Monday, 13 December 2010

TENTH IN '10!!: #1. The Rise And Fall Of Haruo Yuuki

At the start of the season here at GGOA we chose our own slogan - TENTH IN '10!! - for the Squirrels and the year that lay ahead. We did this for a couple of different reasons, partly to poke a little light-hearted fun at the J-League convention by which member clubs adopt as a rallying cry for a season some random phrase, often in eye-catchingly skewed English; and partly to draw attention to Omiya's own lack of ambition and progression, in that even a modest tenth would still, after six years in J1, constitute the club's highest-ever final placing.

The last game of the season having been and gone, the Squirrels' top-division status again having been preserved, it's now time to take a look back at the year and to take stock. In the light of our slogan, now of course revealed as having been hopelessly ambitious, we thought that we we'd review the season by picking out ten key moments, incidents, people or stories and, you know, writing about them. Conceptually neat, huh? So, anyway, introductions be damned: here's Agent Orange with the first one...

It's been about a week since the news broke from Omiya Ardija that vastly unpopular Technical Director and player personnel puppetmaster Haruo Yuuki had been shown the door at NACK5 for being less than successful in his management endeavors over a two-year period. To sum up some of his low points, Yuuki:

* hired a coach in Jang Wae Ryong who previously had alienated and disappointed players at two different franchises, finishing near the bottom of the standings while in charge at both Tokyo Verdy and Consadole Sapporo
* oversaw a June 2009 public meeting after the team suffered two of its most embarrassing losses - 7-0 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima and 6-2 to rival Urawa Reds - and through his support for Jang as coach pretty much told the supporters that they were not important in his decision-making
* brought in Seo Yong Duk and Dudu at mid-season 2009... two big failures
* purged the team of most of its veterans, including popular defender Daisuke Tomita and captain Yoshiyuki Kobayashi. Yuuki allegedly also forced Ardija team icon Masato Saito out the door with his less-than-polite attitude
* re-hired Jang after an underachieving 2009, the Korean then overseeing a disastrous 1-2-5 start to the 2010 season that nearly relegated us

Not a pretty picture, but is it a fair one? Three questions pop into my mind when thinking about Haruo Yuuki and his time at Ardija:

1. Was he all bad and did he do anything right?

I look at it this way. Do you as an Ardija supporter like Rafael? Do you like Takashi Kitano? How about Naoki Ishihara? Shusuke Tsubouchi? Mato Neretljak? For all the criticism, Yuuki actually was fairly good at finding and bringing in talent. Over the final weeks of the season just ended, we looked like a group of players that was capable of competing with most of the teams in J1 and that's not something that a lot of other squads could say.

In two years, Yuuki turned the squad over from the one that we had during the Yasuhiro Higuchi era. Arguably the current team is better than Higuchi's of 2008, it's certainly far superior to the abomination of 2007 and probably is better than 2005-2006 as well. So he was successful on some level at making us a better team. If not for two very bad refereeing decisions, we would in 2010 have posted our best J1 years in points and wins as well: Yuuki does deserve some credit for upgrading talent.

2. Was Yuuki worse than Satoru Sakuma as a Technical Director?

Is he a worse person than predecessor Satoru Sakuma? Probably. Does he have a worse eye for talent? No. I would argue that he was in fact a better talent evaluator. Sakuma brought in Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, Daigo Kobayashi, Denis Marques, Leandro, Koji Ezumi, Yasuhiro Hato, Naoya Saeki, Kohei Tokita, Enilton, Mauricio Salles, Yusuke Murayama, Alison, Saul "Speedy" Martinez and numerous others. Yuuki brought to Ardija the aforementioned Ishihara, Kitano, Neretljak, Tsubouchi and Rafael, plus Lee Chun Soo, Jun Kanakubo, Kazuhiro Murakami, Yuki Fukaya, Lee Ho, An Yong Hak, Yoshihito Fujita and others.

Do you prefer Sakuma's list, or Yuuki's? Even with the appearance for Sakuma of Squirrels star man Daigo Kobayashi, I'd pick Yuuki's list in a second. You have to remember too that the buying spree of 2006 left us with a team that only could muster 24 goals in 2007 - a team that coach Robert Verbeek had gunning for 0-0 ties every week and in which players as limited as Takuro Nishimura and Hiroshi Morita were main contributors. Who was a bigger bomb? Dudu or Enilton? Saul Martinez... the guy we cut future Gamba Osaka star Leandro for? Mauricio "USL" Salles?

3. What was the worst thing that Yuuki did? Why does it seem like the entire fanbase is in agreement over him not being competent?

The thing about Yuuki was his arrogance. If he had handled the supporters' meeting in a more humble way, I think that people would not have been as negative about him. In Jang, he picked the absolute worst coach in terms of communication and they both rubbed everyone up the wrong way. I think the way they handled Yoshiyuki Kobayashi put a lot of people off. The way they got rid of the veterans who loved the club and had been here for years put a lot of people off. The re-signing of Jang after the 2009 season was a huge f#$k you! to the fans.

I don't have a problem with the decision to cut Kobayashi and the others - this year none of them were that spectacular at their new clubs and the guys we brought in at Omiya were actually better, but you need to treat people with respect. But I think that as a result of Yuuki handling that situation so poorly, it looks like we are stuck with Chikara Fujimoto for another year because there is a core of traditional fans who don't like seeing their favorite players cut, no matter how good or bad they still are. And frankly Yuuki's biggest decision was Jang, who even in his best moments was sort of weird and unsettling. It was an odd choice and still remains an odd choice. Nobody likes arrogant and strange.



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