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October 2006

Come on J.League clubs -- go for Becks!

30 Oct 2006(Mon)

Tokyo, October 28, 2006: David Beckham is unsettled. David Beckham is on the bench. David Beckham wants to leave Spain.

Life is never dull in the Beckham household -- or Beckingham Palace as we say in England, after the Queen's royal residency, Buckingham Palace, in London, of course.

Maybe David wants to move again; a final challenge in his roller-coaster career.

All of which has got me thinking: I wonder if any J.League team is considering making a move for King David the Lionheart?

I hope so, because the time is right if they are going to do it. Beckham unsettled, clubs looking for new foreign players for next season...Posh Spice loving the attention of the Japanese media. Yup, it all makes sense to me.

So come on Nissan, Toyota or Mikitani-san at Kobe. Marinos and Grampus need a boost and you two have lots of cash, while Vissel could come back to J1 next season with a full house of season ticket-holders -- and Beckham would provide value for money, unlike the disastrous signing of that Turkish bench-warmer at the 2002 World Cup.

Beckham loves his football, would be an ambassador for the game, a role model for the kids, an idol for male and female fans alike. Crowds would go through the roof. The eyes of the football world would be on Japan.

Personally, I think the new England coach, Steve McClaren, made a big mistake by cutting Beckham from the squad so quickly. I thought he had a decent World Cup, even though England did not, and he still has much to offer.

This idea may sound ridiculous to some, but why should not a Japanese club make a serious attempt to sign Becks and Posh and the young Beckhaminhos?

There are even reports that Beckham might end his career in the United States, playing Major League Soccer.

If he's thinking about that, then I am sure he would consider Japan, too.

He might be expensive, but think about all the money J.League clubs waste on third-rate Brazilians.

Come on, J.League clubs, go for it. It's not a dream!


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In dreamland at Ajista

26 Oct 2006(Thu)

October 24, 2006:It is now Tuesday afternoon, and I am staring at the pink football paper in front of me.

It says FC Tokyo 3, Gamba Osaka 2, but I still can't quite believe it.

Two days on from that incredible match at Ajista, I am still in a daze, did I really see that happen, or was it just a dream?

Not just the fact that came back from 2-0 down against the league champions, or that they scored three times in quick succession.

It was the quality of the goals, and the hysteria that followed. When I think back it's all a blur of blue and red, played in slow motion.

I know you will have read about the Tokyo goals before, but I would like to add my comments here.

First, Konno's. For a start he's one of my favourite players, I vote for him after every Nabisco Cup match in the New Hero award, even when FC Tokyo aren't playing!

What I liked most about Konno's goal was that he actually believed he could reach the ball. Losing 2-0, a long pass over the top¡­I am sure some players would have given up under those circumstances and let the ball run through to the keeper. Not Konno the Lionheart. He never gives up, and his agility, touch and calm finish sparked the revival.

Then it was Norio's turn. What can we say about this? I had a great view of the strike as it whistled into the top corner like a missile. Had the Gamba keeper got in the way, it would have taken him with it, too, flying into the back of the net. It was an incredible goal, and even likening it to a Roberto Carlos thunderbolt does not do it justice.

And then the winner from Fly High Nao. Again it was Konno on the left flank who was in the thick of the action. Suzuki crossed, Ishikawa showed a lovely touch to make himself some room, and then produced a cool, curling Ronaldo-style finish as he caressed the ball into the corner.

When that goal went in and the stadium erupted, I have to admit to being­well, quite emotional.

It was an extraordinary comeback, and no more than the magnificent Tokyo fans deserved in such a disappointing season.

The Gamba players and fans looked shell-shocked. One minute they were cruising to three points to stay in touch with Urawa, the next they were six points behind with six to play and possibly emotionally scarred by this unlikely reversal of fortunes.

Yes, that was an amazing afternoon at Tobitakyu, or was it just a dream?


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Shunsuke benefiting from decision to stay in Glasgow

23 Oct 2006(Mon)

Tokyo, October 21, 2006: Shunsuke Nakamura's decision to stay where he was and continue to play for Celtic always looked like the right one.

There were reports out of Britain last season that he was only using Celtic as a stepping stone to mainland Europe, and that his goal was to play in Spain.

But Scottish football has been good for Shunsuke -- and there is no doubt he has been good for Celtic.

The level is perfect for him, playing for a big club in a small league and for a strong team in which he can express his creative skills. He is now doing it at a higher pace than he did for Reggina in Italy, due to the quicker tempo of the game in Britain.

A hat trick against Dundee United, completed with a cool and classy left-foot finish into the top corner, was followed by a 90-minute display in a 3-0 Champions League victory over Benfica. He is settled and he is clearly enjoying himself, so it was a wise decision to stay in Scotland rather than go to Spain and start again.

All of which is good news for Japan -- maybe!

With Osim in charge, Shunsuke needed to step up his game to continue playing for Japan. He needed to run more and to contribute more in open play, in addition to his set-piece expertise.

He is doing this and keeping himself in the news -- but I still think Osim is right to leave him in Scotland for the time being and test his J.League players.

