« December 2001 | Main | February 2002 »

January 2002

Japan confused over hooligans

31 Jan 2002(Thu)

Two amusing incidents in Japan recently proved that confusion and misunderstanding is the order of the day when thinking about disorderly World Cup fans.

A World Cup conversation cannot take place without the subject of hooliganism cropping up, especially as both England and Germany have been drawn to play their first-round games in Japan.

Up in Sapporo, where England will play Argentina in the Group of Death, the police have been testing a Spiderman-style "net gun" designed to ensnare groups of rowdy fans.

"Anyone going wild will be trapped under a net and they won't be able to move," claims Masahisa Tamura, a police press officer.

"I've heard that something similar has been used in Europe, but we've developed this especially for the World Cup."

Can you imagine it?
A group of Chelsea fans wearing the Three Lions, having a few beers and a singalong are suddenly the target of a net-happy Sapporo rookie policeman shaking in his boots.

Talk about provocation! I could imagine fans deliberately showing "wild" behavior just to take on the net. It would be hilarious.

The problem is, with football hooliganism non-existent in Japan, do the people know the difference between boisterous behavior and downright violence?
Absolutely not, if events at Saitama last Saturday are anything to go by.

Saitama's local organizing committee held a lecture for some volunteers, and recruited five English conversation teachers to burst in and behave like hooligans.

(Apparently, 18 English teachers applied for the five posts, and presumably they got paid for their time as English teachers rarely do anything for nothing. Getting paid for behaving badly? That's not unique, as Mike Tyson has made millions out of this!)

The aim of the exercise was to show the volunteers certain aspects of British football culture, and for them to try and distinguish between high-spirited celebration and fans going on the rampage.

Anyway, it all ended happily after ever, as volunteers and fans joined together in a chorus of the Euro 96 anthem "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming...football's coming home."

Fans who can't get tickets for the matches in Japan will be able to watch their own amusing sideshows unfold on the streets.
Just watch out for those nets!


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Engels looks for quiet life in Kyoto

27 Jan 2002(Sun)

German coach Gert Engels has had more than his fair share of ups and downs during his time in the J.League.

Now he wants nothing more than a bit of stability for himself and Kyoto Purple Sanga as they prepare for their return to the first division.

Sanga won the J2 championship last season at the first time of asking, and will be back with the glamour teams again when the new league season kicks off March 2.

When asked what his target for the year was, Engels replied: "That's a difficult one, because our target is to build a strong team over a number of years.

"We want to make sure we stay in the top division for a long time, and to do this we must work hard for two or three years to give ourselves a solid base. Only after that can we think about becoming a top team, but of course that is the long-term goal."

Engels was a member of the Yokohama Flugels coaching staff when the J.League kicked off in 1993, but the club folded at the end of the 1998 season after a major sponsor withdrew financial support.

Engels suffered with the rest of the players, but then rallied them to win the Emperor's Cup final on New Year's Day 1999, creating an emotional farewell for the fans.

As the Flugels players moved on, some of them to the Yokohama Marinos, Engels was hired by JEF United Ichihara, but fired after only a few months.

Then he headed south to Kyoto as assistant manager, and took over as manager when the team's chances of staying in the top flight were already very slim.

So he went down with Purple Sanga in 2000, but brought them straight back up as J2 champions last year.

At the end of last season Kyoto released veteran central defender Naoto Otake, but Engels says they kept everyone they wanted, including top striker Teruaki Kurobe.

"He did very well for us last season, scoring 30 goals in what was only his second year as a professional soccer player," said Engels.

"He has a bit of J1 experience from his first season with us, but obviously there is a big step from J2 to J1.

"And, of course, everyone knows him now and he can expect to be marked more closely, and to be facing tougher defenders."

After such an up-and-down few seasons, Engels is hoping Kurobe's goals can lead to nothing more than mid-table security in 2002.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Shunsuke: Can it be Real?

