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January 2003

Perryman: still sticking to his principles

30 Jan 2003(Thu)

Many people connected with the J.League will no doubt miss Steve Perryman.

He has been in the news again recently since his former player at Shimizu S-Pulse, Kazuyuki Toda, moved to the club which Perryman captained with such pride, Tottenham Hotspur.

I called Perryman at his London home on Saturday to find his reaction to the Toda transfer.

Unlike most people, Perryman was not surprised, because he had been recommending Toda to Tottenham for the last two years!

"For some reason they did not take the bait, but maybe they were spurred into action because he had been training with another club in the Premier League," said Perryman, referring to Sunderland, where Toda had a trial and impressed their manager, Howard Wilkinson.

Toda finally joined Spurs on a one-year loan deal, which is costing the North London club around $300,000 as a fee to S-Pulse, plus whatever Toda's wages will be.

Perryman, though, will be missed in Japan because of his honesty and his principles of fair play.

He always tried to encourage his teams to play attacking football, and disliked players who cheated, wasted time, dived and who pretended they were injured when there was nothing wrong with them.

"Japan has started late in the football world," he told me on Saturday.

"It can look around the world and take the best things from Brazil, from England, from Holland or wherever.

"And it can also reject things it does not like and does not need. For example in England, yes we will take the passion of the fans, but no we do not want the hooligans."

Perryman always talks such sense.

During his time with S-Pulse, the rivalry with the other Shizuoka club, Jubilo Iwata, was intense.

But Perryman often thought Jubilo got preferential treatment from referees and from officialdom in general, prompting him to once say the "J" in J.League stood for "Jubilo."

Believe it or not, Perryman is actually taking some of the credit for Jubilo's two-stage title sweep last season!

He feels Jubilo won both stages because they "focused on playing football rather than on cheating."

In particular he recalled a game at Nihondaira in April 1999 between S-Pulse and Jubilo, which Jubilo won 5-2.

"We had got it back to 4-2, and one of our players, Hattori, went to retrieve the ball to take it back to the center circle," recalled Perryman.

"But he was stopped from doing this by two Jubilo players, who pinned him into the back of the net.

"There was a bit of pushing, and the referee decided to show Hattori the red card. So the player who had been trying to restart the game was sent off, and the two who stopped him stayed on the field!

"After the game I said to the Jubilo manager that this was the worst day for Japanese football in the history of the J.League."

Perryman criticised Jubilo in the media, and feels his words may have had some effect.

"It takes people to speak out and sometimes make enemies," said Perryman.

"If Jubilo had played football against us all the game they could have beaten us 10-2, not 5-2, because they were so much better than us."

Perryman is missed, maybe not by Jubilo Iwata, but by people who also want to see fair play.

ends

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Cafu signing reflects well on J.League

26 Jan 2003(Sun)

It is not only the Yokohama F Marinos fans who should be delighted by the signing of Cafu.

The whole of the J.League, too, should be excited that Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning captain will be playing in Japan once his contract with AS Roma ends at the end of June.

Cafu is now 32, but will be 33 when he starts playing for F Marinos.

This is not old enough to be termed "over the hill," especially as he is fit and still a first-choice player for his club.

The 2002 World Cup was Cafu's third finals tournament in the famous canary yellow jersey, and to show just how important he was to the team, he played every second of Brazil's seven games. That's a total of 630 minutes, 10 and a half hours, without being substituted!

Only three other Brazilians managed this feat, goalkeeper Marcos, central defender Lucio and midfielder Gilberto Silva, who has adapted so well to English football after his move from Atletico Mineiro to Arsenal.

Cafu, presumably, could have stayed in Italy and joined a lower-ranked team than Roma.

Or surely he could have moved to another European country, as his attacking qualities down the right flank, his leadership and his experience would have been invaluable for teams seeking a respected and authoritative captain.

But no, he chose Yokohama, who could afford to pay him Serie A level wages due to the generous backing of Nissan.

Yokohama, who will be managed by Takeshi Okada next season, needed someone with star quality to replace Shunsuke Nakamura, whose move to Reggina has been made permanent.

There is no doubt Cafu will bring in the crowds, and the team should gain many new fans next season as people come to watch the stylish Brazilian.

