Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo Verdy

17
Jul
12

Decisions, decisions

The end of this season will see the final team promoted to J1 afforded that right by virtue of an English Chamionship style play-off. Well, sort of…

Last summer I wrote about the introduction of a play-off system to J2 and how I thought it would hugely benefit the division.

Just past the halfway point of the 2012 season it looks like I was right, with far more teams in-and-around the key positions this year.

After 21 games (the new midpoint after the division grew to 22 teams) the distance between first and 11th was just 10 points, while, currently, after 24 games, the top 10 are separated by that margin.

At the halfway stage last year (19 games) Consadole Sapporo, in 6th, were the last team to be within 10 points of the leaders. Tosu, who eventually earned promotion with Consadole were just one point further back.

Whereas teams may not have overly rated their chances with only three places up for grabs in 2011, the fact that twice as many spots for potential promotion are available this year has resulted in almost double the number of teams being in striking distance of J1.

It seems that the chasing pack are picking up a stronger scent of potential success.

Of course that is not the only explanation, and it could quite reasonably be argued that the openness of the division is also down to no one side being able to establish themselves as the team to beat.

I’ve seen a fair few J2 matches this season and while the standard is obviously below that of the first division I’ve enjoyed most of them.

The games increasingly offer up good entertainment, although this is not always because of especially good play but often because of the opposite.

Decision-making is absolutely vital in football and far too frequently at the lower levels attacks break down or chances are afforded to the opposition because a player makes the wrong one.

The best example of this came when two of the sides jostling at the top of the table, Tokyo Verdy and JEF United, came head to head last month.

JEF were the better side but made consistently poor choices, while Verdy were much sharper and efficient when they had the ball and deservedly took the three points.

A couple of weeks later the tables had turned, with JEF the far more incisive team in their home game against Kyoto Sanga.

The visitors bossed possession but couldn’t make it count, and before Takeshi Oki’s team knew what had happened they were 3-0 down.

Takeshi Okada’s former right-hand man said after that defeat that his team had “collapsed” after conceding the first goal, and despite a spirited late revival they still returned to Kansai on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat.

That wasn’t the first time they’d had that feeling, and I have also seen them leave it too late against Gainare Tottori and Yokohama FC this year, as well as conceding a late, late goal to lose at Shonan Bellmare.

A lack of composure has seen a talented group of players too easily affected by the flow of the game when steadier heads may well have kept calm to claim the win.

It is not only the players who have been making peculiar decisions, and although the J.League should be commended for having introduced the play-offs they, too, have also made some slightly strange calls with regards to the format.

Giving the higher ranked teams a slight advantage by hosting the one-legged semi-finals at their stadiums is understandable – if a little unfair – but deciding to award the victory to that side if the game ends in  draw is bizarre.

The final, too, will be contested in that manner – albeit at a neutral venue – which not only weighs the tie heavily in the favour of the team that finishes 3rd (or 4th, if an upset takes place in one of the semi-finals) but also raises the possibility of a fairly dour showpiece.

One team will know that a draw is enough to ensure their promotion and so may very well enter the game with a suitably unadventurous mindset; in short, like England.

However, all the teams know this is how things will be decided so are well aware of the value of finishing as high as possible.

Hopefully that will ensure that the action remains this close and unpredictable right up until the final exchanges.

20
Apr
12

Newly promoted Zelvia has rock-solid leader in Ardiles

Last week I attended a dinner at which Argentinian football great Ossie Ardiles was the guest of honour.

After a long and distinguished career as a player and coach Ardiles is now in charge of J2 side Machida Zelvia, and he is in no mood to slow down just yet. Here is my feature on him from today’s Daily Yomiuri.

08
Jul
11

The only way is up

The 2012 season will see the final promotion place from J2 decided by an English Championship-esque play-off, and as the level of the league continues to improve I think it’s a very good idea.

 

The J.League recently announced plans to introduce a play-off system in J2 from the 2012 season, meaning that the teams finishing third to sixth would all be in with a chance of moving up to the top-flight.

While opinion is fairly divided on this – with some asking how the sixth-placed side is likely to fare in J1 when considering the abysmal top-flight form of Avispa Fukuoka, who came third in J2 in 2010 – I am all for it and think that anything which adds to the competitiveness of the second tier is good for the Japanese game.

