Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is Takeshi Okada the man for the job?

Is Takeshi Okada the man for the job?
Takeshi Okada is a man under pressure. A poor showing in a recent friendly defeat to Uruguay and some unconvincing performances in the first round of World Cup qualifying has left many wondering whether the former international is the right man to guide Japan to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Okada took over as Japan coach after Bosnian Ivica Osim suffered a tenure-ending stroke in November 2007. It's not the first time that the former Consadole Sapporo and Yokohama F. Marinos tactician has stepped in mid-campaign. With Japan in danger of missing out on qualification for the 1998 World Cup, Okada took over from the sacked Shu Kamo and guided the Blue Samurai to the finals in France. Three straight losses resulted in the sack, but a successful club career that saw him guide Marinos to back-to-back championships ultimately earned Okada a recall to the national team set-up.

His second spell in charge got off to an inauspicious start in a dreary 0-0 draw with Chile in a friendly in Tokyo, and things haven't improved much since then. A 1-0 loss to Bahrain in Manama in World Cup qualifying sparked alarm bells, and ironically it's in the heat and humidity of Manama that Japan kick off the second round of qualifying against an increasingly familiar opponent.

With Japan's form on the road decidedly shaky, player attitudes have come under scrutiny. Japan's Olympic campaign - where coach Yasuharu Sorimachi's team lost all three matches in the group stage - has led some to question whether Japanese players have the necessary hunger to compete on the world stage.

Speaking to The Daily Yomiuri about the desire of his players, Okada said: "You have to think of something if you're trying to maintain that edge in a society like this, especially when they could be pampered."

"It has to be primal, it has to come from within. You don't fight because you're being told to fight or because you think you have to. You have to want to beat your opponents, you have to want to win the ball back. You need that to win."

Okada's decision to stress the importance of individual desire begs the question of why Kashima Antlers star Mitsuo Ogasawara continues to be overlooked. The 29-year-old is one of the most gritty characters in Japanese football, yet despite being capped some 53 times by his country, he has seemingly been made a scapegoat for Japan's early exit at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Kashima team-mate Daiki Iwamasa is another who has struggled to capture Okada's attention, despite being at the heart of one of the best defences in the country. And while the Japan Football Association will point to the inclusion of Antlers youngster Atsuto Uchida as proof that Kashima players are not being deliberately overlooked, the feeling remains that Kashima are being punished for bestowing former star Zico on the national team as coach in 2006, with the Brazilian eventually hounded out of the job by a fiercely critical domestic press.

Should Okada have succumbed to the whims of the JFA, it would mark an uncharacteristic departure for a man who in the face of severe pressure left the wildly popular Kazu Miura out of his 1998 World Cup squad. Thus the quietly-spoken 52-year-old will live and die by his player selections, and he will hope that his squad can grind out a result in Manama.

Is Takeshi Okada the man for the job?


With tricky fixtures against Uzbekistan, Qatar and Australia still to come, Japan can ill-afford to get off to a poor start in the second round of World Cup qualifying when they take to the pitch at the Bahrain National Stadium on September 6.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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