In the first of two parts, J.League Regista investigates the sudden Spanish speaking influence in Japan’s J.League 2…..

 

When you think about foreign players & coaches in the J.League, thoughts invariably turn to Brazil. The vast majority of foreign imports in the J.League are from the samba country – in fact last year there were 33 players from Brazil plying their trade in J2, far and away the largest percentage.

This off season however, has seen a little bit of diversification in the foreign imports, and there is a distinct Spanish flavour – especially in the second tier. Why the sudden momentum to Spaniards/Latin Americans? I’m not really sure, although I hope to speak to a few decision makers in the next few weeks in order to get an idea of the thought-process & physical process that goes into hiring a manager from abroad. I suppose at the very base level, Spain has been at the pinnacle of both club football & (from 2008-2012 anyway) international football so you might as well look to the best in order see how they got there. I’ll look at players & coaches/managers in J2, but to start off, I’ll touch upon the histories & contexts of the men in the dugout.

To start from the coaches, we have three Spanish speaking head coaches in J2. JEF United’s new manager is a familiar name to those with a passing interest in European football during the late 90’s/early 00’s. Juan Esnaider was a highly respected forward who hailed from Argentina, but built up his reputation in Spain’s Primera Liga. He originally started his career at Real Madrid (working his way up form the B team), but it was at Real Zaragoza where he really made his name – he helped them to a European Cup Winners Cup (remember that? I think you have to be of a certain age….) win against English side Arsenal. Esnaider scored in the final, and although his goal was actually a really good strike from outside the area…..

…..it has been overshadowed in history by the winning goal scored by Nayim which, to be fair, was a 45 yard lob over David Seaman.

His impressive turn at Zaragoza led to a transfer back to Real Madrid, but he left them a season later and promptly returned to goalscoring form in stints at Atletico and Espanyol. An ill-fated time at Juventus in Italy lead to a loan move back to Zaragoza before he ultimately wound down his career in his native Argentina.

As a coach, what can JEF expect? Judging by his managerial record so far, it would wise for JEF supporters not to expect too much – his spells in charge of Cordoba (two wins from nine) & Getafe in Spain (three wins from fourteen) would suggest that he has struggled to come to terms with the managerial side of things. At Getafe, he failed to prevent their relegation, and was sacked in September after winning just one of his first seven games in the Segunda Liga.

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* picture from laliga.es

If his coaching career hasn’t really taken off up to now, it isn’t because he hasn’t been able to learn from some of the best in the business. He has played for a number of blue-chip coaches including Marcelo Lippi, Leo Beenhaker, Marcelo Bielsa & Carlo Ancelotti and so one would think that you could only learn good things from that esteemed group of managers/coaches.

What can he expect from JEF? Well, that is a very difficult question because quite honestly, no-one is quite sure what to expect from them. They have the talent base to challenge for at least a play-off place, but successive managers have struggled to gel the side and, as of now, they are a middle of the road J2 side. Hopefully, for the Fukuda Denshi Arena faithful, Esnaider, rather like his playing career, finds a certain place to his to his liking and gets JEF upwardly mobile again.

 

In Tokyo, at the sparsely populated Ajinomoto Stadium, Miguel Ángel Lotina has taken charge of former Japanese giants Tokyo Verdy. Lotina is another manager whose record doesn’t inspire confidence. In his last two spells in Spain, both his clubs were relegated – Deportivo & Villareal. As far as I can work out, he has been involved in a relegated side on no less than six occassions in his managerial career to date. As a counter to that narrative, Lotina did guide Depor to three consecutive top ten La Liga finishes between 2007-2010 and was in charge as Espanyol won the Copa Del Rey in 2006.

Short spells in Cyprus & Qatar followed, but he didn’t last long in either incarnation. Verdy have, in the recent past, placed an emphasis on youth due to their financial circumstances. Verdy must have seen something that shows Lotina can work with the young players there – but there isn’t really a lot in his recent resume to make any exciting proclamations on him/his skills.

He has signed a two year contract (according to reports) so he may be given time to stamp his authority on the club – but as most managers know, managerial contracts rarely live up to the inked details on the contract.

 

Tokushima Vortis welcomed Ricardo Rodriguez as their manager in December. Coming off three years in the Thai Premier League, he was a left-field choice to manage a J.League team which, while in J1 not so long ago, is in what could be called one of the lesser known footballing areas of Japan (sorry Tokushima!!!). However, Rodriguez does come in with his eyes open (having suffered some unfortunate pitfalls while in Thailand), and has made an impressive start on the PR front. His blog/website includes his mission statement and his plan to take Vortis to J1, and he seems to be quite open & approachable.

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* photo from Ricardo Rodriguez’s Twitter account @Ricardo_Rodrigz

During his time in the Thai Premier League, he guided Ratchaburi to an impressive 4th place before leaving them to take charge of Bangkok Glass FC. He got off to a good start with them, but was fired with just four games remaining of the 2015 season. His good initial work with BGFC saw him hired by Suphanburi, although his time there ended abruptly – John Deurden’s excellent synopsis & interview is well worth a read for the exact details behind that particular turn of events, although suffice to say that he was/he felt he was being undermined by others on his staff.

One of his calling cards, is the philosophy of “Tactic specificity” in training. That means that he likes to focus on the specific jobs that the players will have to do in game situations. This system is, seemingly, very intense so the Vortis players will soon have to get used to lively sessions with Rodriguez at their helm.

In that previous interview with Duerden, one quote stood out to me:

“My intention is not just to take a salary at the end of the month, I want to work for the club and with its identity, and I want a team where I have time to work properly. I need one or two years.

“It is difficult to create something without time.”

That is point that very few people would disagree with, but one that might not be in his hands in Japan. One does hope that he gets the time he wants in order to establish his football philosophy next to the Naruto whirlpools.

A big “Hola!” to all three of our new, Spanish speaking managers.

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