J. Legacy – Guido Buchwald

After a quarter of century, J. League has established itself as one of the most known leagues over the world, certainly the best in Asia, which might be capable to reach also audiences from all over the world in the future. This rise, though, happened thanks to a lot of factors and one of them has been the presence of foreign players. Many of them came, some of them left a solid mark, few of them opted to stay after their Japanese experience.

Their coming to Japan raises the same old question: marquee players or true icons? Just a way to pump attendances up or memories that stay with fans forever? This is why this column is here. We wanted to homage the footballing movements who shaped the history of Japanese football and the J. League.

We picked six nations and we’re featuring someone for every episode to help us understanding why that particular player represents so clearly the contribute that country gave to Japan. The second episode will touch a country that didn’t bring too many players in Japan, but their mentality resembles the Japanese one and their best representative has indeed left a big mark on J. League.

That nation is Germany. And that man is Guido Ulrich Buchwald.

In der Fußballsgeschichte

To talk about one of the best defender in German football, we needed a big help from Tobias Dreimann, a.k.a. @ConDrei, who’s a key-member of the int’l J. League-sphere. He’s taking care of the Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s English-speaking community, he’s affectionate to FC Ryukyu, he has done a terrific job both by managing @jleagueDE and helping Transfermarkt featuring a solid base of data about J. League.

Who better than him could have helped us in giving a broader perspective about the profile of Buchwald? Firstly, Tobias underlined the importance of the city of Stuttgart in his career, like some VfB fans reminded him:

“He played there from 1979 to 1994, featuring with both Stuttgart clubs, Stuttgarter Kickers and VfB Stuttgart. He has a special connection to VfB, where he played for a decade and wouldn’t miss in any historical Top XI of the club. He scored the header which was worth the 1991/92 Bundesliga title for VfB Stuttgart. He wanted to play for AC Parma, but the transfer was forbidden by the club and spoiled the relationship between Buchwald and Meyer-Vorfelder (chairman of the club for 25 years)”.

He not only scored that famous goal, but he was the captain of that team. Buchwald started from Stuttgartern Kickers in 1979, only to move to the other club of the city and win immediately the title in 1983/84. But that’s not all, since his contribution with the German national team is often mentioned while retelling Buchwald’s career. There’s one specific passage lauded by German fans:

“Because of his contribution to the World Cup win in 1990, Franz Beckenbauer stated he moved to the world class defensive player rank. He was named “Diego” Buchwald, either because he defended Diego Maradona so tremendously or because of his step-overs when dribbling the ball. His 76 caps and winning that World Cup with three assists makes Buchwald a legend of German football history, I assume”.

The highlight of Maradona that night might be this one.

And it was amazing indeed. If you think about it, Maradona played four World Cups: we know everything about his adventure both in 1986 and ’94, but we often forget how two men basically shadowed him in the remaining two editions. In 1982, it was Claudio Gentile in the match against Italy; in the 1990 FIFA World Cup final, Buchwald smothered Maradona and forced one of the ugliest performances ever from the Argentinian no. 10.

It was strange, because life can surprise you: four years prior, Buchwald was left out from the roster going to Mexico by head coach Franz Beckenbauer. These amazing performances even pushed Buchwald to look away from Stuttgart, because Parma weren’t the only team try to snatch a deal with the VfB Stuttgart captain. Again Tobias:

“In 1991 Bayern wanted to get him, so someone suggested Uli Hoeness to use an unconventional option, which was the non-national transfer clause. This would have basically happened: Buchwald would have signed for Internazionale, a Serie A giant, and they would have loaned him to Bayern Munich. He declined this option”.

Buchwald stayed in Stuttgart and indeed closed his career in Germany, playing for 18 months for Karlsruher SC. But the tale about his journey in football wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the most incredible arrivals in Japanese football. The 90s were full of extraordinary stars in J. League, but Buchwald and his period with Urawa Red Diamonds have been amazing beyond the pitch, occupying two different decades.

Even facing bananas, for the bewilderment of Marcos Tulio Tanaka.

Pillar of Saitama

In the 90s, Urawa Red Diamonds weren’t the superpower we got used to in the last 15 years. They came last in the table of 1993 season, Saitama was too close to Tokyo or Yokohama and Mitsubishi’s support wasn’t enough to draw the best stars to Urawa Komaba Stadium. Buchwald accepted the offer and joined Urawa after the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where Germany suffered a huge blow in the quarter-final against Bulgaria.

It seemed the end for many members of that generation, but the central defender found a new life in Japan. Reds had already some German player, like Uwe Rahn, Michael Rummenigge and Uwe Bein (the last joined alongside Buchwald). Defense definitely needed help, since Urawa conceded 78 goals in their first season and another 43 goals in the first stage of 1994. The arrival of Buchwald changed radically the situation from ’95.

Urawa Red Diamonds even hired a German manager – Holger Osieck, an assistant coach under Beckenbauer in Die Nationalmannschaft between 1987 and 1990 – to rise their profile. The plan worked indeed, since Reds came fourth in 1995 and sixth in 1996. The squad finally achieved a positive goal difference and Buchwald was selected for the Best XI twice (while Masahiro Fukuda and Masayuki Okano made it as well in ’95 and ’96).

The 1997 season wasn’t as good as the first two full ones, since Urawa also changed manager (another former West Germany assistant coach, Horst Köppel, took over), but Tobias has a clear picture in his mind of what “Bild” should represent the Japanese adventure of the former VfB Stuttgart captain, at least on the pitch:

“The photo from his departure with Urawa Red Diamonds on 15th October 1997 in Komaba Stadium. Reds were due to play the first leg of J. League Cup quarter-finals and he left on a white horse. This kinda shows the importance he had on the early development of the club. Buchwald was voted for the Best XI of J. League and this is something solid”.

