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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Halfhearted commitment leads to early managerial casualties
They say the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but with three J. League managers already fired after eight games of the season, surely a little foresight could have saved a lot of trouble.
Vissel Kobe's Masahiro Wada became the latest casualty of the new campaign on Monday, paying the price for a poor start that saw his side win its first two games before losing five of its next six. Wada can at least console himself with the distinction of lasting longer than Gamba Osaka's Jose Carlos Serrao, who was shown the door after three league games, and Naoki Soma, who was dumped by Kawasaki Frontale after five.
Wada's crime was to underachieve with a squad that was significantly strengthened from the one he led to a best-ever ninth-place finish last season, with Takuya Nozawa, Masahiko Inoha, Yuzo Tashiro and Hideo Hashimoto all bringing championship-winning experience to the club. Vissel's top brass are entitled to expect more for their investment than the current league position of 13th, but with only eight games of the season gone, there was still plenty of time to recover.
A clearer picture emerged with the news that Vissel have been in talks with former Gamba manager Akira Nishino — a free agent since leaving the Osaka club at the end of last season after a hugely successful decade in charge. Nishino would give Kobe a glamor name to preside over its newly assembled team of stars, and an aura that Wada, who was initially only given the job on a caretaker basis in 2010, could never match.
But Vissel's willingness to pull the plug on Wada's reign so early into the new campaign does suggest the club was less than fully supportive of him heading into the opening weekend. So however harsh that may be considering Wada's achievements, given that Nishino's availability was known even before last year's championship had ended, why wait until the season had started and vital points had been lost before making a change?
The same can be said of Frontale, who dismissed Soma in mid-April despite a reasonable record of seven points from the first five games of the season. Soma's debut at the helm last year included a run of eight straight defeats over a wretched summer, and in retrospect the former national team left back was a dead man walking from then on.
Why he was then kept on to lead the team into the new season, in that case, remains a mystery. Loyalty, fear, optimism and desperation are all possibilities, but when a manager begins a campaign without the 100-percent backing of his club, success seldom follows.
The current contrast at Kashima Antlers is a case in point. The seven-time champions appointed former player Jorginho as manager at the start of the season, but four defeats, one draw and only one goal from his opening five games was as inauspicious a beginning as anyone could have dared to imagine.
The Brazilian's status as a World Cup winner and club legend was always going to buy him extra time, but Antlers' patience and support have also been crucial in turning the situation around. Jorginho has now overseen three straight wins, and Antlers have climbed to 11th in the table.
Whether Jorginho will go on to enjoy years of sustained success in Kashima is not, of course, a prediction that anyone can make with any certainty.
But when a manager has the support of his club behind him, he has a better chance than most.