I am sure the national team door is not closed on Shunsuke, and Osim may well decide next year that he needs a touch of class in his midfield to add a new dimension to his emerging team. Imagine a five-man midfield, with Keita and Abe or Konno as the two defensive halves, and Shunsuke in front, behind the two strikers, Maki and Bando or Tatsuya.

It is an option Osim will consider for the future, especially in the build-up to next summer's Asian Cup finals.


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Baron likens team-mate Hokuto to 1998 World Cup member Nakanishi

19 Oct 2006(Thu)

Please wait for a while.

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Bando, Kengo and canines -- a dog's life in India

16 Oct 2006(Mon)

Tokyo, October 14, 2006: The problem with a weak opponent is that it can bring down the level of a vastly superior team.

Add to this a poor pitch in Bangalore, floodlight failure and a runaway dog halting play, and, in such circumstances, Japan could not have done much better than win 3-0.

These Asian Cup qualifiers are giving Osim's new team a gentle introduction to international football. The travel, the lifestyle on the road, the different conditions on and off the pitch, the ability of the opponents...Japan's players will be looking and learning all the time. Further down the line, in tougher circumstances, they will be able to draw on this experience and use it to their benefit when the pressure is on.

Osim, too, will be learning a lot about his players, not just their ability but also their attitude and mentality.

After the game against Ghana, I pointed out the fact that Osim would have loved Bando's angry reaction to his missing a good chance to equalise near the end. I am sure Osim would have preferred Bando to score, but, in missing the chance, Bando displayed his passion and his intensity -- and won a place in the starting line-up against India. In this game he scored twice, could have had more, and has quickly established himself in the squad. It depends on Bando, and no one else, how long he stays there.

I also liked Kengo Nakamura's goal, and celebration, against India. It was a magnificent strike with his right foot, and then he kissed the JFA crest on his shirt! Again, it shows a bit of pride and personality, and Kengo has put himself in the picture for the long-term.

I noticed on TV last Saturday night that Kengo was getting the "Shunsuke" treatment, with a couple of mushy, sugary interviews following the Ghana game. The TV people in question were clearly trying to promote Kengo as the new "fantasista" -- the new Shunsuke, in fact -- but let's not get carried away too quickly, or forget that other, less glamorous roles in football are equally important, if not more so.

Finally, wasn't that an amazing moment in the India-Japan game? No, not the dog, which I actually thought was India's most dangerous player, the way it eluded Japan's markers and found so much space on the pitch. I am talking about Alex's cross for Bando's diving header. I know the stadium lights were bad, but was that really Alex's right foot in action -- hitting an expert cross on the half-volley?

I wish he would use it more often. Just think how more dangerous he would be with two feet instead of one!


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This is no time for Japan’s fantasista lovers

12 Oct 2006(Thu)

Tokyo, October 11, 2006: One popular topic of conversation at the moment is how tickets for national team games are no longer like gold dust.

In other words, the public aren't that bothered about watching Japan anymore because there are no superstars in the team.

My answer is that I just don't care, it's irrelevant, and I am sure that Osim does not care either. If a few thousand fans do not want to watch the team because Shunsuke is not playing, then that is their problem. It is definitely not Osim's problem and hopefully it is not the JFA's problem either. (JFA, by the way, stands for JEF Football Association).

Osim is looking at the big picture. He is testing new, hungry, young players, and giving them the chance to play against a team like Ghana. For the time being this is the right way to go, as Japan's line-up of fantasistas and Euro-stars had their chance in Germany and failed miserably.

And another point.

I actually think the crowds for the three home games under Osim have been excellent. Over 47,000 at Kokuritsu for a friendly with Trinidad and Tobago; over 40,000 at Niigata for an Asian Cup qualifier with Yemen; and over 52,000 at Nissan Stadium for the friendly with Ghana.

Those are great crowds by anyone's standards. England against Trinidad and Tobago in a friendly at Manchester, for example? Maybe 30,000. Against Yemen at Newcastle? 20,000?

In my opinion, the most important thing is to build a new team from the ruins of Germany. Zico inherited some wonderful players and left nothing behind and no one should forget that.

Osim is the right man for the job, and true football fans in Japan will appreciate what he is trying to do. I am not saying the days of Shunsuke and other players in Europe are over, but the focus has to be on Japan and J.League players during this period of transition.

Everyone needs to be patient and to support the new regime, because this is the way forward for Japanese football. Bringing back Shunsuke, Takahara, Inamoto, Oguro for friendlies against Ghana is a waste of time and a huge step backwards. Even if it means 65,000 at Yokohama instead of 52,000.


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Ghana give Japan a glimpse of the future

10 Oct 2006(Tue)

Tokyo, October 7, 2006: Ivica Osim wanted a tough game for his young Japan team -- and that is exactly what he got against Ghana.

From the moment the match kicked off I was impressed by the speed, the power, the team work and the confidence of the Black Stars.

What's more, they actually grew stronger as the match wore on, and completely dominated the early stages of the second half.

