1. I think that we need to understand where J.League clubs are in relation to other Asian teams in regard to the Asian Champions League and not overreact to every win & defeat.
After matchday 1, where Japanese teams teams won three and drew one of their four games, Japanese football supporters would have been wise to curtail their joy – after all it was just one small sample. After matchday 2, which included a defeat for Kashima in Thailand, a draw for Kawasaki in Hong Kong and an abject defeat for Gamba Osaka at home to Jeju United, we should have looked at things slightly more dispassionately. And with the conclusion of matchday 3, in which only one Japanese team won – Kashima’s 3-0 victory against Brisbane Roar being the only win on the slate – we have to be realistic about what is expected of J.League teams.
Yes, we want J.League teams to be competitive, but Chinese teams have far superior wealth to build their squads with (just look at Ramires’ winner for Jiangsu FC to see what that top dollar buys you), while Korean teams will always rise to the challenge of the ACL and the chance to test themselves continentally. Add to this the fact that teams from previously weaker parts of the confederation are improving, a completely natural phenomenon in which teams like Thailand’s Muang Thong United & Eastern FC from Hong Kong benefit from increased exposure and money flowing into their leagues, and you have a situation where it is getting unreasonable to “expect” J.League teams to turn up and go into games as favourites. The truth is, however uncomfortable it makes J.League watchers, is that it seems the level of the league hasn’t progressed as much as the CSL or the K-League, and the other leagues are progressing at a reasonable rate.
J.League teams have to want to win it and while none of the teams set out to lose, witness Gamba & Urawa’s frantic attempts at comebacks this week, I don’t think Japanese teams see it as a must win competition. It’s a shame because I don’t really like going back to what I believe are stereotypes about Japanese clubs in the ACL. I’ve mentioned before that I believe it is about time Japanese clubs took it upon themselves to go at it full throttle.
2. I think Omiya had better buck their ideas up. The only team without a point in J1? Not Sapporo, not Niigata, and not Kofu. It is the Squirrels of Omiya Ardija. Their 1-2 reverse at home to Jubilo Iwata last weekend was their third in a row – not a good way to start a season in which they were hoping to consolidate on their fine 2016 season. The selection of Nejc Pecnik up front would have raised some eyebrows as the Slovenian forward is still yet to show anything near the form which brought him 14 goals at JEF United in the 2015 season. Whether they are still suffering from hangover afflicted by the loss of Akihiro Ienaga to Kawasaki Frontale, or whether it is just a slow start generally remains to be seen. What isn’t really up for debate is that Genki Omae needs to get comfortable in that team as soon as possible, and they need more explosiveness from the likes of Ataru Esaka & Yusuke Segawa. They had an admittedly very difficult start with games against two teams fancied to be competing for honours in Kawasaki & FC Tokyo, but the Jubilo Iwata game was a letdown. They can start to repair some of the minor damage done by the Jubilo defeat when they travel to Ventforet Kofu next time out. But another defeat would start to sound some alarms at NACK5.
3. I think the league had better take a close look at what happened in the “kit fiasco” between FC Gifu and Matsumoto Yamaga last weekend. If you weren’t aware of what happened, Matsumoto Yamaga came to Gifu in their grey away kit, which clashed with Gifu’s home kit, which is dark green. Given that Matsumoto’s home kit is dark green itself, it left no choice but for Gifu, the home side, to switch to their white away kit.
It might seem a trivial point, but why:
- a) did Adidas design two kits that look incredibly similar?
- b) did no-one at the club flag this up?
- c) did no-one at the J.League think that this might have become an issue?
- d) did the match comissioner before the game realize what might happen?
A very pointed question would be “why have an away kit at all if it is not so different from the home kit?” – a question that Matsumoto should answer before they travel to face the similarly dark home kit of Avispa Fukuoka.
4. I think Giravanz Kitakyushu should put lots of effort into persuading the majority of the 14,000 spectators that turned up for their first home game at Mikuni World Stadium. It really was a sight to behold, a gleaming new, football specific stadium that backs on to a port. The attendance of 14,935 was a J3 record (surpassing Oita’s record from last year) and they saw Giravanz kick off their promotion push with a 1-1 draw against potential promotion rivals Blaublitz Akita.
The Kitakyushu club don’t play there again until March 26th, ample time for the PR machine to swing into action. The fact that their next game there is against Cerezo U23 could work either way; people might be sold on the name recognition of Cerezo, or they might be put off by the thought of paying to watch what is basically a reserve side. But the club have to put the hard yards in in order to get maximum exposure for the new stadium – and by association, the team. The stadium is a huge selling point, one that should be exploited fully and if they can team the new stadium with a winning team, they will reap the benefits. Do I think they’ll get 14,000 for every game? No. Do I think they should aim for 8,000-10,000 a game? Sure. Kitakyushu is a big place – and the closest station – Kokura, a stop on the Shinkansen bullet train line, is just a 10 minute walk from the stadium.
There is potential there to get big crowds, but work has to be done to achieve it.
5. I think JEF United Chiba should be very happy with their start to the season, and they should recognize that the next three weeks will give an indication as to the direction they are traveling in. Last weekend, Juan Esnaider’s team inflicted the first defeat upon Yahiro Kazama’s Nagoya Grampus with a performance full of vigour & verve – two adjectives that aren’t usually associated with the team from the Fukuda Denshi Arena.
The win against Nagoya leaves them at the top of the embryonic J2 table, with seven points from nine – level with Shonan Bellmare & Yokohama FC. The next three games for JEF are:
- Matsumoto (A)
- Shonan (A)
- Kyoto Sanga (H)
These three games against teams that were/have been predicted to up and around the business end of the league table should give us a clearer indication of the potential for JEF United in 2017. Who knows, this might be the year. Might be……