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July 2005

Shunsuke must prepare for fast and furious football

28 Jul 2005(Thu)

July 27 -- So it's Shunsuke for Celtic.

That's a brave move by Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, and by the player himself.

Make no mistake, the Scottish league and Italian league are worlds apart from a football point of view.

Whereas the Italian league is often slow and tactical, almost like a game of chess, in Scotland it's fast and furious.

This makes me wonder whether Shunsuke will settle there, because he is not the quickest of players, nor the most physical.

If it were Hidetoshi Nakata transferring to Scotland, or to England, I would have no doubts that he could look after himself.

But Shunsuke?

Not so sure.

It will be particularly interesting to see him play in the Glasgow derby against Rangers.

This occasion goes much deeper than football, of course, because Celtic represents the Catholic community of Glasgow, while Rangers are the Protestants.

The city comes to a standstill for this game, and fans of the winning team can enjoy life much more until the next derby takes place.

The action comes thick and fast, with tackles flying in from all angles and the pace of the game never relenting.

Another change Shunsuke will face is the fact that referees allow play to flow much more, instead of the stop-start Italian style which makes Serie A difficult to watch.

Anyway, good luck to Shunsuke.

At least he will have a chance of winning trophies with Celtic, instead of mid-table slogs with Reggina, a team with only one thing on their mind: survival in Serie A.

It's a good move to get out of Italy, and Scottish football can only improve his game.


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King Kazu not quite ready to abdicate his throne

25 Jul 2005(Mon)

JULY 22 -- And so, another chapter has opened in the colourful story of the charismatic Kazuyoshi Miura.

His transfer from Vissel Kobe to Yokohama FC looks like a smart move for both parties, meaning Kazu and Yokohama FC (and probably Vissel, too, actually).

Obviously he was finished at Kobe, and had the sense and the pride to realise this.

With Kobe at the bottom of the J1 table, he decided to drop down to J2 and shift roots from Kansai to Kanagawa.

Although I have no idea how much Kazu will be earning at Yokohama FC -- and, to be honest, don't actually care -- I am sure he will provide value for money.

He will bring in the crowds around J2, and will set an example to the younger players at the club with his work ethic and his professionalism.

Around the J.League, you will never hear a bad word against Kazu, as he has remained a model professional, training hard and looking after himself off the pitch.

The legs may be slower than the glory years, but the mind is just as quick and the sense of responsibility just as strong...to his team-mates, to his club and, above all, to himself.

Not that long ago I went to watch Vissel play at Omiya. Kobe lost easily, and it proved to be the last game in charge for Emerson Leao.

After the game I was waiting outside the main entrance to try and interview Mikitani-san about Vissel's desperate plight.

Before he emerged, Kazu walked past -- and there was no denying the man remains an icon.

The Omiya fans could not believe how close they were to this living legend -- which he is in Japan -- and, old and young, they took photo after photo as he made his way through the crowd.

With this enduring star appeal and personality, Kazu will provide a boost for his new team in particular and for J2 in general in the coming months.

Kazu and Shoji up front?

That sounds familiar, doesn't it?


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Ardiles hits the road again

21 Jul 2005(Thu)

JULY 20 -- It had to happen, didn't it?

7-1, 7-0, 6-0....it's difficult for a manager to survive a crisis like this, and Ossie Ardiles is out of a job again.

A few months after steering Verdy to the Emperor's Cup, the Argentine coach was fired by Verdy on Tuesday.

Verdy had given him every chance to turn the sinking ship around, but the 6-0 defeat at Iwata was the last straw.

Ardiles has paid the price for the club's lack of activity during the seven-week break, while the club will have learned a valuable lesson.

A "gutsy" -- to use Ossie's own word -- performance earned Verdy a 0-0 draw in the Tokyo derby the other week, and seemed to have put them back on course after the seven-goal maulings by Gamba and Reds.