24 Jan 2002(Thu)

How about this for a forward line: Figo, Zidane, Raul, Morientes and...Nakamura?

Can it be true?
Do the mighty Real Madrid really want to buy the fallen hero of Japanese football, Shunsuke Nakamura?

All the signs are that, yes, indeed they do, and young Shunsuke could be swapping Yokohama F Marinos for the Santiago Bernabeu after this summer's World Cup.

Whether the 23-year-old Nakamura plays in the World Cup is another matter, however, as he had a terrible time in 2001, losing his place in the national team and even in the squad for long periods.

But Real's general manager Jorge Valdano has long-admired the left-footed Nakamura, and said a couple of years ago that the set-piece specialist was on the club's shopping list.

Valdano is not the only Argentine World Cup-winner to speak in glowing terms of 2000 J.League MVP Nakamura, as Ossie Ardiles, a former Marinos manager, has always insisted the youngster could be a hit at the highest level in Europe.

But surely Real's motives must be financial, as they seek to expand their massive worldwide fan base into the lucrative Japanese market.

Because Nakamura's 1.78-meter, 69-kilogram frame would be blown away by the pace and the power of top-flight European football. He takes a nice free kick, for sure, but so do Figo and Zidane, not to mention Roberto Carlos.

Nakamura for Real Madrid?
It just does not add up, except in the accounts of club president Florentino Perez.

Nakamura is a pleasant, likable young lad, determined to improve his career and often confused by the treatment he receives from national coach Philippe Troussier, who loves nothing better than to bring so-called stars back to earth.

Real are talking about signing Nakamura, then sending him on loan to a club which is based on the same planet as most other teams in Spain so he can begin to make the adjustment.

This makes good sense, but the "Dream Team" forward line of Figo, Zidane, Raul, Morientes and Shunsuke is surely exactly that: a dream for Japanese fans.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Okano to offer advice to JFA successor

19 Jan 2002(Sat)

Japanese soccer chief Shun-ichiro Okano has offered his advice and assistance to his successor in helping to select Japan's next national coach.

Okano will stand down as president of the Japan Football Association after the 2002 World Cup as he has reached the retirement age of 70.

His successor as president has not yet been named, but whoever it is will have the final say in the choice of Philippe Troussier's successor.

The Frenchman took over as national coach in September 1998 and has already announced he will not be a candidate for the role after the World Cup.

Speaking about the move, Okano said: "It's none of my business, because I will not be president when the decision about a new coach is made.
"But I will gladly offer my advice and feelings if the new president asks me.
"First of all, though, it will be a matter for the technical committee."

The technical committee will put together a shortlist of candidates and must decide whether to continue with a foreign coach or revert to a Japanese coach.

Okano has four vice-presidents: J.League chairman Saburo Kawabuchi, who is favourite for the job, Junji Ogura, Kenji Mori and Kunishige Kamamoto, who was taken on by Okano to front up the national team committee.

Both Kawabuchi and Kamamoto have been fierce critics of Troussier in the past, and if either of these two is named JFA president, they may play safe for awhile and opt for a Japanese coach.

Okano often appeared to be alone in his support for Troussier during some turbulent times, but the president's loyalty has been repaid by Japan's results over the past 18 months.

Troussier changed the profile and the personnel of the national team, but the results suffered as the transformation began, and Japan did not win any of their seven senior international games in 1999.

Okano said the date of the election for the JFA presidency had not yet been fixed, but it is sure to be a close-run thing.
Okano says Troussier's decision to leave was not a surprise.
"We have a contract with him through to the World Cup, and there was never any talk of this deal being extended," said Okano.
"It's natural that a coach moves on after a World Cup because his job is finished."

Early front-runners to replace Troussier are former national team coach Takeshi Okada, France's 1998 World Cup-winning coach Aime Jacquet and South Korea's Dutch boss Guus Hiddink.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Loan deals may benefit Japan stars

17 Jan 2002(Thu)

As the cream of Japan's J.League-based players prepare to assemble for the first national team training camp of the year, coach Philippe Troussier must be growing increasingly concerned over the form and fitness of those not present.

