Sunday, December 2, 2007

Reds manager Osieck magnanimous in defeat

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It’s been a rough week for the Urawa Reds to say the least.
Last Wednesday the two time defending Emperor’s Cup champions were sent packing from this year’s tournament by second-division club Ehime FC, an embarrassing 2-0 loss that was followed by an even greater disappointment on Saturday - failure to repeat as J-League champions.
The Reds crashed to defeat to last-place Yokohama FC on the final day of the season, allowing the Kashima Antlers to spirit the title away thanks to a 3-0 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse.
The Antlers finished the season with 72 points, two more than Urawa, who only five rounds earlier had led Kashima by 10 points and looked to be a shoo-in for their second major title of the year following victory in the Asian Champions League in November.
Having lost both trophies that predecessor Guido Buchwald had captured a year earlier, current Urawa manager Holger Osieck had every right to be in a glum mood afterward. But much to his credit, the 59-year-old German took the recent defeats in stride, exhibiting the kind of class and dignity you see all too infrequently in professional sports these days.
Following are excerpts from Osieck’s press conference and a chat after Urawa’s 1-0 loss to Yokohama at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium:


“We’ve experienced a huge disappointment today. We couldn't achieve this season's main goal but I've thanked the players, who I think have done wonderfully this season.
This past month they've been extremely tired both mentally and physically. I’ve been asked about this many times and said they weren’t bothered by all the matches but they were, they are tired. I think the victory in the ACL final made them lose the extremely high level of concentration they had all season. I think this is only human after a great achievement. But they have done really well, they have won one big title and this shows how hard it is to win two big titles in the same season.”

Q: It was a disappointing result today but how would you sum up the season to date?
“Despite the disappointment we feel today, overall it has been a very successful run with a lot of positives. Today of course it was not what we expected. We thought we could win the J-League too, but sometimes you’re lacking that final touch of concentration after winning a major title and you can observe this in many other areas. And to keep the focus up despite all our efforts it’s pretty difficult and I think subconsciously there may some kind of setback. Although the players really tried everything today, in particular the second half when we switched our system and focused more on attacking. I can’t blame anybody. They really tried hard. It wasn’t that they played arrogantly or whatever. Everybody could see they tried their utmost.”

Q: Do you think that by winning the J.League last season, the players maybe didn’t have the same fire to win it again this year?
“I don’t think so. If you want to be a successful team you’ve got to continually set new targets. And after the ACL I think it was our target and we were in the position where we could have achieved it.”

Q: Was this a tricky game for you to coach given that there was such a huge gap between the Reds and Yokohama FC?
“I didn’t see any gap today. If they had played the entire season like that they would be among the top six (instead of being relegated to J2). That’s for sure.”

Q: So were you surprised at how well they played?
“No. Because I followed their recent games on DVD and look at the scores—they hardly allowed any goals against. And they hardly scored but OK they did today but even if we had tied today it wouldn’t have been enough. We had to win.”

Q: And now you only have one week until the start of the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s relentless.
“Well it’s another big one and I hope I can get my players back in the real state of freshness, not only physically but mentally. Of course, we have to get over this disappointment today first.”

Q: The players will be down but the possibility of playing AC Milan in the semifinal should be a big motivating factor for them.
“I think the game in itself has enough motivation that it might accelerate the process of recuperation.”

Q: Will your players be physically ready for the Club World Cup?
“You may be ready, you may be in the mood, you may be willing but between what you want to do and what you can do actually because of various things is the flip side of the medal. I’m pretty sure every player will try his best and try to produce the best performance. I’m 100 percent sure, but it’s definitely a different situation when you have players in midseason playing against players at the end of a season. The other teams are all in midseason. Iran’s Sepahan started their season in August. In Europe they start their seasons at the end of July or start of August. The same with the other countries. It makes a slight difference. If we had 26 odd games less under belt our freshness would be at a different level. Those are all facts. That’s just information, nothing to do with excuses. But it must be considered.”

Q: Was there any sense of anxiety in the dressing room after losing to Ehime on Wednesday?
“No, no, no. I think we tried to keep our focus. The Ehime game was a different situation, with different players. Internally I have to deal with it. With different players on the pitch I expect them to perform. In particular when you haven’t played regularly.”

Q: Would you comment on the performance of goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki over the season. He’s been massive for you.
“Of course. He had a very good season. He conceded the smallest number of goals in the league. Of course the defense had a lot to do with that but there were a number of times when he was on his own and he did really well. I think he played outstandingly this season.”

Q: You seemed very friendly with Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira following the 1-0 loss to the Antlers in the penultimate round. Do you plan to call him tonight to congratulate him?
“From my perspective we are colleagues. OK, we are also competitors and we both want to win. But that doesn’t mean that I have to bitch at somebody or whatever. You have to admit that he is doing his job, he’s doing his best, I’m doing my job, I’m trying my best. Why not when getting together have a chat or whatnot? I think it sends a positive signal. In particular, in some countries in Europe there’s a kind of hostility that comes from within and that shouldn’t be the case. Of course I’m all for rivalry but why not shake hands? Like today, (Yokohama FC manager Julio Leal) did a great job, so should I get in his face over it? No, it’s OK, “Congratulations on a job well done.” You’ve got to have some standards otherwise you should stay home. If you cannot lose in dignity you don’t deserve to win. That’s for sure. That’s my credo and I’m living up to that.”

Q: A bit off topic, but could you comment on Takeshi Okada taking over as the new manager of the national team?
“Yeah, I read it today and I wish him the best of luck. I know him and he’s a very experienced coach and he’s very close to the top football minds in Japan, he used to be national team coach himself, and was a very successful club coach too. If it’s true, not just a media (fabrication) … I learned from my mother. She said, ‘Whatever you read in the papers is correct.’” (laughs)

Q: You had to deal with a lot of injuries this season. Do you feel a need to deepen the squad next year?
“I don’t want to touch on this today because it may sound like an excuse. I’m not the kind of guy to say, how do you say? To blame it on fatigue. It’s a fact. Everybody who’s involved in the game knows it. You have some injuries, the odd player isn’t available but OK, that is why you have a bigger squad. But a bigger squad doesn’t necessarily mean you have 18 or 19 players who play on the same level. And there must be a gap. Even the top teams have a gap. Some may have 18 players that you can use whenever they need but in every team there are key players who determine the structure of the team and you can never do without them. If those players are not playing then the entire structure is getting weaker. But no excuses. I mean we had it, we could have done it, but OK, it didn’t happen and so it wasn’t meant to be. You have to accept it. Should I now jump from here [pretending to throw himself over a railing] or shoot myself?” (laughs)

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