Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Agent Orange: Vissel Dismissal

I take a bus to away games. I go with a group of nice people who give me senbei and laugh when I drink my fifth or sixth Coca-Cola Zero. We chat before the game, as much as we can in our limited Japanese and English respectively. We wait for our seats and then we go in. We watch as Omiya stumbles around the pitch, rarely looking dangerous. We groan when the inevitable goal comes for the other team. We watch as Omiya ratchets up the pressure and gets near chances that won't go in. We wait as the final whistle blows. We clap for our fallen heroes and watch as the other team's fans celebrate. We pack up, laugh about how bad we are, and check our phones to see if Shonan has made more points, or if Kyoto has finally passed us and pushed us into last. We get on the bus and go home.

Sendai, Shizuoka, Niigata, Yamagata, Kobe - places spread out all across Japan, leading to the same dreary destination. Failure.

Home games are actually worse. My friends are spread out all over the stadium, so I sit amongst people who don't know and don't care about anyone or anything. They are absorbed in their own little worlds and don't have the manners or common sense not to get up during important points in the game, too interested in making themselves comfortable at the expense of others. I watch nearly the same spectacle play out. This time the people travelling from far-off places such as Nagoya or Tokyo (for Gamba frontrunner fans) get to celebrate the success of their squads.

I'm not having fun. I hate losing - especially to teams that aren't very good - but I can live with that. What I can't stomach is the fact that we aren't even competitive. And it seems like we're getting worse.

In the past we were never great, rarely good and usually sub-par, but there was always the feeling that we would somehow scrape out a win when we needed it. Can you say that you have that feeling now? I don't know what happened since 2008, when the squad wasn't that great but scrapped out wins, but this team is... how do I put it?... defeated. I'm not going to say the effort isn't there, because it is. The team is battling (a certain number eleven excepted). It just seems like they can't figure out how to play together, how to fight together, how to win together.

I read a book once (shocking, I know) where the manager of a soccer team said that "relegation begins in your mind," or something like that. Are we relegated? Is it just the fact that the players still don't grasp the new style of play? Is it confusion, lack of confidence, bad chemistry? I don't know what to do next. I hope Jun Suzuki does. No matter what happens, some housecleaning should be in order. And that should start with Haruo Yuuki.

Haruo Yuuki - the Case Against

If you don't already know, Yuuki is the man entrusted with selecting and securing contracts for players. He is in charge of selecting the coach and staff to oversee the squad. Yuuki's first move as Technical Director was to bring in previous coach Jang Wae Ryong, a man with a decent record in Korean football and a horrible record as a head man at Consadole Sapporo and Tokyo Verdy. He coached talents as diverse as Koji Yamase, Yasuyuki Konno, Lee Keun Ho and Yuji Nakazawa. Two of these players were rumored to have received offers from Ardija to be re-united with their old coach - they both turned them down.

One former player had had trouble as a youngster at Verdy under Jang, but by 2009 he had become the Squirrels' captain. By 2010, however, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was gone for good as an Omiya player. Other veteran leaders such as Daisuke Tomita, Yasuhiro Hato and Masato Saito were pushed out the door under less than pleasant circumstances. All four were at the tail-ends of their careers and aside from the famously amateur Saito were making decent salaries. A case could certainly have been made that all four needed to go and their positions be upgraded.

Unfortunately, the Jang/Yuuki combo, lacking in both awareness and common courtesy, ripped out the leadership backbone of the squad in a way that was rude to the players and fans. Slotted into their places were the trio of Shin Kanazawa (an energetic player who gives 100%, but who has his limits and would be better suited to a substitute role), Mato Neretljak (a very talented Croatian centerback who could fill the role, but has a language barrier due to not being fluent in Japanese) and Chikara Fujimoto (a me-first forward who yells at everybody, takes no responsibility for his own mistakes and also was the captain of the disastrous 2007 campaign that nearly sent Omiya to J2).

Yuuki had a tin ear, not realizing (or maybe not caring) that the coach was not a good communicator or tactician. He went with Jang, stuck with Jang and cast out anyone that didn't. In came a new crop of players to fill in the back line, starting with a pair of journeymen converted from the midfield to man the right and left sideback positions. Both have struggled to provide any sort of service for the offense. The midfield, a weak point last year, was supplemented by North Korean international An Yong Hak, a strong but one-dimensional centerback, and two rookie college players.