Namely his overseas-based players such as Naohiro Takahara and Junichi Inamoto.
These two left the J.League last summer, with striker Takahara joining Boca Juniors from Jubilo Iwata and midfielder Inamoto moving from Gamba Osaka to Arsenal.

Since then, though, they have seen little first-team action, and this must be a worry for Troussier with the World Cup less than five months away.

Inamoto and Takahara reflect the changing face of Japan's national team under Troussier, who has brought them through the youth team and Olympic team into the senior side.

They would surely have been first-choice World Cup selections a few months back, but now questions must be asked about their match-fitness and, above all, their confidence as they struggle for recognition in their new clubs.

Troussier insists he would rather have players training with top clubs every day rather than playing in the J.League, but both Takahara and Inamoto looked far from match-sharp on Japan's tour to Europe last October.

Troussier's opposite number for South Korea, Dutchman Guus Hiddink, is of a very different opinion. He is not concerned which bench a certain player may be warming; if he's not getting regular first-team action for his club, then his chances of a place in the starting line-up for his country are affected.

National team striker Akinori Nishizawa has already left Bolton Wanderers and returned to Japan, and Troussier must be wondering if a move, even a loan deal to a smaller club, for both Inamoto and Takahara would benefit the players.

Of Japan's other foreign legionnaires, goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is learning the hard way in the English first division with Portsmouth, while Hidetoshi Nakata is such a thorough professional he will not be fazed by Parma's plight.

French legend Michel Platini has another spin on Nakata's predicament.
"If he's not playing every week for his club, then he'll be fit and fresh for the World Cup," says the former Juventus captain.

Hopefully Troussier is just as positive as his fellow countryman as the World Cup draws closer.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Nishizawa's move reflects badly on Bolton

13 Jan 2002(Sun)

The inability of Akinori Nishizawa to make it big in the English Premier League was totally predictable for anyone who has followed the striker's career.

The sad thing is, clearly Bolton Wanderers hadn't.

Now they have paid the price, and Nishizawa is back in Japan and set to line

up again for Cerezo Osaka in J2 alongside Hiroaki Morishima next season.

Many observers were astonished at the comments from Bolton when Nishizawa joined them on loan at the start of the English season last August.

Bolton boss Sam Allardyce, while admitting he had seen him only on video, spoke of the player's international experience and his spell in Spain with Espanyol, where he had a terrible time, too.

Marketing people gushed over Nishizawa's popularity in his home country, which is way behind other overseas-based players such as Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and even the Bolton Evening News presented him as a cash cow for the club.

If this was Bolton's aim, to make money in shirt sales, TV deals and other spinoffs, then the plan has backfired big-time, and they are the biggest losers of all from this deal.

Nishizawa's biggest problem, ironically, was the magnificent goal he scored for Japan in a 2-2 draw with France in June 2000, a few days before the French went on to add the Euro 2000 crown to their 1998 World Cup.

When Atsuhiro Miura, on the left side of the French box, crossed deep to the far post, Nishizawa met the ball on the run and sent a right-foot volley flashing into the corner past a bemused Fabien Barthez.

It was an incredible strike, and had it come during a World Cup would have been replayed time and again around the world.

Nishizawa has also scored some pretty spectacular goals for Cerezo, too, and any agent worth his salt could put together an impressive video of Nishizawa scoring goals.

Espanyol fell for it, and then so did Bolton, and both teams quickly learned of Nishizawa's deficiencies, both technical and psychological.

One person who is standing by Nishizawa, however, is Japan's national coach Philippe Troussier.

The Frenchman's predecessor, Takeshi Okada, couldn't tolerate Nishizawa's attitude in training, and sent him home from a pre-1998 World Cup training camp.

But Troussier will give him his chance at the camp in Kagoshima from January 21.