Avispa have certainly struggled – and nothing short of a miracle will keep them from relegation this year – but prior to them the only side to have moved up to J1 from the final promotion place and been relegated straight away is Shonan Bellmare.

Before this season 11 other teams, including Shonan, had come up in the last available spot and four of them – Reds, Omiya, Kobe and Yamagata – are still there. Four  more – Sendai, Cerezo, Sanfrecce and Kofu – went back down but are now re-established in the top-flight, while the final two sides are last year’s relegated pair of FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga – the former of whom are strong favourites to make a return next season.

Although they have recovered slightly from their far from impressive start to life back in the second division, Tokyo’s promotion is definitely not a foregone conclusion though, and the growing competitiveness of J2 was demonstrated by JEF’s failure to gain an instant return last year.

JEF’s head coach Dwight Lodeweges is well aware of the difficulty in gaining promotion, and insisted before the season that just being a big club is not enough to secure a spot in the top-flight.

“It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things. What I’m trying to do now is to build a foundation but it just doesn’t happen like that, it’s not just like pushing a button and there you go. We have to do the right things and make the right choices.”

Alongside JEF and FC Tokyo this year’s J2 also features two more giants of the Japanese game who could be revitalized by a return to the top table, in Tokyo Verdy and Yokohama FC – although both sides are admittedly shadows of their former selves at this moment in time.

Add to these the likes of Tochigi, Sagan Tosu, Tokushima Vortis and Roasso Kumamoto and you have almost half a division who have either the tradition or ability – or both – to make a go of it in J1.

Indeed, the introduction of a play-off system as opposed to three automatic promotion spots may actually help sides with the ambition of gaining promotion.

While, of course, it would be foolish to claim that any team had ever achieved promotion by accident, it could be suggested that some teams have made the step-up after a season of over-achievement – which they had perhaps not fully anticipated before the first ball was kicked. 

If teams know that there are twice as many berths available with the potential to take them to J1 though, then they may be able to better equip themselves for life in the top tier if and when they get there.

The instant success enjoyed by Cerezo, Sanfrecce and, so far, Reysol after re-joining J1 backs up this argument, with each team having had promotion as their realistic target throughout their season in the second tier. 

Just as importantly, if not more so, play-offs would also add to the excitement in the division by ensuring that more teams actually have something to play for as the season nears its climax. (Relegation, something else that I believe urgently needs to be introduced, would also serve this aim).

Furthermore, just because the sixth-placed team is in with a chance of gaining promotion to J1 it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will take it, and they’ll still have to beat two of the teams above them to earn the right.

And, anyway, even if they do they can’t really do any worse than Avispa, can they?

14
May
11

Derby day out

I went to the Tokyo derby and while the atmosphere was in fitting with occasion, the football was some way off…

Officially this was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season. 

Yes, it was happening in J2 but the Tokyo derby was back. FC Tokyo’s recently humbled stars were coming face-to-face with Tokyo’s ‘original’ club (if we ignore that whole starting-in-Kawasaki bit) for the first time in three years.

To be honest though, I went along more out of a sense of obligation than expectation. 

I’d been at Ajista for FC Tokyo’s previous game against Consadole and it was dire. Tokyo (red and blue) and Consadole (white) had served up a poor-man’s El Clasico, complete with slow approach play, poor refereeing and Brazilians overreacting. Unfortunately, nobody reprised the ‘Messi’ role and it ended as a drab 0-0.

Verdy, meanwhile, were alone with Tochigi as the only teams to have started with a 100% record in J2 – although they were probably slightly less happy with their three losses from three than the league leaders were with their trio of victories.

Still, it was Golden week, it was Greenery Day (which the pre-match VT took much glee in promoting, to the ire of the away support), and it was a derby. As the original Clasico so wonderfully demonstrated, a game needn’t be technically gripping if the drama can be provided elsewhere.

And things started fairly well. The teams were greeted by nearly 30,000 supporters, the home fans (although, really, there was no such thing as a home team) unfurled a “Real Tokyo” banner to taunt their Johnny-come-lately neighbours, and the match started at a fairly frenetic pace.

