Wednesday, 24 July 2024

Zico's Golden Age


Japan's National Team: 2002-06

When Phillipe Troussier departed as Japan's head coach following the 2002 World Cup, the JFA was very specific about its priorities in choosing the next coach; to wit, he must be (1) familiar with Japanese players, (2) be well-known worldwide, and most importantly (3) popular with the Japanese fans.

These stipulations seem to have been driven by the desire to wash away the bad taste of the Troussier era. The prickly and arrogant attitude of Mad Phillippe left fans dissatisfied, and the JFA relieved, following the World Cup. Although everyone was pleased that their team had made it to the round of 16, many felt that Troussier had ridden to success on the back of what most people would agree was a marvelous pool of talent, and then squandered the chance for further glory with a self-serving lineup change in the match against Turkey. Given the long-running war between Troussier and the media, one of the key qualities in a new coach will be a less abrasive attitude towards fans and the media, and a certain amount of telegenic charm.

Thus, the response from the press was extremely enthusiastic when the league selected Zico to be the next head coach of team Japan. An extremely charismatic and world-famous player, Zico is soft-spoken, yet determined, well-liked by his players at Kashima, and wildly popular with fans. Indeed, Antlers fans have long referred to Zico as Kashima no kami-sama ("the god-king of Kashima").

Zico enjoyed a wealth of good will as he took over the job of head coach. In addition to his godlike status among Antlers fans, he was well regarded throughout the country, both for his playing abilities, his knowledge of the game, and his easygoing yet proud demeanour. Unfortunately, in its efforts to choose someone as "unTrousserian" as possible, the JFA may have neglected to consider Zico's actual coaching talents. Despite his vast knowledge of the game, he had never held the position of head coach himself, apart from breif stints as the caretaker, when the Antlers were in the process of hiring a new coach.


In the end, Zico turned out to be very similar to Troussier in many ways, despite the vast disparity in temperament, coaching style and approach to the game. He started out well, and for two years was able to make useful contributions to the national team's progress especially in terms of teaching players to think for themselves, take responsibility, and handle adversity without falling apart. At the end of his second year at the helm, Zico led Japan to an Asian Cup title in China, where the team was subjected to some of the most brutal adversity imaginable and still managed to claim victory (after which, they had to hide in the locker room for three hours as an angry mob tried to "get even" for China's loss in the final match).


Unfortunately, though, that proved to be the pinnacle of the Zico era, and everything thereafter was anticlimax. While he may have taught his players alot about overcoming to adversity, he eventually allowed it to destroy his own legacy. In the final two years of his reign, he responded to even justified criticisms by becoming even more inflexible and unwilling to consider any players other than the small group he had nurtured from the start of his tenure. 


Perhaps it is understandable that he stuck with the players who had come through for him in the cauldron of pressure they faced in 2004. The China experience left every player of that era changed, and the ties between members of that squad are still unshakable today. 

But four years is a long time in the sport of football, and by the start of 2006, many of the players he had committed himself to, with unflinching loyalty, were no longer good enough to justify such treatment. While nobody would question the quality of players like Makoto Tanaka, Takashi Fukunishi or Atsushi Yanagisawa when they were at the peak of their careers, by 2006 that peak had passed. Despite the signs of looming disaster, Zico steadfastly refused to even LOOK at players like Daiki Iwamasa or Tulio Tanaka, Hisato Sato or Takayuki Morimoto, and even those who did force their way into the roster once or twice were unable to displace Zico's favourites.

By the time that Japan actually arrived in Germany, in 2006, it was already apparent to many people -- and certainly to the Rising Sun News -- that the team was too old, too complacent, and too lacking in commitment to progress from the pool round. Sure enough, a late collapse in their first match against Australia doomed them to drop out after just three matches.

Even so, it would be a mistake to claim that the Zico Era was a complete waste. Oddly enough, those who have been harshest in their comments on Zico after his era ended were the same ones who remained resolutely optimistic in early 2006, despite the obvious signs of an impentind collapse. Perhaps the fact that we never had any illusions about any success in Germany 2006 is one reason why we do not see any need to trample Zico's legacy now that he is gone. In truth, he was always a bit shortsighted in his player selection, and lacked the tactical skill to make good use of substitutions. But he did understand the game very well, and he knew that Japan will only advance to the next level if its players can learn to think for themselves, and make their own adjustments to an opposing team's play. There are signs that he did manage to instil this ability into at least some of the players who will continue to play a part in the Japan national team in the Osim Era.

At the end of the day, it is hard to describe the Zico Era as a "success", but it certainly was not the utter failure that some have tried to make it out to be, in retrospect. It may seem that Japan failed to advance much, over the four years from 2002 to 2006. But we think history will show that football in Japan reached maturity during the Zico era. Sometimes transitions can be difficult and painful. But they are still essential, and they lay the groundwork on which the next phase of development can begin. Zico established this sort of a "solid base", and though the final results at the 2006 World Cup failed to match the promise that the team displayed earlier in Zico's reign, that base has remained an abiding legacy of the contributions of "football no Kami-sama".

