March 27, 2009: The Nabisco Cup is back, and with it the opportunity to vote for the "new hero" after each game.
Open to players aged 23 and under, the J.League very considerately indicates on the team sheet the players who are eligible for the award at each game.
On Wednesday it was Reysol-FC Tokyo at one of my favourite grounds, Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium, which is as lively as it gets with a crowd of 5,835 on a cold, wet night.
Twelve players, six on each team, were eligible, and my vote went to Reysol left back Naoki Ishikawa.
I am sure I was in a minority among the media, possibly even a minority of one, as Yuki Otsu would have attracted most of the votes. The young striker, who had celebrated his 19th birthday the day before the game, is a talented player indeed; flashy, quick and playing at a high tempo.
He was tripped -- but not hurt -- by Tokunaga to win the free kick from which Popo fired Reysol 2-0 ahead, and he was fouled (possibly) by Fujiyama to earn a penalty which he put away himself early in the second half for 3-1.
Later in the game he had Kanazawa in all sorts of trouble as he burst down the left wing, but the ref spared the Tokyo midfielder a yellow card.
So why not Otsu for "New Hero"?
Well, just a bit too fancy for my liking at the moment. He's got all the flicks and tricks, but he is still learning when to use them and, more specifically, when not to use them. Hopefully this will come with experience, and he will realise there are times when it is better to control the ball and make a short, safe pass, rather than attempt a high-speed spin which may or may not come off. If it comes off, the crowd will roar and the TV shows will replay it 15 times, but if it does not come off and he loses the ball and puts his team in danger, it will be regarded in some quarters as bad luck when it is not bad luck at all; it is a bad decision.
The substance must come first, and then the style, but young Japanese players often get these two the wrong way round.
Ishikawa is a good, solid left back and put over a superb cross for Yamane to nonchalantly turn in for 1-0 Reysol; nothing flashy here, just doing the right thing at the right time.
But, there again, Ishikawa is 23, 24 in September, so Otsu has time on his side for his game to mature around these extravagant skills.