Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ardija 2009 - The Great Debate, Pt 2

Following on from last week's start to GGOA's Great Debate, Agent Orange and Furtho here conclude their collective attempt to put the Mighty Squirrels' world to rights.

Agent Orange:
If you took over Jang Wae Ryong / Haruo Yuuki's job, how would you improve the team short term (this season) and long term? Who would you keep, who would you cut? What players would you target for bringing in?

Furtho: Well, before we get to that level of detail, first there needs to be a clear sense that the club as a whole has a sense of unity in terms of meeting its overall targets. As we were talking about last week, there's to a great extent a contradiction between on the one hand having a long term aim of winning the J-League the year after next, and on the other appointing a coach for just a single year. First, I'd like to hear the club management saying that they have a definite idea about how all the teams within the umbrella organisation are going to progress, in a manner that is co-ordinated with and supportive of the first team's J1 ambitions.

Second, I'd like to hear them say that they are giving a job to a coach whose ideas are in tune with their own and who is going to be appointed on a suitably long-term basis. The last time they did something approaching the latter point, at least - with Toshiya Miura - he got the team promoted, kept them in the top division during 2005 and made a modest amount of progress the following year. You could make a reasonable case for saying that Ardija have been moving backwards since then, via short-term appointments unsupported in any useful way by the club management.

AO: Those are all good points and I agree - but let me press you, who are you going to hire to lead the ship? What coach is out there that you would like to see step up and take over the squad? I'll break this up, first who is your ideal candidate? Second, who is a realistic candidate? What model would you follow to build your club? We're both pretty good at complaining about the squad, but how do we fix it? Who's your leader?

F: I'm happy to concede I don't know anything like enough about the Japanese coaching scene to be able to make sensible suggestions on that score - but I do think that, as a general rule, it's going to be more appropriate (and indeed realistic) to appoint a Japanese coach for a lengthier project such as this. The other thing I'm aware of being ignorant about here is how roles within an organisation such as Ardija fit together; in football clubs in Britain, for instance, it's much easier to imagine one individual having very wide-ranging responsibilities on the playing side, but I'm not sure if that model really can be applied to Japan.

But anyhow, looking at the team, there are several points to make and it would be good to hear your thoughts on this. Omiya lack a strong core running up the centre of the pitch - Koji Ezumi and Mato Neretljak obviously are very able in their positions - but going through the centre of midfield and up front, we get a lot weaker very quickly. The other thing we don't have is, as you rather imply, a leader and I will be more specific and say that Ardija need a Japanese player who can really command respect among the squad. It seems to me that Seiichiro Okuno hasn't properly been replaced and Chikara Fujimoto isn't the man for the job.

This is where Yuji Nakazawa would have been a really good signing for the club - okay, he has a media profile, but he is enough of a pro not to let that side of things get in the way and in the context of the Japanese game he has an exceptional record. I think he could inspire Japanese players like Shin Kanazawa and Hayato Hashimoto and even after Seigo Watanabe failed to get his man over the winter, I also still think he could be persuaded to come to what is more or less his hometown club, on the basis of working closely with a coach over a period of time to raise the overall standard of Ardija.

AO: I agree with you about the spine of the team. I had a bizarre idea and I'm not sure if you will laugh at it or not. I think the best formation for the squad in its current consistency is a 4-3-3. I also was impressed with the teamwork of the back four in the Albirex Niigata game. The communication was solid and they played like an actual unit. So why not move Mato up into the defensive midfield role and alongside him team Shin with Chikara or Hayato, and allow Mato the freedom to direct the middle and move up into the offense? The biggest problem with our team is that there is nobody strong enough to compete with a Mitsuo Ogasawara or other elite midfielder.

I think Nakazawa would have been good as a media headliner and a guy that you could give the armband to and officials would respect; I don't think Chikara has much respect from officials. That being said, Nakazawa is a bit of a fragile player and as he gets older, it will get worse. But the two guys I really like are younger players who have yet to hit their peak: I think we should push hard for Hajime Hosogai from Urawa Reds and Minoru Suganuma from Kashiwa Reysol. They're young, they're cheaper combined than Nakazawa and they have established track records. They also have connections to guys in the organization.

We tried the older player route. We have to spend on guys who are on the upswing now, like Naoki Ishihara and Yoshihito Fujita. That being said, bringing in a guy with a good history and enough to be a role player / mentor wouldn't be a bad thing. Now that I think of it, Toshiya Fujita probably would have done wonders for Takuya Aoki and Ryohei Arai.

Yes, I'm not for one second saying we should populate the team with veterans; just that appropriately selected people like Nakazawa or even Fujita would be able to inspire and help to develop the younger Japanese members of the squad. God knows that Ardija are not good at that - we don't do much to bring on players who join us out of university and, as you've previously commented elsewhere, the Squirrels' youth programme itself is far less successful than that of our nearest neighbours at Urawa and Kashiwa. In fact I think it has what could be properly described as an absolutely pathetic track record.

Very interesting idea about a 4-3-3 based around Mato as a midfield player. He's a good, intelligent footballer and obviously enormously strong, so although it would be a very demanding role if anyone in the squad is able to do it, it's him. An added bonus to strengthening the midfield, though, is that it would help throughout the course of games to relieve the pressure on the back four - a better midfield would mean we'd concede less, I'm quite sure of it. Are we agreed that that's the single area of the team that needs most attention?

AO: I think the biggest single area of need is overall size and athleticism. We could use that in all positions. I think it just manifests itself the most in the middle because that is the center of action. I think we were exposed when Masahiko Ichikawa went out because he really worked hard to be involved in every play and helped out Arai a lot. That`s not to say that Fujita doesn`t serve a good purpose, but he just doesn`t have the motor that Ichikawa has.

My initial reaction to Dudu was a bit harsh and I`m hoping he (and the new signing Rafael) are able to be consistent contributors to the squad. Every picture I see of Dudu makes me root for the guy more for some reason and bringing in a strike partner that has worked with him in the past probably isn`t the worst idea the front office has ever had. If one of them scores early at Kumagaya against Jubilo Iwata on Sunday, I have a feeling that it will be a huge win. I also think that game will set the tone for the last thirteen matches of the year.

I`m not very confident, but I am hopeful. I still feel that we wasted a chance to get closer to a championship and we are making the same mistakes... wait, isn`t that the definition of madness?



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