Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kazu Arrives Down Under

Not content with having former J-League player and coach Pierre Littbarski at the helm when they travel to the Club World Championships, the Oceania champions, Sydney FC, have added the respected figurehead of Kazuyoshi Miura to its squad ahead of December's showpiece event.

Kazu Arrives Down Under.

The temporary recruitment of 'Kazu' on-loan from Littbarski's former employers Yokohama is a masterstroke. As one of Japan's most endeared players, the appearance of the striker - a legend in his homeland after a distinguished 91-cap international career in which he scored 56 times - virtually guarantees local support for the Australians. It is believed that even though Miura has only signed an eight-game guest contract with Sydney, merchandising sales alone will recoup much of the club's outlay.

Kazu arrived down under on November 8 to the kind of fanfare Sydneysiders are getting used to seeing for mere 'soccer' players. Accompanied by a 40-strong Japanese media contingent assigned to track the star's every move during his two-month spell, he outlined his reasons for joining the A-League after initially knocking back the chance of a permanent contract earlier in the season.

“One of the reasons (I have come to Sydney) is my respect for Litty,” Kazu said through an interpreter after touching down in the harbour city. “I have great respect for him and it is also good when a coach likes you when you transfer somewhere.”

Litty is, of, course, Littbarski, the Japanese speaking German coach with whom Kazu locked horns numerous times in the J-League during the 1990s. Littbarski was pivotal in encouraging the 38-year-old to his 14th club after a long career spread across four different continents.

From his playing days in Brazil and Italy (when, on joining Genoa in 1994, he became the first Japanese export to ply his trade in Europe) Kazu speaks Portuguese and Italian but not English. In many senses, a short-term stint in Australia at this point in his career is a gamble but you suspect the draw of being coached by Littbarski plus the forthcoming Club World Championships games in his homeland was too great to reject.

For second-placed Sydney FC, in addition to signing one of Japan's greatest ever players, the acquisition carries obvious off-field rewards. Australia remains part of Oceania for just a month before it jumps ship to the AFC, the world's fastest growing football market. The marketing potential of clubs like Sydney is exponential. With the extension of the Asian Champions League in 2007, the A-League will be awarded a minimum of two qualifying berths guaranteeing continent-wide exposure.

“I can’t talk about on the field because that is Pierre’s domain but the advantages off field for Kazu are more long term,” Sydney FC CEO Tim Parker explained when Kazu arrived. “There are short term gains to be made over the next month and then at the Club World Championships but from a brand perspective this is important to our long term objectives.

“Asia is the future of Australian Football, in fact world football and you can tell by the significant interest this has made in Asia and Japan in particular that we (Australia) are now moving into a very exciting new period in the game.

“We also acknowledge that there is a significant Asian and Japanese community in Sydney and we feel we want to engage with them as well. What better way to do that than bring one of the most endeared Japanese players to Sydney to play football.”

After making a subdued debut as a second-half substitute against Queensland Roar, Miura completes his A-League stint this weekend against Melbourne Victory. Supporters will remember his spell for two well-taken goals against table-toppers Adelaide United as well as plenty of trademark stepovers.

If, on December 12, the little Japanese star can help his new club past CONCACAF champions Deportivo Saprissa from Costa Rica in the first stage of the CWC, they will face UEFA champs Liverpool in Yokohama three days later. Kazu might have only left Japan's second-largest city earlier this month but what a dream homecoming that would be.

Hyundai A-League Round 14 Summary

Adelaide United (29 points) have extended their lead at the top of the league thanks to Brazilian Fernando Rech's last gasp winner against Sydney FC (24 points). Newcastle Jets (24 points) are third on goal difference with Perth Glory (21 points) completing the top four. Melbourne Victory and the Central Coast Mariners hang in there in joint-fifth while Queensland are slipping behind and the New Zealand Knights are adrift at the bottom.

Hiddink & The Socceroos

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