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Saturday, March 5, 2005


Gamba coach Nishino demands more from hero Oguro

One eye-catching goal can change the profile of a young or previously unheralded player overnight in star-hungry Japan.

Jeremy Walker

The next thing you know they'll be sporting a J-Pop hairstyle, driving a gleaming new sports car and posing for a glossy center spread in a sports magazine.

But there's no danger of Gamba Osaka striker Masashi Oguro getting carried away by his dramatic match-winner against North Korea in the recent World Cup qualifier.

According to a Gamba source, Oguro has remained a modest, down-to-earth kind of guy -- and will continue to be so under conservative manager Akira Nishino.

"When Oguro came back to the club after the North Korea game, the media attention was crazy, but the coach told him he had only played 15 minutes, had one shot and scored one goal, so it wasn't enough," said the source.

"Oguro scored 20 goals last season but the coach never said 'well done' to him. He said most of his goals came when the match was already won, and he wants him to score more when it's a tight game so we can win 1-0.

"The coach is still not satisfied with him at the moment, but hopes to say 'well done' to him this year."

News photo
Masashi Oguro, hero of Japan's 2006 World Cup qualifying win over North Korea last month, won't be allowed to rest on his laurels with Gamba Osaka.

With a tough taskmaster like that behind him, there will be no pink Porsche or outrageous fashion statements from Oguro in the near future, despite his Saitama heroics.

On the same subject, Sanfrecce Hiroshima manager Takeshi Ono is trying to protect his Japan-born North Korean midfielder Ri Han Jae.

Ri and North Korean teammate An Yong Hak, another Japan-born J. Leaguer, were the focus of attention in the buildup to the World Cup qualifier, and this has continued into the season.

"On the one hand it's of benefit to the club and for his motivation, but on the other, too much interest in him is some kind of danger for the development of the player," said Ono.

"So I am anxious about that, and have to get rid of that kind of attention."

It's a tricky problem for Ono, whose unfashionable club needs publicity to increase attendance -- but not all for one player.

For Juventus, now read Roma down Kobe way.

Club president Hiroshi Mikitani has made his presence felt on the color front, by abandoning Vissel's Juve-like black and white stripes in favor of a Roma-style rich deep red, reflecting the name of the holding company, Crimson Football Club.

Crimson is also the color of Harvard University, where Mikitani attended business school before becoming the billionaire boss of the Rakuten Internet shopping mall.

So that's the color of money!

As Mikitani tries to make Vissel a force, he knows that Roma wasn't built in a day.

Or in a season for that matter.

Watch out this season for a talented left-back called Soma wearing the No. 7 shirt.

No, not Naoki Soma, who became synonymous with that number during his Kashima Antlers and national team days.

The Soma in question is Takahito, a 23-year-old left-sided wing-back who has played only 12 league games for Tokyo Verdy 1969.

Manager Ossie Ardiles insists Soma is the best left-back in the J. League and predicts he will join the national squad this season.

Ardiles should know, as he worked with Alex, Japan's first-choice left-back, at Shimizu S-Pulse and with Atsuhiro Miura, Alex's deputy in Zico's squad, at Verdy right up until last season.

"Soma is a wonderful player, but I am not comparing him with those two," insists Ardiles. "They are my friends also."

The other Soma, Naoki, is still with Kawasaki Frontale . . . age 33 and wearing No. 23.

If Albirex Niigata start winning matches 1-0 this season instead of losing them 4-3, fans can thank Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

Albirex boss Yasuharu Sorimachi spent 10 days with the English Premier League club in December, watching Mourinho at close quarters and communicating with the Portuguese coach in Spanish.

Both Sorimachi and Mourinho were at Barcelona in their formative coaching years, Sorimachi only to study, and a Japanese agent organized his winter break to London.

"I learned their method of training, very speedy, and the system and philosophy of Chelsea," said Sorimachi, a fluent speaker of English as well as Spanish.

"Mourinho is a strong character with a thirst and will to win, and he can communicate this to his players."

So did Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich pick up Sorimachi's bill?

"No, I stayed at the hotel in Chelsea Village. It was not expensive, very cheap in fact."

Must be the only thing that is around Stamford Bridge these days.

It's incredible some of the nicknames Brazilian players take.

Like "Hulk" for example.

That's right, Kawasaki Frontale's new midfield import is Givanildo Vieira de Souza, or just plain Hulk to his teammates.

It turns out that the "Incredible Hulk" was young Givanildo's hero, so his mother gave him the nickname and it stuck . . . all the way from Brazil to Kawasaki.

Although written "Fu-kee" in katakana, the "roo-kie" prefers Hulk . . . or else.

You won't like him when he's angry.

One person at FC Tokyo who has complete confidence in the ability of new signing Danilo is . . . well, Danilo himself.

The 23-year-old midfielder has joined the club from Brazil's Internacional as a replacement for Kelly, and Danilo has been quick to make an impact.

Not so much on the field but off it.

For a start, Danilo looks like he's spent most of his career on the beach, and it would not be a surprise to see a surfboard on top of his car.

A sparkling selection of earrings add to this image, but not as much as the extravagant tattoo on his right leg.

It's a picture of, yes, you've guessed it, Danilo, and just in case you have trouble identifying it, the letters D-A-N-I-L-O are tattooed on to his right calf. Now that's confidence!

When the action begins this weekend, Danilo will no doubt be trying to make a lasting impression on the pitch, too.

Jeremy Walker's column on soccer in Japan will appear in The Japan Times each Wednesday.

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