After an end-to-end start when Verdy should have had a penalty and Kajiyama should have scored for Tokyo, both teams began to surrender possession far too easily, although Verdy certainly looked the most likely to score.

An FC Tokyo fan I’d spoken to before kick-off confessed he wasn’t holding out much hope for the match and expected the Gas Men to be 1-0 down at half-time and to go on to lose 3-0. I told him to do his best but he replied simply, “It’s not up to us to do our best; it’s up to the players.”

And these fears seemed well-placed as his team struggled to cope with the positive, probing runs of Hiroki Kawano who was steadily establishing himself as the best player on the pitch by some distance.

Half-time came and went without any goals, but shortly after the break the game’s decisive incident occurred.

Roberto Cesar, who had been booked in the first half (and was lucky not to receive a second yellow straight away for showing a complete lack of respect to the referee), burst towards the Verdy penalty area and then flung himself embarrassingly to the ground after minimal, if any contact. A deserved red card, and game on. Although not in the way I’d expected.

Rather than looking to make the most of their one-man advantage Verdy seemed happy to settle for the 0-0 and cut-back on their expansive forays into the Tokyo half.

This approach certainly livened up the occasion, primarily because it enabled Tokyo to create chance after chance. Yazawa had a goal correctly disallowed for handball and Kiyoshi Okuma marched repetitively from the bench, shouted at someone then strode back to his seat swigging water and ruffling his hair. Verdy keeper Doi invited pressure from Suzuki when dallying in possession and was extremely lucky to see the ball squirt up into his arms, then he got injured and sub forward Kazuki Hiramoto had to pull on the jersey as the closing minutes were played out 10 v. 10.

No goals but plenty of talking points, then, and the match was tense, enjoyable and fairly draining.

However, while this is fine for the neutrals, the reactions of both sets of fans demonstrate just how far these two teams are from where they want to be.

The Verdy players were applauded enthusiastically for picking up a point against 10 fairly unimpressive men, while FC Tokyo were jeered from the pitch after their second 0-0 in a row.

I’ll certainly be going to the Tokyo derby again, although, on this evidence, it looks like the fixture will be staged in the second tier for a  while yet.

02
Mar
11

Plymouth in trouble

Last week I focused on the current troubles at Plymouth Argyle for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column. Below please find the English and Japanese versions of the article.

Plymouth Argyle currently sit 19th in England’s League One but at the moment they are fighting for more than their place in the league.

The club were recently served with a winding up order after their Japanese investors – Yasuaki Kagami and George Synan of K&K Shonan Corporation – had reneged on an agreement to provide much-needed funds, and although they were just about able to cover their bills by the most recent deadline on February 9th, next time they may not be so lucky.

In December Mr. Kagami and Mr. Synan signed an agreement to provide £2,000,000 to the club in four installments, the first of which was due to be paid on the last working day of December and the second on the last working day of January. Neither payment has arrived.

Peter Ridsdale – the former Leeds United and Cardiff City chairman who has been brought in as an unpaid ‘football consultant’ at Plymouth – warned that fans should not get too excited about the club’s most recent escape, and highlighted how dire the situation is when he told BBC Spotlight that.

“It was good news in the sense that we’ve paid the petition debt and are up to date with the revenue, but that’s just the first hurdle we’ve got over. Today isn’t a day of celebration, today is just a sober reminder of the fact that we’ve still got a lot of people to pay money to.”

So how did things get to this point? Well, in April 2008 Mr. Kagami made his first investment into Plymouth – which was then a Championship club – acquiring 20% of the club’s shares. Then, In July 2009, he formed a consortium with Sir Roy Gardner (former chairman of Manchester United) and Keith Todd and increased his stake to 51% (Mr. Kagami owning 38%, while Sir. Gardner and Mr. Todd held 13% between them) – making K&K Shonan the majority shareholder.

This investment was purportedly to form ties between Argyle and football clubs in Japan and the U.S (Mr. Kagami’s co-investor Mr. Synan is American), to turn Plymouth into a Premier League side within five years and to complete the development of their stadium, Home Park.

To achieve an impact in Japan the club appointed the legendary Yasuhiko Okudera as honorary president – although he has declined to comment on his involvement at the club entirely – and soon set about trying to recruit some Japanese players.

