With only 2 months before World Cup, how can Samurai Blue be rebuilt?

The Yomiuri ShimbunThere are only two months to go before the World Cup in Russia. Can the dismissal of the national soccer coach at this juncture invite good fortune?

Kozo Tashima, president of the Japan Football Association, announced that the JFA had canceled its contract with men’s national soccer coach Vahid Halilhodzic. Tashima explained the dismissal by saying that “communication and levels of trust with members of the team had weakened.”

The public has high expectations for the coach of the Samurai Blue. As long as there was a rift between the coach and members of the team, it may have been an unavoidable decision for the association.

After the previous World Cup in Brazil, then national coach Javier Aguirre was fired for his alleged involvement in a fixed match. It is unusual for successive dismissals to be made. Not to mention the fact that the World Cup is approaching in June.

Tashima also said that it was precisely due to this timing that the JFA made a clear-cut decision. This can be taken to mean that the dismissal was decided at the eleventh hour.

Akira Nishino, a technical director of the JFA, will succeed Halilhodzic. The JFA needs to do all it can to help rebuild the team, so as not to prolong any ill effects.

Halilhodzic became the Japan national team’s coach because the association highly evaluated his ability to get the Algerian team to the Round of 16, for the first time in that nation’s history, at the World Cup in Brazil. In the final round of Asian 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Halilhodzic led the Japanese team to qualify for their sixth successive World Cup final. This achievement should be rated highly.

Nishino must show leadership

Since then, however, the team’s strength has not improved.

From the final round of Asian qualifiers, Halilhodzic’s leadership was notable for omitting from his squad leading members of the team, such as Keisuke Honda, who had long underpinned the Samurai Blue, and attempting to rejuvenate the team instead. Promoting a generation change is not in itself wrong, but he consequently failed to establish a consistent roster.

During a tour of Belgium in March, the Samurai Blue had friendly matches against Mali and Ukraine, both of which failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup final, with the Japanese team getting a draw and a loss. It is only reasonable for criticism of Halilhodzic to increase over the team’s poor performance during these matches.

Soccer is a world where only results matter. When good results are accumulated, there will be greater unification around the coach, but if a team’s listless play continues, trust in the coach will be lost. Halilhodzic’s harsh criticism of the players is said to have caused friction within the team.

Doubt remains as to why the JFA could not have taken the plunge and dismissed him much earlier. The match with the South Korean team last December, in which the Samurai Blue suffered a complete defeat, could have been an occasion to do so. There is an undeniable impression that the JFA, having been unable to make a final decision, put off reaching a conclusion until now.

Nishino, who had supported Halilhodzic, may also bear part of the responsibility for bringing about the recent state of affairs.

It is the first time in many years for a Japanese coach to be chosen. He should exercise his leadership and help rescue the Samurai Blue from their current predicament.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 10, 2018)Speech


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