Posts Tagged ‘Yuichi Komano

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.

21
Oct
11

Japan vents frustrations on Tajikistan

Having stumbled out of the blocks slightly in their opening pair of Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers Japan were expected to put in a performance against Tajikistan at Nagai Stadium.

Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint and my analyss of the match, plus comments from the key protaganists, can be found here.

15
Sep
11

Size isn’t important…

… it’s what you do with it that counts.

I would like to start this week’s column with a question: can anybody tell me, without looking it up, how tall Yasuhito Endo is? How about Yuichi Komano?

I doubt whether many of you knew either of those answers (Endo is 178cm and Komano just 172 – yes, I had to check) but I’m fairly certain that most people could tell me the height of Japan’s newest striker, to give him his full name, “194 senchi Mike Havenaar.”

I know that Havenaar is tall, you can tell that by looking at him. I am also aware of the fact that his height is fairly unusual in Japan and, in certain circumstances, would be a useful nugget of information to pass on.

Quite why television commentators feel the need to tell us nigh-on every time they mention his name is beyond me, though.

Fortunately I was at Saitama Stadium when he made his debut so I was spared during the North Korea game, but watching the Uzbekistan match on TV I lost count of the number of times “194 senchi Mike Havenaar” was referred to.

It reminded me a little of England’s Peter Crouch who we were frequently told “had good feet for a big man”. The assumption that being tall instantly means you should be rubbish with your feet is about as incorrect as the one which states that short players are not strong enough, or indeed that tall players are inherently better at heading.

Crouch dwarfs Havenaar, standing at 201cm, but he’s actually pretty rubbish in the air, and his poor timing and lack of control over his gangly frame mean he usually ends up fouling his marker or heading off target – if he makes contact with the ball at all.

Mike is not that bad, but of his 11 goals in the league prior to his national team call-up seven had been slotted home with his feet (primarily his left).

Of course, his aerial presence, like that of Nagoya Grampus’ Josh Kennedy, has also been a useful weapon for his club side in their fight to stay in J1, but he, like Kennedy, is about more than that – something that Grampus head coach Dragan Stojkovic referred to after Havenaar inspired Kofu to victory against his side earlier in the season.

“Mike played very well today, the best example for my strikers,” he said in the wake of the 3-1 defeat, in which Havenaar scored (with his left foot). “How one striker should move and fight. It’s very difficult to stop a striker who is always moving, not easy to mark.”

His technical abilities, as well as his stature, do provide an alternative option for Zac Japan, and after coming on in both of the recent qualifiers he did mix things up and cause problems for the opposing defences.

This was particularly useful considering the absence of Keisuke Honda, whose capacity to look after the ball and ease the pressure on the defence is so important for the national team, and was referred to ahead of the North Korea game by Shinji Okazaki.

“Honda has a great talent for holding the ball up and all of the players know that if we are in trouble we can pass to Keisuke; he is the safety ball,” the Stuttgart forward said. “If he is absent then we lose that option.”

Without that out-ball on offer Japan had to rethink slightly, and having struggled with their short, quick passing game the introduction of Havenaar from the bench did provide a more direct alternative.

The 24-year-old very nearly made a dream impact, striking a right-footed effort onto the bar shortly after coming on, and when I spoke to him after the game he seemed comfortable with the expectations that come with his height (although he doesn’t have to listen to the commentators while he’s playing, does he).

“The last five minutes we started to kick long balls to me but the plan was to work from the side and to get crosses in,” he explained. “I knew we were going to win but I hope that I could have scored.”

And if his performances this season are anything to go by he surely will. But not because he is 194cm, so please stop telling us.

27
May
11

One step Atsu time

Although Atsuto Uchida didn’t make it to the Champions League final this time around, his progression, and that of many other Japanese players, suggests it won’t be long before a member of the Samurai Blue is contesting the biggest game in club football.

This weekend is the Champions League final. While Park Ji-sung’s participation means there will be one former J.League player on the once-hallowed-but-now-just-dangerous Wembley turf, we were tantalizingly close to having the first ever Japanese player in the final this season.

Atsuto Uchida’s Schalke may have been unceremoniously dumped from the competition by Manchester United in the semi-finals thanks to a combination of naïve tactics by their coach Ralph Rangnick (who, it turns out, once attended my University in England and played in the same county football league as me) and a gulf in overall quality between the sides, but the player’s rapid progression should not be underestimated.

Just over 12 months ago I sat down with “Ucchi” after his Kashima Antlers side had beaten Montedio Yamagata 3-1 in the J.League.  The right-back was in a relaxed and friendly mood, and after some small talk about his birthday – he turned 22 that day – we moved onto the prospects that lay ahead for him, about which he was clearly excited. 

He was not able to talk openly about a transfer to Europe at the time, but it was clear that there were possibilities opening up for him, and with the World Cup finals also on the horizon things were looking good.

Although an untimely injury (and the excellent form of first Yasuyuki Konno and then Yuichi Komano when filling in for him) meant he didn’t get on the pitch in South Africa, the move to Europe did materialize, and in July he bade farewell to Kashima and joined the ever-growing exodus of J.League talent moving to the Bundesliga.

While Uchida’s potential was never in doubt I did have my reservations about his lightweight style in the far more aggressive environs of the European game, and these concerns were added to when he displayed an apparent lack of belief in his own abilities when I pressed him on which clubs he fancied signing for.

I reeled off the names of some teams and asked if he would like to play for them, and at the mention of Manchester United he said, “No, I’m not ready for that level yet,” before grinning and following up with, “That’s a typical Japanese answer, huh?!”

And it is. Or at least, it was.

Since moving to Schalke shortly after the World Cup he has become a fixture in the side’s first XI, and no doubt boosted by this he also regained his starting berth for the Samurai Blue and was an integral part of Zac’s Asian Cup winning team in Qatar in January.

Such drastic improvement is becoming a recurring theme of late, and the likes of Shinji Kagawa – not so long ago a J2 player with Cerezo Osaka – and Yuto Nagatomo – last season a member of the ultimately-relegated FC Tokyo side – are also forging impressive reputations in the biggest leagues.

Anyway, we found out if Uchida was “at that level yet” in the semi-final against United and, sadly, it seems that he was right.

However, while he struggled – along with his teammates, including the esteemed Raul – to cope with United’s vast experience in the competition, his mental approach to the game certainly seemed to have improved and he was far more self-assured and confident in his ability.

Speaking to Kyodo ahead of the first leg, for instance, he declared, “I’m a professional footballer just like they (Manchester United’s players) are. I can’t allow myself to be intimidated if I want to do my job.”

Such spirit was a far cry from the self-effacing response at Kashima Stadium a year earlier, and this was evident again in his comments after the second leg at Old Trafford, when he dismissed claims that to get to the Best 4 was a great achievement in itself.

“I wanted to win,” he said. “It was only the people around who were saying that to get to the semi-final was good enough. The players all wanted to win.” 

He may still be a little short of the elite in world football, then, but if his perception of himself continues to grow and he carries on maturing as he has over the past year then another graduation is surely not beyond him.




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