Starting in 2009, Yuuki added a quartet of offensive players in Naoki Ishihara, Rafael, Yoshihito Fujita and Dudu. Two have been successful in spite of a lack of consistent service or a coherent game plan. The third has been disappointing, the fourth has been one of the worst signings in J-League history. The Asian player slot has been an absolute waste, signing and then purging two midfielders who could not adapt to the game.

To be fair, some players have exhibited individual brilliance at times. However, the longer a player has stayed under the current regime, the worse they seem to get. You have to point at the leadership, and that begins and ends with Yuuki.

How Do We Solve It?

The easy answer is to fire Yuuki - and I'm all for that. However, we had a similar problem with Satoru Sakuma. I believe the same guys who hired Sakuma chose Yuuki as well. They've been consistent in their stupidity and maybe we need to find out who they are and put pressure on the club to get them out. We also need to cut bait on Fujimoto, instead of trying to build and rebuild around him.

One positive sign under new coach Suzuki is the impression that young players are going to get a chance to develop. I've been pleased to see Daisuke Watabe and Takuya Aoki get sustained minutes. Aoki has been a bit disappointing, but he is in the pool for the London Olympic squad and he won't get better without making mistakes. Watabe has been good, considering he is out of position on the right-hand side of defence.

It looks like the organization is finally taking youth development seriously. The past couple of years, our U18 squad has gotten into later rounds of the Sahara Cup. This year has seen the squad claim the Kanto Prince League 2 crown and win their group in the Adidas Cup over the likes of Gamba Osaka, Albirex Niigata and Avispa Fukuoka. If the worst has to happen, at least Omiya will be able to sign and develop a crop of young players in a competitive and relegation-free environment.

I'm hoping beyond hope that we can survive yet another round of Relegation Roulette, but some guns only have six chambers so eventually we're gonna hit the bullet. I don't like the product on the field right now, but that doesn't mean that I'd fire Suzuki at the end of the year. He's gonna have to show some sort of life with this squad, though. If he does stay on, he needs to be an integral part in deciding who assumes the Technical Director spot, so that the squad fits his needs.

Will Omiya do this? I'm not optimistic.

Vissel Dismissal

I'm not too interested in rehashing the game itself. Furtho hit all the main points and I agree. It was rough going south and watching a pretty poor team beat us up. After the second goal, Yoshito Okubo and company started ground-rolling in mock agony. He did have a beautiful goal at the end - don't let any pretentious twat tell you that Squirrels keeper Takashi Kitano was garbage on that play. 99 times out of 100, that ball goes into the stands, right at the keeper, or out past the wrong side of the post. He put that right in a great spot.

Kobe has talent on the offense, but it's an old team that hacks away rather than actually playing. The first 45 minutes they looked good, but then they quit and settled on timewasting and packing in the defense. Ahhh, the good old days of Toshiya Miura! I feel a bit bad that they don't play a more exciting game, because Kobe has some of the loudest and most enthusiastic fans I've seen. They don't have a lot of them, but the ones that are there are quality. You can tell, even with the spectre of Rakuten hovering over their heads, that they truly love their team. And the players love them. The after-game ceremony was pretty light-hearted and funny.

The easiest thing for those supporters would be to go down the road to Suita and support the soulless team known as Gamba (off-topic, but why don't people slam their fan base for being obnoxious? Urawa gets a ton of criticism, Gamba fans are pretty bad too), or use the cop-out that they support "all the Kansai teams" because it's "good for the J-League". Bullshit. It takes real character to support an unpopular team, and to do it with the exuberance that those fans showed deserves praise. Anyone that gives Taishi Tsukamoto a cheer is cool in my book... and the booing of the ex-Vissel Fujimoto didn't hurt, either!


Every year I feel like Omiya is the guest at the party that no-one really wants to see. The host or hostess comes up and partakes in insincere pleasantries while trying to cover up the disgust flashing across their face. Other guests smirk and whisper things that aren't considered flattering behind our back. The orange is too garish, the team is ugly, they're boring. Why don't they just go back to where they belong?

Lowly, weak... uninvited.

I just would like soccer to be fun again.



Mike Tuckerman 29 July 2010 at 14:09  

Absolutely compelling writing.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP