Saturday, 7 April 2012

Agent Orange: 28 Days Later

We should have known better. It's been 28 days since we began the season and a credible start has been replaced with a more lethargic and confused body of work. Ardija 2012 at times looks like a functioning unit: a nice save here, a good shot attempt there. At times it resembles a real team.

But there's a problem... we're dead from the neck up. The team can get up and down the field but it seems as if it has no coherent plan or purpose from week to week. There is no attack and there are no real answers. It's a zombie squad at the moment and it's eating away at the enthusiasm of the fans and the players.

I saw the frustration boil over today after the game. Two forty-something "supporters" shouted insults directly at Daigo Watanabe. Daigo yelled back at them. The two very brave men, secure in the knowledge that there were security guards and Yuki Fukaya in between Watanabe and their persons, egged the midfielder on to come on over and fight them. Watanabe for his part made the faux-macho move of half heartedly going towards them while being held back by the light touch of our captain. Both sides were justifiably frustrated.

I just don't get singling out one player in a case like today. Watanabe has been less than spectacular in his stint as an attacking Omiya midfielder. He's not a very intuitive or skilful player. He's overly cautious and give up a lot of space on defense. In other words, he's an awful player. But that's not his fault. He was trying his best, he just wasn't good. Again.

I'm not exactly sure who was good today. Takashi Kitano was allright. The entire backline allowed a ton of space after the first Cerezo goal. Takuya Aoki didn't offer anything on offense and was weak on defense. Rafael was a non factor. Carlinhos didn't play great. Jun Kanakubo and Cho Young Cheol were fairly impotent. Why single out one player in that situation?

I get angry when Yu Hasegawa comes in and is used as the "joker" because large, slow players aren't good in the role. I get upset when Hayato Hashimoto plays his stale, slow, unskilled game. I get infuriated when Yosuke Kataoka is allowed to bumble around for half a season making continually stupid mistakes. But that's not their fault. We know who they are. We've had years of games to show us who is a good player or who isn't. We know what roles are the best fit for each player on this team. If they can't perform in the system we have, after a while we should stop blaming them for their (numerous) shortcomings and blame the real culprit.

I'm not talking about Jun Suzuki either. Suzuki doesn't have a clue about how to play attacking soccer. After a year of watching him use ultra-cautious mistake-prone players while wasting talented guys, we knew who he was. There should be no surprises about the team not being able to function as a scoring unit. While it's a little stunning that we have yet to shut anybody out this year in any semi-competitive competition (even training matches), even that shouldn't come as a huge shock considering we built that part of our team around the less than airtight defensive players from 2008-2011 Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale.

Playing possession soccer isn't an awful idea. Playing possession soccer with Takuya Aoki as one of your two conductors and a rotating right side of less-than-stellar skill players is. And encouraging your players to shoot as little as possible is tantamount to tactical masturbation. Sure you work up a sweat, but you accomplish nothing and everybody that sees you do it is rather disgusted with the whole show.

If we are going to lay blame, it starts and ends with the dead brain leading the zombie Squirrels to another year of oblivion. It's General Manager Takeyuki Okamoto's fault. Okamoto stripped down and rebuilt this team in his and Suzuki's image. We have no attacking players on the bench. We have no team speed outside of the starting XI. We have nobody we can rely upon at crunch time to create something on their own when plan A breaks down. We are bad and boring. And Okamoto signed off on it. We're dead. We just don't know it yet.

Things that have pissed me off

1. The Nabisco Cup I have been an unapologetic, unabashed hater of the Nabisco Cup. This year is no different. I think the whole competition is a waste of time and an excuse to get key players hurt. Remember last year, when Rafael got injured at Urawa Reds and we played a game with a two top of Rodrigo Pimpao and Chikara Fujimoto? That sucked.

The midweek game at Kashima pissed me off to no end because, (a) Cerezo got the Wednesday off to prepare for Omiya while we had to travel up to Ibaraki and, (b) Suzuki opted to go with eight starters, including our whole midfield, for 90 minutes instead of throwing on the reserves and preparing for the much more important J-League match.

The best member rule is no longer being enforced as strictly as in previous years. Yokohama F Marinos, Consadole Sapporo, Shimizu S-Pulse and other teams have opted to give some of their less-used players a chance to get some time in a competitive game. We went with a "strong" team and fell flat on our faces. It's coaching malpractice to try for both wins and fail badly both times. It's criminal that we didn't use our young striker Shintaro Shimizu in a game that cost us nothing to lose.

2. International Men of Misery If I'm going to be honest, most of the officials we have had this year have called games pretty professionally. However, when we get our matches called by the International Professional referees, we seem to lose. Our three losses have come with internationals Tojo, Iida, and Nishimura directing action in the middle. Tojo called a fair game in Sendai while Junpei Iida made a mess of the opening game, penalizing both teams unfairly. In hindsight, I can't really complain about either.

Today's judge, the illustrious Yuichi Nishimura, seemed to give "the benefit of the doubt" to Cerezo today, making numerous calls around the Omiya penalty area that were dubious at best. I'm not sure about the penalty call so I'm withholding judgement on the ultimate game decider but Mr Nishimura was favoring the away team all afternoon. Omiya did end up with more free kicks at the end of the contest but all but two were set in the Omiya end of the field. Cerezo received ten in Omiya territory. 

To add insult to (fake) injuries, he allowed the Cerezo side to milk aches and pains that came on the slightest of touches, reminiscent of the abominable performance in Shizuoka last year. It was a pretty embarrassing display by an official who has a "world class" reputation.

3. 45-60 minutes In the first 45 minutes of our league games, we have allowed one goal. After halftime adjustments are made, we have allowed six. Much like last year, we come out of the tunnel and promptly capitulate to opponents. This is a pattern that has plagued us throughout the Suzuki era and will no doubt continue until GM Okamoto decides that enough is enough and puts us all out of our misery (I'm going to predict after a big loss to Urawa Reds in two weeks, although history says it will be in May at Jubilo Iwata. Three of our coaches have gone to the great coaching beyond in Shizuoka).

4. Who's Next? Even if we do fire Suzuki, and we will fire him soon, it's pretty much too late. The time to get rid of a coach is in the offseason when it's a buyers' market. Right now the list of potential coaches is thin. Chances are we will bring in a retread like Toshiya Miura to take over and play even more cautious soccer. It's likely that Okamoto (the team's former youth manager) might take the reigns himself or promote Tomoyuki Ishii to the top post. Whoever it is, it's not going to be very good.

5. House of Horror Since the start of 2011 we are 2-9-9 in our league games at home. I think we need an exorcist or a match and copious amounts of gasoline, but neither are probably realistic options. The one thing the team could have done was to scrap the old, tired, well past its sell-by date intros with the A Team music. It was cute in 2008 when we first did it but now it's getting on my nerves. And why do we keep playing the same crappy techno music that we used last year when players were coming out to start the game?

If we actually were successful with that music then OK, keep playing it. But we aren't and it sucks. My choice this year would be Trent Reznor's version of Immigrant Song, from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but at this point I'd even settle on some old school Celine Dion if it would get us a couple more victories. In the immortal words of Twitter warrior-poet Joey Barton quoting somebody else....Hang The DJ!

Not even May and I already hate this team.

Orange! Stop taunting Daigo Watanabe, assholes!! Football!!!

Happy Easter.



Tiago Bontempo 8 April 2012 at 12:04  

Interesting post, it was a nice read.

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