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Monday, Nov. 19, 2007

SOCCER SCENE

Recent run of success could prove costly for Reds


If Holger Osieck keeps on doing what he is doing, Urawa Reds might be on the lookout for a new coach at the end of the season.

James Mulligan

Now, losing one coach after a successful season is unfortunate, but two in a row would be downright careless.

But if Osieck adds another trophy to his AFC Champions League success, bigger clubs than the mighty Urawa may soon be sending come hither glances in the German's direction.

If that happens, there's a chance Osieck will follow predecessor Guido Buchwald out the door while the faint echos of his compatriot's "auf wiedersehens" still reverberate around Saitama Stadium.

Mitsunori Fujiguchi could hardly stand in Osieck's way. The German gave the Reds president the present he craved — the ACL title — in his first season back at the club.

Osieck also has guided the Reds to the brink of a second successive J.League title, although the busy side appears to be limping over the finishing line somewhat.

They are four points clear of Kashima Antlers with two games to go. They host the Antlers next weekend at Saitama Stadium, with a draw ensuring the title if Gamba Osaka don't win their match.

Meanwhile, the Club World Cup, entry secured with the ACL victory, is yet to be contested, while the defense of the Emperor's Cup is still to come.

Osieck would be ensured a hero's goodbye by the Urawa fans if he decided to leave. Surely, the Reds top brass wouldn't stand in his way, either.

Even if they did, the German is believed to be on a two-year deal, so it wouldn't be much of a stretch if a large English, German, Italian or Spanish club had to buy out his contract.

Some may scoff at the idea of Osieck being tracked by the big boys, but it won't be the first time a coach has been cherry picked by one of Europe's finest while working in Japan.

A few years ago, Arsenal was in the hunt for a new coach and decided on a Frenchman, largely unknown in England, working as coach of Nagoya Grampus Eight.

He's still at the Gunners — and the last I checked Arsene Wenger seemed to doing all right.

Some also may scoff at the parallels being drawn between Wenger and Osieck, but both are world-class technical coaches.

Osieck was head of FIFA's technical department before he took over at Urawa.

He was assistant to Franz Beckenbauer when Germany won the 1990 World Cup and turned down a similar role when Juergen Klinsmann became national team coach.

He also led Canada to a victory in the 2000 Gold Cup.

Osieck has proven he can win things, can handle egos (while the impression is he and Washington won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year the Brazilian still performs for him), believes in playing attacking football and can speak flawless English.

The Reds may yet pay a large price for the success has Osieck has brought to the club. Then again, Osieck may well not fancy leaving Japan.

It all depends on who comes calling.

* * * * *

It is sad fact to say that, with the awful turn of events on Friday concerning national team coach Ivica Osim, Osieck's name has already been tipped to succeed the stricken Bosnian.

Like many other journalists at the AFC Champions League final last Wednesday, I saw Osim and his son Amar Osim in the reporters' "mixed zone" after the match.

With a broad smile on his face and looking very relaxed, Osim Sr. was laughing and joking with his son and others and appeared to be in a great form.

Two days later, the 66-year-old Bosnian had suffered a serious stroke and was rushed to a hospital near his home in Chiba.

By all accounts, Osim is in a very serious condition and thoughts should be directed solely toward his recovery and the well-being of his wife Asima and son Amar.

There are no doubts this is exactly where the attention of the Japan Football Association is at the moment, and I find it in pretty poor taste for newspapers and wire services to be already touting replacements for Osim.

Soon the JFA will start to think about what to do for Japan's qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, which begins in February.

For now, though, let us all just hope Osim pulls through and leave worrying about replacements for another day. Gambatte kudasai, Osimu-kantoku.

Osim improves

Japan national soccer coach Ivica Osim is showing signs of improvement after suffering a serious stroke, Japan Football Association General Secretary Kozo Tashima said Sunday.

"It is still touch and go but there are signs that his condition is improving as a result of his strength and the treatment he has been receiving," Tashima told reporters.

The Bosnian coach, who took charge of the national team after the 2006 World Cup, collapsed in the early hours of Friday morning (on Nov. 16) at his house and was taken to a hospital in Urayasu, east of Tokyo, where he is in intensive care.

Osim is still unconscious but his condition has taken a turn for the better according to doctors' observations. Osim's eldest daughter arrived in Japan on Sunday and is by his side at the hospital with his wife.

Tashima said there has been a steady stream of get-well messages coming in for Osim from fellow coaches, players and leading figures in the soccer world.

He revealed Sepp Blatter, head of soccer's world governing body FIFA, expressed concern over Osim's condition in a phone call and said former Japan coach Zico had also sent a message expressing hope for his recovery.

Osim has suffered heart problems and high blood pressure in recent years.



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