In the next match they led Vissel 3-1, but were lucky to survive in a 3-3 draw when Atsu Miura led Kobe's comeback.

Then...6-0 away to Jubilo, where Maeda was very impressive for the home team.

The Verdy team is a typical Ardiles outfit...a nice, technical team, playing attractive football where it should be played, on the ground. They have several extremely talented players, such as Daigo and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, Yoneyama, Soma and Morimoto, but, also like previous Ardiles teams, they have a soft centre and lack defensive discipline.

They do not possess the physical quality to battle teams, except up front, where Washington, Hiramoto and Morimoto are all strong, and, from a team spirit point of view, Ardiles had lost them as a group.

Even with proud Verdy fighters like the captain, "Yamataku", the team could not motivate itself anymore.

And when this happens, there's only course of action open to the club.

Ardiles, however, leaves Verdy with enough good players to survive, but they need a tough coach to push them harder and tighten the play. Anyone know where Troussier is these days?

Or Perryman perhaps?


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The thin line between passion and violence on derby day

18 Jul 2005(Mon)

July 16: The J.League is trying hard to promote the concept of the "local derby" match this season.

They want fans to feel pride and passion about their team, like supporters do around the world.

But that doesn't mean fans have to get too excited by the occasion and let their emotions run away with them.

I know there's a very thin dividing line between the two states of mind, and some micro-second of madness, when the brain switches off, can spark an act which the person will regret for ever.

I am referring to the incident at the Tokyo derby at Ajinomoto Stadium last Saturday, when an FC Tokyo fan threw the narrow lid of a cigarette bin toward the Verdy fans, injuring three people.

The injured included a policeman, and the offender was seized on the spot and taken away.

I didn't know anything about this until after the game, although I had been surprised, when visiting a food kiosk for an extremely unhealthy pre-match snack, to hear the FC Tokyo fans in full voice nearby. I thought this was a bit starnge, as usually they are in their "end" to the left of the grandstand. On this occasion, however, they were in the middle of the concourse.

FC Tokyo's managing director, Yutaka Murabayashi, is usually one of the most cheerful officials around, but after the game he was clearly upset by the incident, and worried that it might tarnish the otherwise positive image of the supporters.

He said there were around 200 supporters singing songs near the Verdy fans, but the actions of just one had spoilt the occasion.

Trouble-makers, of course, are always in a minority. This is what observers say about England fans overseas.

"The problems were caused by a small minority," is the customary phrase.

Well, if you have 25,000 England fans in Marseille at the 1998 World Cup, and a small minority, say one per cent, cause trouble, that's still a lot of hooligans -- 250? Is that right? I am sorry, maths was never my strong point!

The J.League is learning lessons all the time, such as at Kashiwa Reysol earlier in the season.

It is no coincidence, of course, that the Reysol fans and the lone FC Tokyo hooligan commited their deeds when the team was not in good form.

With FC Tokyo finally having won, and Reysol, too, hopefully life will return to normal on the terraces.

It might be a good idea, though, for FC Tokyo to prevent home fans from gathering near the away end and singing songs, even if it appears harmless.

It does suggest provocation and taunting, and that's when violence can occur, from one side or the other.


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Reds fans should not be surprised by Emerson's move

14 Jul 2005(Thu)

JULY 12: No one should be surprised by Emerson's move to Qatar.

"Think money," I was told by a member of the Reds coaching staff, when I went to their Ohara training ground on Sunday to get the latest news on the absent "hero."

"Don't think about football," he added.

"It's where players go at the end of their careers for one last big pay check."

In the modern game, that means Qatar, and on this occasion Al Sadd.

Emerson, too, was clearly thinking about money.

Lots and lots of it, even more than he was earning with Urawa -- and that was over US$ 1 million a year. Probably well over.

It wasn't that long ago when Emerson made a strange move in Japan.

After scoring 31 goals in 34 games for Consadole Sapporo in 2000, he didn't come up into J1 with the J2 champions.

