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Thursday, July 14, 2005

J. WALKING

Ardiles grits his teeth on Verdy's J. League roller-coaster


Tokyo Verdy 1969 manager Ossie Ardiles could not have a more suitable setting for his daily coaching routine.

Jeremy Walker

It's at Yomiuri Land in Chofu, west Tokyo, with a backdrop of roller-coasters and other fairground attractions.

Like the managerial career of the man himself, it's a series of ups and downs.

At the moment, Verdy's tottering green carriage is crawling from the abyss after a spectacular plunge, and hoping to hit a more stable section of the course in the next few weeks.

The slow ascent began at a rain-lashed Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday night with a point from a 0-0 draw with FC Tokyo in the Tokyo derby.

It was a big point for Verdy, and an important one for Ardiles.

"Phew, I thought I might be on the plane to London tomorrow," said the former Tottenham star and manager, who has made London his home.

"I am very happy. It was a gutsy performance, and we needed that."

Indeed they did, after two humiliating defeats in the first two matches back after the seven-week break for national team commitments: 7-1 away to Gamba Osaka, and 7-0 at home to Urawa Reds.

"I felt terrible after the Gamba game. It was my worst result as a coach. Then it got even worse," said the Argentine, in the relative after-glow of the 0-0 draw.

Fourteen goals conceded in two games, at a rate of one every 13 minutes, led to intense speculation on the manager's future.

The club reacted quickly, saying his position would not be reviewed until the end of the month, on completion of the six-game slog between July 2-24.

So what went wrong after the seven-week break?

The most common school of thought is that Verdy suffered because the club did not organize an official training camp in the crucial few days leading up to the July 2 resumption.

This lack of fitness in the energy-sapping summer conditions, lack of teamwork and lack of motivation were all too clear, and Verdy will remedy that by holding a more rigorous camp during the next break.

In the meantime, Verdy, with pride and confidence substantially restored, must continue to climb the J1 roller-coaster.

Well, Emerson certainly went out in style, didn't he?

After spending five and a half seasons cheating opponents and conning referees, he did the same to the club and the fans that had supported him so loyally.

Two days ago (Monday), it was confirmed that Emerson had transferred to Al Sadd in Qatar, which has more money than it knows what to do with.

The striker was due to return from holiday in Brazil to Urawa Reds in time for the training camp on June 23, but just didn't show up.

His excuses, via his agent, proved to be a smokescreen, as he was preparing to head for Europe and complete negotiations with officials of Al Sadd.

"Think money," one member of the Reds coaching staff said Sunday in discussing Emerson's likely destination.

"Don't think football. It's where players are going for a big pay check these days before retiring."

Emerson, however, is still only 23 years old, and is capable of playing at a much higher level than Japan or Qatar.

Still, no one should be surprised by this lack of ambition and focus on cash.

After all, when he scored 31 goals in 34 games to help Consadole win the J2 title in 2000, he did not come up into J1 with the Sapporo team because his wage demands were excessive. Instead he stayed in J2 with Kawasaki Frontale, whose link with Fujitsu enabled the club to give Emerson what he wanted.

When the goals continued to flow for Frontale in 2001, Urawa stepped in and bought him for $3 million. His Reds record speaks for itself, with 71 goals in 100 league games and 23 in 27 Nabisco Cup appearances.

But with the goals have come yellow cards for diving, suspensions which ruled him out of crucial league games, and fines for being late for training.

He must also be responsible for a stream of yellow cards for opposing defenders, penalised for non-existent fouls on the striker and punished on the evidence of his theatrics, in which he would roll over 10 times and come back five, before getting up unscathed.

His final unsavory act was to walk out on the club and on the Reds fans who worshipped him.

Good player. Good riddance.

The local derby is a big part of the soccer scene around the world, as the results affect people's daily lives long after the final whistle has blown.

The J.League, now in its 13th season, is trying hard to build up the atmosphere of the derby match.

On Saturday there were two such occasions in J1: the Saitama derby between Urawa Reds and Omiya Ardija, and the Tokyo derby between FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy 1969.

One had a happy, derby-day story; the other had an incident which can so often happen when a fan of one team gets too excited and loses his mind.

First the good news, for Omiya fans that is.

Naoto Sakurai, a former student of Omiya Higashi High School, began his professional career with Urawa Reds before transferring to Verdy. Although Verdy wanted him to stay at the end of last season, the chance to help promoted Omiya in J1 was too tempting, and he made the move.

Playing for his hometown club against its more illustrious neighbor, Sakurai netted what proved to be the decisive goal in Omiya's 2-1 victory . . . and celebrated wildly in front of the pocket of proud orange fans.

Now the bad news.

Before the Tokyo-Verdy match, a Tokyo fan threw the metal lid of a cigarette bin at the Verdy followers, injuring three people, including a policeman.

The Tokyo fan was spotted and arrested, and can expect a lengthy ban.

FC Tokyo's managing director, Yutaka Murabayashi, was far from his cheerful self after the game . . . and it had nothing to do with the 0-0 result.

"It's very strange for an FC Tokyo fan to do something like this," he said.

"There were about 200 of them singing songs near the Verdy fans, but usually it means nothing because they go back to the main group of supporters behind the goal before kick-off."

While trying to promote the local derby, the J.League must move sharply to stamp out any acts of violence along the way.

In this case, denying the home fans the opportunity to taunt the away fans at close-quarters before the game, however harmless this may be most of the time, must be the way ahead.

Player of the Week: Jubilo Iwata striker Ryoichi Maeda. Replaced the ageing Masashi Nakayama at half-time against Cerezo Osaka and scored a stylish hat-trick in a 3-0 victory from only four shots at goal. His other attempt hit a post.

Quote of the Week: "Japanese children have everything they want and do not lack anything. They need more desire and ambition."

-- National coach Zico, talking on a local TV station back home in Brazil.



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