While visa issues meant that this was far from easy (they failed in an attempt to secure Akihiro Ienaga, for example), they did manage to sign former Japan U17 and U23 goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi (who couldn’t be registered outright and so instead became the first (and so far only) recipient of the ‘Plymouth Argyle International Scholarship’).

Unfortunately things have not gone according to plan though, and, after three managers in as many years and experiencing relegation to League One, Plymouth now found themselves on the brink.

As fans of Tokyo Verdy, Oita Trinita and, of course, Yokohama Flugels can attest to, these are stressful times and you do all you can to help save your club.

With that in mind, Andy Hancock – a Plymouth supporter who studies in Yokohama – decided to take advantage of the unique position he was in and launched a petition to force K&K Shonan Corp. into paying up.

In just two weeks he gathered  6,023 signatures from fans of 69 different football clubs in 84 countries, but found nobody involved at K&K Shonan willing to receive it. He made numerous attempts to arrange for a civilised handover to either Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan which were all rejected, then found nobody willing to accept the petition when he tried to deliver it to the company directly.

Indeed, the investors have been anything but familiar faces since they became involved at the club and when I visited Home Park in January 2010 a member of staff commented on the fact that Mr. Kagami had never actually attended a Plymouth game, something that is still the case.

As it stands, Plymouth – who have frequently been unable to pay players and staff on time of late – are due to settle their next tax bill on February 22nd but at the time of writing they are still to receive any of the promised funds from Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan.

日本の企業に踊らされた!? イングランドの3部クラブ

今回は日本人の投資家絡みで、荒波に飲まれそうなクラブを話を紹介したい。イングランドのリーグ1(3部)に所属するプリマスのことだ。現在リーグ19位だが、残留以上の問題を抱えている。

同チームをバックアップしている日本の投資会社『K&K湘南マネジメント』の加賀見保明さんとジョージ・サイナンさんがクラブに一銭も払っていないのだ。2月9日、クラブは存続に必要な金額をかき集めたものの、財政面の支援を受けるのは難しく、最悪クラブは解散命令を通達されるかもしれない。

昨年12月、加賀見さんとサイナンさんはクラブに200万ポンド(約2億6000万円)を4分割で支払うことに合意。12月と1月末に振り込まれる予定だったが、どちらも未払いだった。この事実もありプリマスのピーター・リズデール会長は「2月に資金を得たからといって、喜ぶわけにはいかない」とコメント。BBC(英国放送)ではこう語った。

「一つ目のハードルを越えただけ。まだお金を支払わなければならない」

さて、なぜこんなことが起きたのか。08年4月、加賀見さんが当時2部のプリマスに最初の投資を行なった。クラブの株の2割を保有するというのだ。翌年の7月、彼はサ-・ロイ・ガードナー(前マンU会長)、キース・トッドと事業を始め、株の51%(加賀見さんが38%で、サ-・ガードナー、トッドさんが2人で13%)を担う運びになった。この投資はプリマスと日米(サイナンさんはアメリカ人)両国の力で、クラブを5年でプレミアリーグに昇格させ、新スタジアムを完成させる野望の下に始まったものだ。クラブは日本で名前を広めるため、あの奥寺康彦さんを名誉会長に指名、GKの林彰洋を獲得するなど「日本ブーム」に沸きつつあった。だが、ビザ等の問題で家長昭博の獲得を断念、クラブの運営は困難を極めた。以降、肝心のピッチでも結果を残せず3部に落ち、ファンもストレスを溜めている。

横浜在住のプリマスサポーター、アンディ・ハンコックさんもその一人。彼は地理的な利点を生かし、『K&K湘南』に資本金を支払うよう請願書を送った。その後2週間で84カ国のサッカーファン6023人から署名を集めたが、同社に受け取ってもらえなかったという。

投資家の連中はクラブに携わった初日から今日に至るまで「よそよそしい」としか言いようがない。昨年、僕がホームパーク(クラブの本拠地)を訪れた際、スタッフが「加賀見さんは一度もホームゲームを見に来たことがない」と言っていたけれど、それは今も変わらない。

クラブはこの号の発売日(2月22日)に、英国税務署に未払いの税金を支払う予定だけど、現状を踏まえると何とも酷な話だ。




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