Instead he stayed in J2, transferring to Kawasaki Frontale, who were the only team prepared to meet his financial demands. Or should I say his agent's financial demands.

He seemed quite happy in the second division, running rings around outclassed opponents, but moved to Urawa midway through the following season, in the summer of 2001.

Of course Emerson has given the Reds fans plenty to cheer about with goals galore, but they deserved better treatment from him and from his agent.

Emerson was given an extended holiday in Brazil, and when he was a couple of days late returning for the training camp it was pretty much par for the course.

But when a couple of days became a couple of weeks, the writing was on the wall that he would not be coming back to Japan at all.

While his so-called team "mates" were losing the Saitama derby to Omiya Ardija, Emerson was in Europe finalising the details of his lucrative contract.

Some people may accuse me of being naive, of being too much of Englishman in my feeling for what is right and what is wrong.

They may say that....hey, Emerson is a professional. He has to earn as much money as he can during his short career. Nobody has ever done him any favours in his life, so why should he start doing the same?

And you may have a point.

But there is more to football than money. There is personal pride, loyalty, playing for a team and playing for a club.

Those supporters who worshipped him must feel badly let down.

But they should not feel surprised.

I, for one, will not miss Emerson one bit, despite his goals and talent.


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What have Verdy been doing during the break?

11 Jul 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (July 9): If anyone could turn back the clock to just one week ago, then surely that man would be Ossie Ardiles.

This time last week, Tokyo Verdy 1969 were looking forward to the resumption of J1, like everyone else, after the seven-week break.

But in their first two games, Verdy have conceded seven goals each time and the alarm bells are now ringing at Yomiuri Land.

After Gamba had beaten them 7-1 at Banpaku last Saturday, Urawa Reds then humiliated them 7-0 at National Stadium on Wednesday night in what was, technically, a home game for Verdy.

I did not attend either game in person, but saw all the goals flying in on the TV highlights shows.

It was grim viewing for the Verdy fans, as their side looked lost and conceded goals which a professional team simply should not do.

Admittedly, Gamba have a dynamic strike force in Araujo, Fernandinho and Oguro, but they must have felt they were playing against a schoolboy side.

Against Reds, sure, Urawa got a couple of breaks with some timely deflections, but this is no excuse for Verdy.

After all, when a team lets in seven goals for two games running, it's more a matter of heart and commitment, rather than technical or tactical inadequacies.

All of which puts the Argentine coach's job on the line, starting with Saturday's Tokyo derby with FC Tokyo at "Ajista."

I hear that the club will not review Ardiles's position until the end of the month, on the completion of the six-game July schedule, but another performance like the previous two could change all that.

The first two have been a debacle, but the local derby gives Verdy the perfect opportunity to restore some pride and try to extend the slender points lead over Tokyo, who have simply forgotten how to win.

It all makes for a very spicy derby this evening.

And it makes you wonder what Verdy have been doing, or not doing, during the break to come back in such poor mental and physical condition.


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"Emerson Bento" leaves a bad taste in the mouth

7 Jul 2005(Thu)

TOKYO (July 6): It was interesting to see the "Emerson Bento" for sale outside Saitama Stadium 2002 on Sunday night.

Naturally, I did not buy one, as readers know he is not exactly my favourite player.

His ability as a goal-scorer is not in question.

It's his approach to the game I don't like, always looking for a free kick or a penalty, always pretending he is injured, and always looking to get an opposing player booked or sent off.

Anyway, all this is not an issue at the moment, because he has let down the club and the fans yet again.

"When is he coming back?" I asked Guido on Sunday, after the win over Albirex.

"I don't know," he admitted.

"Where is he?" was the follow-up question.

"I don't know," said Guido again. "It's unbelievable!"

Yes it is. A player earning so much money, who is clearly capable of playing at a higher level than the J.League, just not showing up after his holiday.

