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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005

J. WALKING

JEF United's Osim would be the perfect choice for Japan


The Japan Football Association should not have to look too far for a new national coach once Zico stands down after the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Jeremy Walker

Just in case anyone needed reminding of his coaching, management and motivational skills, the ideal candidate is back in the news for steering JEF United to the Nabisco Cup title on Saturday.

It is, of course, Ivica Osim, the 64-year-old former national coach of Yugoslavia.

Osim would be perfect for the job.

He has the experience, the knowledge and, above all, the respect of everyone within the game in Japan and within the FIFA coaching circles.

He knows the world game inside out, and the Japanese game, too, as he is in his third season with JEF.

He appreciates the strengths of the Japanese players -- speed, movement, organization -- and utilizes these to maximum effect.

In his training sessions, players run and run, and then run some more, as Osim watches over them like a grumpy grandfather. Sometimes angry, sometimes offering a nod of acknowledgment and a wry smile, he is a large and reassuring presence.

If he told his players they could beat Real Madrid by doing this and that, they'd believe him and would feel they had let him down if they didn't achieve it.

For motivation, strategy and mind games, Osim is second to none in Japan, and this is why the JFA should start making moves to secure him as the next national team coach.

One concern may be his age, and the fact that he says, toward the end of each season, that this will be his last year in Japan for health reasons. In fact it's worth noting that he couldn't watch the entire penalty shootout unfold against Gamba Osaka, and had to leave the dugout midway through.

But the age should not be a problem. Once, when asked if he'd be interested in coaching Japan, Arsene Wenger replied that the job of a national team coach should be reserved for semi-retirement. Wenger deemed it a part-time job, and pointed out that a youthful, vigorous national coach such as Philippe Troussier was the exception rather than the rule.

So, at 64, Osim still has a lot to offer. He knows the Japanese players, he knows the world game, and this calm, unruffled approach would filter through to the players, taking away the tension and replacing it with a touch of maturity and responsibility.

Like Troussier, Osim is full of amusing lines, but he delivers them as an aside, as if it's a secret, whereas Troussier would be more open and belligerent.

Osim's approach to the game could, perhaps, be best summed up by an answer he gave to a question about JEF's next match after a particularly painful defeat.

"The next match will be like all the others," he shrugged.

"There are three possibilities. We can win, we can draw or we can lose."

Saturday's win, on penalties, was the reward Osim deserved for his relative success in Japan with a small, well-managed club and smaller fan base.

If Osim ever were in charge of Japan, it's doubtful he'd bring back the players from Europe for a friendly with Angola in the middle of November.

No wonder some of the clubs are reluctant to release their players, notably Celtic with Shunsuke Nakamura.

Quite why Zico needs Nakamura against Angola is anyone's guess.

Doesn't he know everything there is to know about the Shun-meister?

His strengths, his weaknesses, his inevitable appearance on a Saturday night sports show as the little boy lost. Cue interview with a fawning TV station in his hotel room, accompanied by soft lights, floppy mop-top and weepy background music.

Once again, isn't this the perfect opportunity for Zico to have a look at some J. League talent, and leave the Europe-based players in peace and with some time to rest?

After all, it's the Old Firm derby at Parkhead -- Celtic against Rangers -- on Nov. 19, just three days after the Japan-Angola friendly at Tokyo's National Stadium.

Shunsuke is still adapting to life in Scotland and in the Scottish Premier League, and a Glasgow-Tokyo round trip is hardly the perfect preparation for the Old Firm derby. He could get injured playing for Japan, his stamina could drain even quicker than usual, and he may lose his place in Celtic's starting lineup and then face time on the bench.

Zico's reliance on his leading players, even for friendlies like this, may come back to haunt him next summer when injuries are certain to deprive him of at least one, possibly more, key players in Germany.

It's matches like this, against Angola, when the understudies can gain that valuable experience of international football or simply being part of the squad.

Zico -- give Shunsuke a rest, and then we won't have to sit through another melancholic interview on Saturday night TV.

* * *

What now for Gamba Osaka?

Three weeks ago, everything in the Gamba garden was rosy.

A 4-1 victory away to Vissel Kobe enabled the Suita City-based club to open up a five-point lead at the top of the table over second-place Kashima Antlers and an eight-point lead over Cerezo Osaka in third.

With a place in the Nabisco Cup final assured, a title treble of League Cup, league championship and Emperor's Cup was not beyond the realms of possibility for under-achieving Gamba.

But successive league defeats at home to Oita Trinita and away to FC Tokyo enabled Kashima to pull within one point, and now only five points separate the top five teams with five matches to go.

The treble is already gone, following defeat to JEF in the Nabisco Cup final, and there's no let-up in the league, as the next visitors to Banpaku is the third-place Urawa Reds on Saturday.

Reds are only four points behind Gamba, so a victory for Urawa would put Guido Buchwald's team right back in the thick of the title race.

Is anyone still missing the gimmicky two-stage season, followed by the two-leg playoff and the prospect of a penalty shootout to determine the whole season?

* * *

Player of the Week: JEF United goalkeeper Tomonori Tateishi, for his MVP performance in the Nabisco Cup final victory over Gamba Osaka.

Quote of the Week: "Our commitment and our passion was there for everyone to see. I think today was a vital part of our season."

-- Manchester United's man-of-the-match midfielder Alan Smith, who said his team responded to criticism from captain Roy Keane to beat Chelsea 1-0 in an Old Trafford thriller on Sunday.



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