Posts Tagged ‘Yuji Ono

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.

29
Aug
11

The Back Post – Different approaches to same goal

As two surprise teams led the way in J1 I considered their alternative approaches to the game for The Daily Yomiuri..

Kashiwa Reysol play with boundless enthusiasm while Yokohama F. Marinos are a lot more reserved, and I discussed which, if either, was best suited to an authentic title challenge.

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?

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.

16
Jun
11

Ono confident of success for Marinos

Last week I visited Yokohama F. Marinos training ground and interviewed their young striker Yuji Ono.

Despite being just 18 he has his head very much screwed on and has high hopes for this season and beyond.

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.

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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