Cafu, whose full name is Evangelista de Moraes Marcos, began his career with Sao Paulo in 1989. He had one season in Spain, with Real Zaragosa, in 1994-95, before returning to Brazil to join Palmeiras.

In 1997 he moved to Italy to play for Roma, and will have spent six seasons there by the time his contract finishes on June 30.

It will be interesting to hear Cafu's thoughts on his former Roma teammate Hidetoshi Nakata, especially as Roma look like they need Nakata's attacking flair this season.

I wonder if Cafu thinks it was a mistake for Roma to sell Nakata to Parma, although it was hard for Roma to turn down an offer of $26 million for a player who mostly sat on the bench!

Cafu coming to Yokohama is a sign of approval for the J.League in general from the man who has played in three World Cup finals, and won two of them, in 1994, on penalties, and last year.

ends

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New tournament offers Asian insight

23 Jan 2003(Thu)

Japan, China and South Korea are surely on to a winner with the A3 Mazda Champions Cup.

A news conference in Tokyo this week introduced the new competition, which features the champion clubs of these three east Asian nations.

The inaugural tournament will take place at Tokyo's National Stadium from February 16-22, and will bring together Japan's big two of Jubilo Iwata (league champions) and Kashima Antlers (Nabisco Cup holders), together with China's Dalian Shide and Seongnam Ilhwa from Korea.

The prize money on offer is extremely attractive to all four clubs, with $400,000 of a total $850,000 going to the team that finishes top of the group.

Club football is the backbone of the game, not national team football, and the sport's regional governing body, the Kuala Lumpur-based Asian Football Confederation, is constantly stressing this fact.

The AFC will, therefore, welcome a high-profile tournament like the A3 Mazda Champions Cup, as it does not challenge their own AFC Champions League.

Hopefully the fans in Japan, too, will look forward to the six games at Tokyo's National Stadium.

Clearly last year's World Cup brought together Japan and Korea, and this new event is a continuation of that partnership. And with China qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, the game there is enjoying a boom.

Before moving from Hong Kong to live in Japan in 1997, I visited the country several times to watch AFC events such as the Club Championship, Asian Cup Winners Cup and Asian Super Cup. (These three tournaments have now been brought under one new format, the AFC Champions League).

But I was often dismayed by the lack of interest from the public and from the media.

Personally, I find it fascinating to watch footballers from other countries, say Thailand or Iraq, and compare the technique, strategy and fitness with their Japanese rivals.

The game is basically the same around the world, which is what makes it so popular, yet it can be so different at the same time in terms of attitude, approach and mentality.

China will stage the second A3 (A3 meaning the three Asian powers of Japan, Korea and China) in 2004, with Korea taking over in 2005.

According to Kim Won Dong, director general of the Korea League, the final target is to have a 12-team East Asian Super League, with four clubs each from the three leagues playing home and away.

The matches would be played midweek, allowing the three leagues to continue at weekends, and it could start as early as 2006 if sponsors can be found to cover the costs and offer worthwhile prize money.

After the success of the World Cup, there is a new energy in Asian football.

I would encourage fans to support the A3 Mazda Champions Cup, to compare the players from China and Korea with Japan's own stars.

It should be a great week of football.

ends

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Verdy signing is optimistic

19 Jan 2003(Sun)

Tokyo Verdy have succeeded in raising a few eyebrows with the signing of Patrick Mboma.

And that was probably the whole point of the deal. After losing Edmundo at the end of last season, Verdy needed some star quality to bring in the fans.

Mboma will certainly do that, as he remains a hero in Japan after his time with Gamba Osaka in 1997 and 1998.

But will he, at 32 years old, provide value for money for Verdy and their major sponsor, Nippon TV?

This is a difficult question to answer, but I think the Verdy officials are being over-optimistic if they think they will get a full season out of the Cameroon center forward.

Mboma has not looked fully fit for a couple of seasons now.

As a subscriber to Sky-Perfect TV to follow the career of Hidetoshi Nakata, I noticed that Mboma was unable to make his mark in a poor Parma team last season.

In midseason, Mboma left Parma and joined Sunderland in the English Premier League.

I was interviewed by an English journalist at the time of the transfer and said I did not think Mboma was a good signing. Although at his peak, in Japan, he was a very explosive player, scoring some spectacular goals for Gamba, he was past his best and too slow for the pace of the English game.