Nishizawa himself cannot be faulted for having a go at making his name overseas, and the fact he is simply not good enough is not his fault.

It is the fault of the greedy clubs in Europe trying to cash in on a Japanese player.

Hopefully everyone will be the wiser for this sorry episode.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Troussier faces tricky decision on Alex

10 Jan 2002(Thu)

Being a star of the J.League is one thing, impressing Philippe Troussier is quite another.

This is the predicament facing Shimizu S-Pulse's Brazilian-turned-Japanese left-winger Alessandro Dos Santos, better known simply as Alex.

The 24-year-old's ability is not in question, as he has produced match-winning performances on a consistent basis since joining S-Pulse in February 1997.

He was even named J.League MVP in 1999, when S-Pulse won the second stage of the championship but lost the overall title to Jubilo Iwata in a penalty shootout.

Alex is an individual talent, a goal-maker and a goal-taker, and a constant threat with his pace, ball control and dribbling skills.

But as another outstanding individual talent, Hidetoshi Nakata, has found to his cost, Troussier is not impressed with a player who cannot first fit into the team ethic.

Alex, for all his ability, has still to prove this.

Troussier will give him every chance of doing so, as he has called him up to the first training camp of 2002, at Kagoshima in a couple of weeks' time.

Alex, who came to Japan from Brazil in 1994 to play for Meitoku Gijuku High School in Kochi prefecture, Shikoku, was granted Japanese citizenship in November last year.

But this does not mean he will be an automatic choice in Troussier's final 23, even though the Frenchman is unlikely to feel any loyalty to any of the players he has worked with for the past three years since becoming national coach in September 1998.

Troussier has already announced he will leave Japan after the World Cup, and he needs results this summer.

If that means a newcomer such as Alex winning a place ahead of, say, Shunsuke Nakamura or Masashi Motoyama, then Troussier will simply pick his strongest team.

After all, the decision to give Alex Japanese citizenship was not Troussier's, and he must select the best players at his disposal.

Troussier will return from festive vacation on January 10 and begin planning for the camp, which starts Januray 21.

Alex, for all his J.League highs and hype, must start again in attempting to show Troussier he has a role to play in the 2002 World Cup.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

Troussier's decision to move on was expected

6 Jan 2002(Sun)

It came as no surprise to learn that Philippe Troussier will be leaving Japan after the World Cup.
What is more surprising is that he has lasted this long. When his contract ends this summer he will have been in Japan almost four years after being appointed in September 1998.

Troussier arrived in Japan as a relatively unknown coaching quantity, having spent the previous 10 years wandering the vast African continent, winning many trophies and earning a reputation as a tough task master on the training field and a volatile character off it.

In his very first press conference in Tokyo, in fact, Troussier said that he was happy to sign an initial two-year deal because he did not want a long-term commitment.

He set about rebuilding the national team by first taking charge of the youth team and then the Olympic team.

The results were good, and a number of players began to progress into the full national side, but not after a disappointing 1999 at senior level when Japan failed to win any of their seven international matches.

While Troussier often criticized the Japan Football Association for their lack of flexibility and foresight, it was only the support of the president, Shun-ichiro Okano, who saved his job during those often turbulent times as the critics massed around him.

Eventually, Troussier began to produce the goods at the highest level, winning the Asian Cup continental championship in October 2000 and then reaching the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup last June.

During the Asian Cup campaign in Lebanon, Troussier said it would need a new coach to take Japan to the highest level, as he felt he specialized in building a young team and laying strong foundations for the future.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Scottish Football Association are keen to hire him, as they recognize that their once-proud national team needs rebuilding after failing to qualify for the World Cup.

The job also appeals to Troussier because it would put him in the Euro mainstream, and working in a country steeped in football culture and tradition, qualities he frequently points out Japan lacks.

For the next five months, however, the Frenchman's future is in Japan, and there is no doubt the Japanese soccer scene will never be the same again after his departure.


Permalink | | Comments (0)

« December 2001 | Main | February 2002 »