Japan Nat'l Team 2002-06

Date Venue Score Opponent Goals by . . .
October 16, 2002 Nagai Stadium 1-1 Jamaica Ono
November 20, 2002 Saitama Stadium 0-2 Argentina  
March 29, 2003 National Stadium 2-2 Uruguay Nakamura, Inamoto
April 16, 2003 Seoul Stadium 1-0 Korea Nagai
May 31, 2003 National Stadium, Tokyo 0-1 Korea  
June 8, 2003 Nagai Stadium, Osaka 1-4 Argentina Akita
June 11, 2003 Saitama Stadium 0-0 Paraguay  
June 18, 2003 St Denis, France 3-0 New Zealand Nakamura (2) Nakata
June 20, 2003 St Denis, France 1-2 France Nakamura
June 22, 2003 St Etienne, France 0-1 Colombia  
August 20, 2003 National Stadium, Tokyo 3-0 Nigeria Takahara (2), Endo
September 10, 2003 Niigata "Big Swan" 0-1 Senegal  
October 8, 2003 Tunis, Tunisia 1-0 Tunisia Yanagisawa
October 12, 2003 Bucharest, Romania 1-1 Romania Yanagisawa
November 19, 2003 Oita, Japan 0-0 Cameroon  
December 3, 2003 National Stadium, Tokyo 2-0 China Kubo (2)
December 7, 2003 Saitama Stadium 1-0 Hong Kong Santos
December 10, 2003 Yokohama Int'l Stadium 0-0 Korea  
February 8, 2004 Saitama Stadium 4-0 Malaysia Ogasawara, Miyamoto, Yamada, Endo
February 12, 2004 National Stadium, Tokyo 2-0 Iraq Yanagisawa, Santos
February 18, 2004 Saitama Stadium 1-0 Oman Kubo
February 18, 2004 Jalan Besar Stadium 2-1 Singapore Takahara, Fujita
April 25, 2004 Hungary 2-3 Hungary Tamada, Kubo
April 28, 2004 Prague (Czech) 1-0 Czech Rep. Kubo
May 30, 2004 Manchester, England 3-2 Iceland Kubo (2), Santos
June 1, 2004 Manchester, England 1-1 England Ono
June 9, 2004 Saitama, Japan 7-0 India Fukunishi, Nakamura, Suzuki,
Nakazawa (2), Ogasawara
July 10, 2004 Oita, Japan 3-1 Slovakia Fukunishi, Suzuki, Yanagisawa
July 13, 2004 Yokohama, Japan 1-0 Serbia Endo
July 20, 2004 Chongqing, China 1-0 Oman Nakamura
July 25, 2004 Chongqing, China 4-1 Thailand Nakamura, Nakazawa(2), Fukunishi
July 28, 2004 Chongqing, China 0-0 Iran  
July 31, 2004 Chongqing, China 1-1(PK4-3) Jordan Suzuki
August 4, 2004 Chengdu, China 4-3(OT) Bahrain Nakata K, Tamada (2), Nakazawa
August 7, 2004 Beijing, China 3-1 China Fukunishi, Nakata K., Tamada
August 18, 2004 Shizuoka, Japan 1-2 Argentina Suzuki
September 8, 2004 Calcutta, India 4-0 India Suzuki, Ono, Fukunishi, Miyamoto
October 13, 2004 Oman 1-0 Oman Suzuki
November 17, 2004 Saitama Stadium 1-0 Singapore Tamada
December 16, 2004 National Stadium 0-3 Germany  
January 29, 2005 Yokohama Intl Stadium 4-0 Kazakhstan Tamada (2), Matsuda, Santos
February 2, 2005 Saitama Stadium 3-0 Syria Suzuki, Miyamoto, Ogasawara
February 9, 2005 Saitama Stadium 2-1 North Korea Ogasawara, Oguro
March 25, 2005 Azadi Stadium, Teheran 1-2 Iran Fukunishi
March 30, 2005 Saitama Stadium 1-0 Bahrain Own Goal
May 22, 2005 Niigata Stadium 0-1 Peru  
May 27, 2005 National Stadium 0-1 UAE  
June 4, 2005 Manama, Bahrain 1-0 Bahrain Ogasawara
June 8, 2005 Bangkok, Thailand 2-0 North Korea Yanagisawa, Oguro
June 15, 2005 Hamburg, Germany 1-2 Mexico Yanagisawa
June 19, 2005 Frankfurt, Germany 1-0 Greece Oguro
June 22, 2005 Koln, Germany 2-2 Brazil Nakamura, Oguro
July 31, 2005 Daejon, Korea 0-1 North Korea  
August 3, 2005 Daejon, Korea 2-2 China Moniwa, Tanaka T.
August 7, 2005 Daejon, Korea 1-0 Korea Nakazawa
August 17, 2005 Yokohama Stadium 2-1 Iran Kaji, Oguro
September 7, 2005 Miyagi Stadium 5-4 Honduras Takahara, Yanagisawa(2),
Nakamura, Ogasawara
October 8, 2005 Riga, Latvia 2-2 Latvia Takahara, Nakamura
October 12, 2005 Ukraine 0-1 Ukraine  
November 16, 2005 Tokyo Nat'l Std. 1-0 Angola Matsui
February 10, 2006 San Francisco 2-3 USA Maki, Nakazawa
February 18, 2006 Shizuoka Stadium 2-0 Finland Kubo Ogasawara
February 22, 2006 Yokohama Stadium 6-0 India Ono, Maki, Fukunishi, Kubo(2) Sato
February 28, 2006 Westfahren Std. 2-2 Bosnia Takahara, Nakata H.
March 30, 2006 Oita "Big Eye" Std. 1-0 Ecuador Sato
May 9, 2006 Nagai Std., Osaka 1-2 Bulgaria Maki
May 13, 2006 Saitama Stadium 0-0 Scotland  
June 3, 2006 Kaiserslautern 2-2 Germany Takahara (2)
June 6, 2006 Germany 1-0 Malta Tamada
June 11, 2006 Kaiserslautern 1-3 Australia Nakamura
June 18, 2006 Frankfurt 0-0 Croatia  
June 22, 2006 Dortmund 1-4 Brazil Tamada