According to sources, first he said his baby son had a fever, so they could not travel back, and then his wife needed a transit visa for the United States, hence another delay.

It reminds me of the Edilson fiasco with Kashiwa Reysol, when the player said he needed to go to the dentist's in Brazil and would be late back.

I really hope Reds are severe with Emerson, like they were with Alpay, as this is hardly the first time it has happened.

In fact Hans Ooft told me they had fined him a total of US$60,000 during the 2003 Nabisco Cup-winning season for being late back to Japan or late for training.

"I told him it would be cheaper to buy an alarm clock," Ooft said.

Guido is not laughing at the moment, though, and who can blame him?

There are six rounds of J1 games in July, and Reds are capable of claiming 18 points to haul in Kashima Antlers.

They already have three from one game, without Emerson, and it's unlikely he will feature soon when he comes back, as he will not be match-fit. And why should Guido leave out Tanaka or Nagai or any other player who has the good of the club at heart?

Back to the Emerson bento.

This led to a few jokes, of course. One was that you opened the Emerson bento box and there was nothing inside. It had disappeared!

Another was that the pieces of meat were, in fact, Emerson himself, having been cut up by angry fans.

Will the Reds fans continue to worship him?

Sadly, I suspect so.


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Alpay only had himself to blame

4 Jul 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (July 1): A few weeks ago I was sitting at home and the telephone rang.

Not the mobile phone, but the landline.

I thought it must be another fax from Urawa Reds, informing me that only 267 tickets were still available for the home game at Saitama Stadium in April 2007...even though they won't know who they are playing for another year and a half!

As I picked up the phone, expecting to hear the high-pitched tone of the fax, there was a faint voice on the other end.

"'Ello, 'ello, is this Monsieur Walker?"

Yes, you've guessed. She was French, and she worked for a football agent.

"Avez-vous le telephone number of Monsieur Alpay Ozalan, s'il vous plait?"

I said I didn't, but gave her the number of an Urawa Reds club contact, who could pass on the Frenchwoman's number to Monsieur Alpay at the earliest opportunity.

"There is a French club who wants to sign Alpay," she added.

"Yes, I think he'll be available quite soon," I replied.

"Why, is his contract finished? Is he not playing very well?" asked the Frenchwoman.

"Errr, no," I said. "He's not playing at all. He keeps getting red cards and yellow cards. In fact I think he has received more cards this season than Brad Pitt on Valentine's Day."

(Actually, I didn't say the Brad Pitt joke, as I've only just thought of it, but I will remember it for next time.)

The next day, Alpay was sent off. I was sitting at Omiya Stadium, watching them thrash Vissel Kobe, when a Japanese colleague gave me the news, via his colleague at Niigata.

Sure enough, Alpay was fired this week, six months before his contract was due to end.

For me, the writing was on the wall when he got sent off on the opening day of the season, against Kashima Antlers.

Alpay, for all his experience, had allowed Takayuki to annoy him.

That's not difficult, admittedly, as Takayuki annoys everyone, but Alpay fell for it hook, line and sinker.

He grabbed him by the chin, and Takayuki hit the deck again. In fact he fell down so often that afternoon that there is rumoured to be an imprint of Takayuki still in the turf on the edge of the penalty box. Like something you see on the X-Files.

Alpay arrived in Japan with a reputation as a hot-head. Off the pitch he is a very nice and friendly guy, but on it he goes crazy.

Call it commitment, determination...whatever you like.

But a player who goes overseas must learn to adapt to the football environment.

Japanese football can hardly be described as vicious or violent, yet Alpay just couldn't stay on the pitch long enough to hear the final whistle. Sometimes even the half-time whistle.

He has let down the club, who were prepared to give him a big break in Japanese football (and no doubt an even bigger salary), and let down himself.

It's a great pity, because he's a good player, an interesting character and could have given a lot to the game here.

I'm sorry. I must go now. The phone's ringing.

Must be that French agent again!


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