfilling but, unfortunately, it doesn’t pay too many bills in today’s game.

23
Dec
10

Osaka Nihon

For my column in this week’s Weekly Soccer Magazine I considered the fact that J1 will be without a representative from the capital next season, while another city, Osaka, is further establishing itself as the home of Japanese football. 

FC Tokyo’s relegation made official what we have known for a while: the economic, political and cultural capital is most certainly not the first city of Japanese football.

And a quick glance at the J.League teams appearing in next season’s Asian Champions League means it is not particularly difficult to see where the power really lies.

As Kiyoshi Okuma’s side gear up for the Tokyo derbies next season – when they face Verdy in J2 – Osaka’s two teams, Gamba and Cerezo, will be leading the charge into the ACL.

Nagoya Grampus won their first ever J.League title this season, Montedio Yamagata did fantastically to further establish themselves in the top-flight and, at the bottom of the table, Vissel Kobe seized upon Tokyo’s feeble end to the season and put together a seven-game unbeaten run to remarkably stay in J1.

While the achievements of these sides are impressive though, my team of the year would have to be Cerezo.

The club, like Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2009, will make their debut in the ACL next season just over a year after they were playing second division football.

Since achieving promotion from J2, the team’s positive and attacking style has been a joy to watch, and, while many were fearful for the side’s chances in the top-flight after the departure of Shinji Kagawa, some of the combination play of Akihiro Ienaga, Takashi Inui and Adriano in the final third has been spectacular.

I saw the team play twice in the middle of their seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, first away to Jubilo and then at home FC Tokyo, and the energy and enthusiasm on display was fantastic.

When I played football back in England players would often shout “It’s still 0-0!” when my team scored first (not something that happened very often), in order to ensure that we all stayed focused. During Cerezo games somebody must have been doing likewise, and it looked like the team thought they absolutely must score every time they were in possession.

The speed at which they moved the ball from front to back and created chance after chance gave the impression of a team very much enjoying their football.

As well as causing their opponents many problems when on the offence, Levir Culpi’s side were not the easiest to break down either. Their duo of Brazilian midfield anchors, Amaral and Martinez, provided the perfect platform from which to build and a defence marshalled superbly by Teruyuki Moniwa saw the side finish with the second best goals against record and the best goal difference in the division.

While the demands on the team’s relatively slim squad meant they were unable to provide a real challenge for the title, they excelled when the pressure was really on at the end of the season, winning  five of their last six games – including the last four, during which they scored 14 times.

Cerezo justifiably took a lot of the headlines this season, but the perception of the black and blue half of the city continues to puzzle me.

Gamba have finished outside of the top three just once in the last seven years, have one of the league’s finest managers and this season provided the J.League Young Player of the Year in Takashi Usami.

The club receives very little recognition for all its success though, and this year just one Gamba player made it into the J.League Best Eleven – Yasuhito Endo, who was appearing for a record-breaking eighth consecutive time.

Endo’s relaxed attitude perhaps sums up the understated coverage his team receives. When I asked him why he thought he was always in the team of the year he smiled and replied, “I don’t know,” before adding that, “I want to be in (the Best Eleven) however many times I can – until I retire. I’m not satisfied to be second (in the league) and, of course, I have a strong desire to win.” 

This focus on the future rather than reflecting on past achievements – which Cerezo also epitomised by insisting on pushing on after their promotion – perhaps gives the clearest insight of all as to why it is now Osaka’s clubs that are at the forefront of the Japanese game.

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!”




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