At the World Cup, Mboma was substituted in all three Cameroon games, against the Republic of Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Germany.

He scored Cameroon s opening goal in a 1-1 draw against Ireland at Niigata, and was listed among the Indomitable Lions four outstanding players by FIFA, along with Rigobert Song, Samuel Etoo and Salomon Olembe.

So he proved he still has the star quality, but whether he can do it on a regular basis over a long season remains to be seen.

It is a bold move by Verdy, and one that is sure to attract a lot of media attention due to the high profile of the player in the J.League.

After all, Mboma was a massive hit during his time with Gamba. He scored 29 league goals in 34 appearances before leaving the club after the 1998 World Cup to join Cagliari in Italy.

His powerful left foot earned him the nickname of Boom Boom, and he went on to play a leading role for Cameroon and becoming African Footballer of the Year.

Verdy will need to protect Mboma during the year, and hope he can fill the gap left by the team leader Edmundo.

But he has a hard act to follow.

ends

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High school tournament provides culture shock

16 Jan 2003(Thu)

It is always a pleasure to report on the closing rounds of Japan's high school tournament in the new year.

I admire the organization of the championship and enjoy the atmosphere in which games are played. The football is honest and the players are trying their best for the honor of their school.

What has always surprised me, though, is the number of media people who report on this event.

At Tokyo's National Stadium on Monday, for example, there were 240 reporters, 140 photographers and 20 TV networks, including six major stations.

After the game, the players were chased after by so many media people that the scenes resembled Ronaldo after the World Cup final at Yokohama!

Now, I am not criticizing this approach; just trying to highlight how different it is from Europe and South America.

In Japan, these players were 17 and 18 years old and still at high school. Some of them will be joining a J.League club; others will go to university.

In England, at this age the best young players are already with professional clubs. They can join from school as a trainee at 16 and turn professional at 17, such as Wayne Rooney has just done at Everton.

The high school final in England?

I don't even know if there is one, because the media would never attend. The result of the final might get one line in a big national newspaper, such as The Daily Telegraph, but no one would be interested except the players and their parents.

But in Japan this is a major media event, and it has its good and bad points.

Yes, I think it's good to identify the best young players, many of whom go on to become J.League regulars.

But is all this publicity, all this media attention, good for them at such an early age?

During my six years in Japan, foreigners and some Japanese alike have pointed out that "stardom" comes too easily in Japan. Players are put on a pedestal and are the subjects of major magazine articles before they have achieved much in their careers.

Philippe Troussier said this treatment made the players soft, took away their hunger to keep progressing and gave them the belief they had already made it into the big time.

Dunga, too, once asked me not to write too much about the young Jubilo forward Maeda after he had scored a wonderful solo goal at Ecopa. He said players in Japan received too much attention too quickly in their careers.

And the former JEF United Ichihara manager, Jozef Venglos, was always reluctant to talk about his good young players like Abe and Hanyu for fear the publicity would make them big-headed, even though, privately, he admired their qualities.

For me, the high school championship is very enjoyable to attend, but the achievements of these players must be put in context with the big picture of the football world.

ends

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Toda should be grateful for this new opportunity

12 Jan 2003(Sun)

One of the biggest disappointments of Japan's 2002 World Cup was the comments of midfielder Kazuyuki Toda after the defeat by Turkey.

Toda said on TV that he never wanted to see Philippe Troussier again. Many Japanese friends have informed me of this, and I must admit I was shocked by his words.

After all, Troussier gave Toda his big chance.

Toda made his debut for Japan against Canada on May 31, 2001, in the Confederations Cup at Niigata.

His combative qualities, and his ability to break up opposition attacks, made him a mainstay in Japan's midfield engine room, alongside Junichi Inamoto.

Toda played every minute of all four Japan games at the World Cup, and won praise from Hidetoshi Nakata on his own website.

Yes, I believe Toda should have been grateful to Troussier for giving him his big chance, and also that Toda owed him a debt of gratitude.

Hopefully the fact that Troussier's successor, Zico, ignored Toda for his first two games may have humbled the S-Pulse midfielder.

Anyway, the point of this article is that Toda now has a chance to join Japan's European contingent. He has been invited to Sunderland for a two-week trial, and clearly wants to stay.