Luckily for Urawa Red Diamonds, Buchwald’s contribution to the club wasn’t over. After ending his career on the pitch, the former defender came back to Stuttgarter Kickers, but Reds needed him. The club faced relegation in ’99 and came back to J1 after just one season, although making it by just one point after a long duel with Oita Trinita. It took several years to be relevant again, but the club needed another push.

That push didn’t come strongly enough under manager Hans Ooft, so Urawa opted to hire Buchwald as a head coach after the German had been first a technical advisor for the club. Reds were hoping that Buchwald would have refined the pool of youth and talent already present in the roster: players like Keisuke Tsuboi, Koji Yamase, Tatsuya Tanaka, Keita Suzuki, Tadaaki Hirakawa and mostly Makoto Hasebe needed a guide.

Results came immediately: Urawa Red Diamonds came second in the 2004 J1 League, scoring actually the highest amount of points (62) in the two stages and losing the title only after penalties. They also reached the final of J. League Cup, losing that as well after PKs to FC Tokyo, but a young Marcos Tulio Tanaka emerged in the Top XI, as well as the top-scorer of that season, Emerson Sheik.

2005 was another season of growth, with first satisfactions coming along: Reds came again second in the league, but they won the Emperor’s Cup against Shimizu S-Pulse. It was only the beginning, since the club signed many solid players in those years – Robson Ponte, Hajime Hosogai, Alex Santos, Washington and mostly Shinji Ono, coming back from Europe –, who then unlocked the full potential of the squad in the 2006 season.

Urawa Reds were unstoppable. They won the Japanese Super Cup against Gamba Osaka, they retained the champions-status in the Emperor’s Cup and they finally won the league while averaging an amazing attendance of 45,573 people. They were the club to beat in Japan and in Asia, living everything they wanted from the years before. And Buchwald was crucial to get this, winning as well the “Manager of the year” title in 2006.

Guido-san, though, felt three seasons in Japan were enough to come back to Germany. At the end of 2006, the Urawa head coach left the country and came back to his home country, where a job at Alemannia Aachen was waiting for him. Despite a two years-contract, he lasted only nine months before leaving the club where it was already, in the second division.

His coaching career never went on from there, but Tobias underlines how much Buchwald was important for German legacy in Japanese football (we have also to thank @akakichnoeleven and @ndlorenor2zorro for the help on this part):

“Because of his contribution as a player and manager to Urawa Red Diamonds and J. League history itself, he was named official international J. League ambassador, whatever this means in regards of actually doing stuff (A/N: we have our doubts as well, although the squad looked nice). At the Urawa Reds he was a leader, even though the tactical impact was mainly due to Gert Engels. He played a big part in Urawa’s story”.

Urawa stayed in contact with Buchwald, since the German manager came back to Japan sometimes, although some problems rose (due to the appointment of Volker Finke without consulting him). While Buchwald worked for Stuttgarter Kickers, he was an advisor for Japan women’s national team when the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup landed in Germany and came back to celebrate Nobuhisa Yamada’s retirement in 2014.

He had a nice experience in Japan, like he confirmed to Sky Sports Deutschland.

J. League owns him a lot

If you look at the history of non-Japanese nations who made it to the Best XI, Germany currently ranks fourth, tied with Australia. Only one player made it in that list, despite we’re talking of one of the best football movements in the world. This record stayed despite the huge wave of enthusiasm for the arrival of Lukas Podolski, who then didn’t confirm all the premises coming with his pedigree in Kobe (we’ve already talked about this).

Among the dozen players who came to play in J1, Pierre Littbarski is probably the other one comparable for the depth of the German football’s mark he left on Japanese football. The difference is that Buchwald’s history is still now way more intense than Littbarski’s, who stayed as well to coach in the 2000s (Yokohama FC and Avispa Fukuoka). Tobias underlines the importance of Buchwald’s move at the time:

“He moved as a title winning World Cup player to Japan and costed Urawa Red Diamonds around 900k €. I assume this was a high value at that time, shortly after the J. League started (and money drained out of the league quite early after the speculation bubble imploded). He had a good technique for a defender, which at that time I assume was probably rare (today it might be different)… so, you may say he brought a new perspective on how defensive work may be done in Japan”.

Indeed, he did that. If we shrink the research field to the non-Japanese defenders who made the Best XI, four Brazilians, one Bulgarian and Buchwald himself made it (we’re not including keepers). Japanese players had always had the upper hand in being picked for this role in the Best XI and it’s not a case if there are four defenders in the Top 10 of the ones chosen for this special line-up (Tulio featured nine times, Nakazawa six, Ihara and Morishige four).

Last but not least, Buchwald looked shiny and easy-going, matching this kind of personality to the strict teutonical professional attitude: he was kind of different for being a German. Tobias confirmed himself when he talked again of the former Urawa Reds head coach:

“He had a great personality and was a leader for the team, inspiring other players (something I assume Podolski never did). He enjoyed his time in Japan and you could see this by how much he was praised as a player and a coach. I don’t think his impact on Japanese football was as big as the one he had on Urawa Red Diamonds, but he was part of the second wave of stars moving to Japan, boosting the Japanese league image and forcing Japanese football players (especially defenders) in their improvement”.

“We are Reds together!”.

The love story between Buchwald and Stuttgart kinda lost traction in the last years: after working for Stuttgarter Kickers, he came back to VfB, where though the situation is dire to use an understatement. One of the biggest clubs in Germany got relegated twice in the last five years, while this season has been interrupted by the COVID-19, with VfB on the run to gain promotion.

In this mess, Buchwald left VfB last year, citing irreconcilable differences with the board. Will he be back soon? We don’t know, but his contribute to Japanese football has been undeniable. Vielen Dank, Guido.

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