No one could deny that they deserved their goal, which happened in the blink of an eye and highlighted the difference between the two teams: Japan are still learning to play at this level, whereas Ghana are several steps ahead in terms of experience.

Under such circumstances, I thought a draw would have been a fine result for Japan.

In the end they lost 1-0, but I am far from pessimistic about the new-look team.

In general I thought Japan stood up to the hard examination quite well, especially considering there were players making their debuts (Mizumoto and Yamagishi) and others playing out of position, such as Abe and Konno.

What became clear, though, was that Japan must, absolutely must, be first to the second ball if they are to dominate an opponent. What I mean by this is that if a Japanese player is tackled and the ball breaks loose, or if an opponent is tackled and the ball breaks loose, another Japanese player must be in exactly the right position to collect the loose ball and keep possession.

Playing at such a frantic pace demands a sound first touch and awareness of what is going on around you so that a team can establish a rhythm and a momentum in all areas of the pitch. This has not happened yet, which is not surprising considering the number of players Osim has used.

It will come in time, however, as the new coach settles on his best team and their movements become more automatic and systematic.

At times against Ghana, especially in the second half, it looked like Men against Boys -- and the boys were wearing blue! But this does not mean Japan were out-classed. They showed they were prepared to fight a physical battle and then to move forward with determination and pace.

Bando came close to equalising near the end, but could not wrap his right foot around the ball and the attempt went wide. Still, he will definitely get another chance, as Osim will have been impressed by his angry reaction to missing the chance!


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Koreans outshine Japanese in Singaporean eyes

5 Oct 2006(Thu)

Tokyo, October 4, 2006: If you want to overdose on English football, there is no better place to be in Asia than Singapore.

Japan is quite good, too, but is an hour ahead of Singapore, making the kick-off times in England much more viewer-friendly down there in south-east Asia.Also, the English newspapers in Singapore are packed with reports and news from the English Premier League, or EPL as they call it.

I will stick with the Premier League, if you don't mind, as EPL is too much of a brand name, for marketing people, not football fans.

I have just returned from a long weekend in Singapore, where a popular topic of conversation was:Why are the Korean players more successful in England than the Japanese?

That is a good question, and a good topic for debate, so this was my response.

In general I think the Korean players are more robust, play a more physical game and can maintain a faster tempo for longer periods than the Japanese, I said.

I donft think the Koreans are better players technically, but they are more suited to the British style of play. They get stuck in and keep running, whereas the Japanese players who have gone to Europe tend to be more the fantasista types who can survive better in a more technical, slower league, such as Italy.

That was my assessment, based on watching the likes of Park, Seol and Lee at Manchester United, Reading and Spurs in recent weeks/months.

On the opposite side, take the case of Ahn Jung Hwan. Surely he has more natural talent and flair than any of these three, but he has failed miserably in Europe.

Ahn could not even make the grade with modest Perugia, where Hidetoshi Nakata excelled, of course, to earn a big-money move to Roma, and then struggled in France and Germany. The only foreign country where Ahn has been successful is Japan, as his game is more suited to this style of technical play.

I still think Japanese players can be a success in England, someone like Kaji for example.

For the time being, though, the football fans in Singapore are talking about Koreans, not Japanese. And you cannot really argue with that.


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Why would a World Cup final replay solve the shoot-out problem?

2 Oct 2006(Mon)

September 30, 2006: The World Cup final being decided by a penalty shoot-out is just not right, is it?

It is a big problem for the game, but a bigger problem is what system should replace it.

The subject is in the news again because FIFA president Sepp Blatter says a new system may be in place for the 2010 World Cup. There is talk of a replay, or removing a player from both teams, or having a golden goal system in extra time.

I must admit I love the idea of a replay. Growing up in England with the FA Cup, I have wonderful memories of replays and even second replays – under floodlights on muddy pitches, at a neutral venue in some cases (West Ham United against Everton at Elland Road, Leeds, was a classic, as was Newcastle United against Bolton Wanderers at the same venue).

In those days the teams would keep playing until there was a winner. No golden goals. No penalty shoot-outs. Just heart and soul, and midweek drama all the way.

With the World Cup final, though, you can’t simply keep replaying.

Look at the last World Cup final. A replay could have taken place two nights after the final, but that, too, could have ended level after extra time. What then? We would still have the same problem.

The idea of reducing the number of players as extra time continues is ridiculous. Football is 11 against 11, not eight against eight, and I hope that idea is buried quickly.

I would be in favour of 90 minutes, then the golden goal rule for a maximum of 30 minutes extra time. In other words, if one team scored in extra time, the game would end. No chance of a comeback for the other team.

Some people think that is unfair, but why? The teams have had 90 minutes to determine a winner, and if they both know the first goal in extra time would win the match, then it should encourage them to attack.

If there is no goal during the 30 minutes, then in my opinion it would have to be a shoot-out, not a replay. Nerve, technique (vital elements of the game) come into play…not satisfactory, of course, but what else can they do? What would be a better solution? I would love to hear some other views!


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