He did not have a happy season last year due to a bad relationship with S-Pulse's manager at the time, Zdravko Zemunovic.

But the situation is much brighter now with this offer from Sunderland.

I know Sunderland well, and reported on many matches there when I was working for a newspaper in the north-east of England. It is one of the coldest parts of England, but the fire and the passion of fans in the north-east is the greatest.

They quickly work out who can play and who can't, and whose heart is in it and who is not showing enough effort.

Toda can be guaranteed to give his all, but whether he has the ability to make the grade at such a high level remains to be seen.

The pace of the Premiership is several gears higher than the J.League and also than international football. Toda will not have time to dwell on the ball like he does in Japan, as he will be tackled heavily and quickly.

In Toda's position, the Premiership has the likes of Roy Keane at Manchester United, Patrick Vieira at Arsenal and Salif Diao at Liverpool, who are all world-class players.

Toda may be able to impress Sunderland manager Howard Wilkinson with his attitude and effort in training, but if he plays in a practice match he will quickly have to adapt to the speed and the power of the English game.

I still think he was wrong to say what he did about Troussier, but wish him well in his quest to improve himself as a player.

ends

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Kubo faces tough decision

9 Jan 2003(Thu)

One player is never more important than the team.

But in the case of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, center forward Tatsuhiko Kubo would make a huge difference when they try to make a swift return to J1 next season after being relegated on the last day of last season.

At the moment, Kubo is undecided on his future.

He has been offered a new contract by Sanfrecce, but he is also attracting the interest of several J1 clubs, notably Yokohama F Marinos.

So far he has not said what he's doing, and this offers Sanfrecce a glimmer of hope that he might stay in Hiroshima.

Club official Shigeru Manabe explains: "Kubo has been a very good player for us and we want him to stay with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

"This is why the club president, the coaching staff and his teammates are trying to persuade him to stay, but of course we have information that several teams are trying to get him."

Kubo is the spearhead of the Sanfrecce team, and has scored 67 league goals since making his debut in April 1996.

He is powerful in the air, fast and fearless, and was very unlucky not to win a place in Philippe Troussier's 23-strong World Cup squad.

I would have picked him ahead of Akinori Nishizawa.

Kubo was never going to be a first-choice player at the World Cup, but he would have offered something different, something unpredictable, coming off the bench.

Against Turkey, for example, when nothing was working for Japan, a fresh and hungry Kubo might just have brought a reward in the second half.

We'll never know now, of course, but Kubo certainly has a lot to offer.

Jubilo Iwata are another club interested in signing him, as a replacement for Naohiro Takahara, especially as Masashi Nakayama is not getting any younger.

Kubo works hard off the ball, just like Takahara, and could form an effective partnership with Nakayama.

And playing in a talented Jubilo team, there would not be as much pressure on Kubo to score goals as there was at Hiroshima.

Off the field, though, Kubo is a quiet character and prefers a quiet life, and he may yet decide to stay in Hiroshima with his young family and try and take them back into J1 at the first time of asking.

There is also a huge question mark against the future of Kubo's teammate, Chikara Fujimoto, who, on his day, is a very clever and bright creative player.

He may be joining Nagoya Grampus Eight, though, as the Toyota-powered team looks for more invention and flair in midfield.

So these are troubled times for Sanfrecce, despite the excellent signing of the Brazilian veteran Cesar Sampaio from Kashiwa Reysol.

Whether Kubo and Fujimoto will be alongside him next season remains to be seen.

ends

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Teshima finally makes his mark

6 Jan 2003(Mon)

Think back to Japan's silver medal in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria in 1999, and which players come to mind?

Of course Shinji Ono, although he missed the final against Spain due to suspension.

Then there's the Kashima Antlers trio of Masashi Motoyama, who was outstanding on the left wing, Mitsuo Ogasawara in central midfield and Koji Nakata on the left side of Philippe Troussier's back three.

And how could we forget Naohiro Takahara, who took over the captain's armband from Ono for the final.

Does anyone, though, remember Kazuki Teshima?

Along with his Kyoto Purple Sanga teammate Shigeki Tsujimoto and Nakata, Teshima was a regular member of the defense.

But while the likes of Ono and Takahara have secured moves to Europe, and Motoyama, Nakata and others have progressed to the national team, Teshima's progress has gone largely unnoticed.

All that should change now, though, after the 23-year-old captain's eye-catching display for Kyoto in the Emperor's Cup final victory over Kashima Antlers on New Year's Day.

Troussier's legacy was there for all to see, as Teshima controlled a very tight Purple Sanga back three, catching out the Antlers strikers offside time and again.

Despite the creative talent of Ogasawara and the mobile forwards Atsushi Yanagisawa and Euller, Antlers found very little space to work in and created very few chances.

According to Kyoto's German manager, Gert Engels, this was all due to his inspirational young skipper Teshima.

"He is very quick, organizes the defense well and covers well for his fellow defenders," said Engels.

"When you have Teshima in the middle, this allows the defenders to the right and left to be more aggressive, because they know Teshima will be covering for them."

I asked Engels if he thought Teshima had been a late developer, compared to his teammates in the under-20 side in Nigeria in 1999.

"No, I don't think so," the German insisted.

"I just think he's under-estimated, and does not get the attention other players get. I don't know why.

"He has been a key player for us now for two years."

Those two years have put Kyoto on the J.League map, first winning the J2 championship in 2001 and then finishing a highly creditable fifth on their return to the top flight.

The Emperor's Cup success, against an Antlers team including Ogasawara and Nakata but not the injured Motoyama, crowned an exciting return.

And also gave Teshima the attention his manager thinks he deserves.

ends

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Kurobe lifts Kyoto, Kansai

3 Jan 2003(Fri)

When Teruaki Kurobe scored his spectacular deciding goal in the Emperor's Cup final, he did much more than win an historic first trophy for Kyoto Purple Sanga.

He gave hope to all Kansai clubs that they are capable of challenging for honors next season and breaking the domination of the Big Two: Jubilo Iwata and Kashima Antlers.

Kurobe sealed Kyoto's exciting 2-1 victory over Antlers with a sizzling left-foot shot from the edge of the box which flew into the top corner, past goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata.

It came after 80 minutes, leaving Kyoto with only 10 minutes to negotiate and deny Japan's cup kings from Kashima of a Nabisco Cup and Emperor's Cup double.

Kyoto held on to spark wild scenes of celebration, not just from the Kyoto fans but all the neutrals.

After all, it's a refreshing change to see a new name on the famous old trophy, spreading the glory around Japan.

So it was a proud day for Kurobe, for Kyoto and for Kansai in general, as it represented the first success by a Kansai club since the J.League kicked off in 1993.

Gamba Osaka, one of the league's 10 founding members, plus Cerezo Osaka, Purple Sanga and Vissel Kobe had never won a major title between them: meaning J.League overall championship, Nabisco Cup and Emperor's Cup.

Antlers, in contrast, went into the final with nine major titles since 1993: four league championships, three Nabisco Cups and two Emperor's Cups.

And Jubilo Iwata have won three league championships, including this season, and one Nabisco Cup.

Looking back on Purple Sanga's win, Kurobe stressed the importance of the victory for the whole of the Kansai region.

"I think this trophy can stimulate all the clubs in Kansai next season," he said.

"Today we were the challengers and it would have been a natural result if we had lost.

"But when the game kicked off I think our energy and determination to win the trophy were evident.

"We have proved that we can come from a low position and win a title, and I think this should give more confidence to the Kansai region next season.

"Personally, after this, I cannot wait for next season to kick off!"

Antlers looked capable of killing the game once Brazilian striker Euller had headed home from close range after 15 minutes when Atsushi Yanagisawa's delicate chip had struck the crossbar.

But the decision of Kyoto's German manager Gert Engels to move his South Korean World Cup star Park Ji Sung from the right wing to a free role behind the strikers paid dividends in the second half.

After just five minutes of the second period, Park stole in to head home a right-wing free kick from Shingo Suzuki.

This changed the whole complexion of the game, and Kyoto pushed forward with an impressive five-man strikeforce, spearheaded by Kurobe.

When the center forward saw his chance for glory after 80 minutes, he took it in confident style.

It was a memorable day for Kyoto, and hopefully this can be the catalyst for a more competitive league next season now that Kansai has broken through this psychological barrier.

ends

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