One of the world’s most entertaining leagues kicks off tonight, but Australian fans will still react with astonishment whenever they see one of its teams in action.
The 27th season of the J. League gets under way this evening with a blockbuster Kansai showdown between Cerezo Osaka and Japan’s latest glamour club Vissel Kobe.
There’s also some Aussie interest, of course, as Ange Postecoglou gets set to kick off his second season in charge of Kanagawa heavyweights Yokohama F. Marinos.
Postecoglou seems to be very much part of the City Football Group’s plans going forward, so how ‘Angeball’ plays out in the port city this season will be fascinating to watch.
There are a few more Aussies going around – though not as many as there used to be – with Mitch Langerak, Andrew Nabbout and duel national Pierce Waring all calling the J. League home, although it remains to be seen how much longer former Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha lasts at Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
But what isn’t in doubt is that the next time a Japanese team thrashes an A-League side in the AFC Champions League, a sizeable section of the Australian football community will remain incredulous.
Why? Who knows? Probably because it’s not that easy to watch Japanese football in Australia and the vast majority of A-League fans are thus unfamiliar with it.
But there’s another more depressing reason we always seem surprised that Japanese football is light years ahead of the A-League, and it has to do with our tendency to bury our heads in the sand.
After Kashima Antlers dished out a predictable 4-1 thumping of the Newcastle Jets in the AFC Champions League playoff on Tuesday night, Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich offered some tips to Aussie coaches on how to improve young players’ techniques.
“The technique that they’ve got those Japanese players and the Brazilians obviously, in tight areas – their control, their ability to take on other players one on one – for me is as good (as) you’ll see.”
“You can do little games from any age, to let your young kids, whether they be boys or girls, become that proficient. It takes time – a long, long time,” he added.
Bozza’s right, of course, but there are a few reasons young Aussie kids are unlikely to ever train the same way Japanese youngsters do.
One is cultural.
Time and time again Australians seem bewildered by the technical ability of young Japanese players, yet there’s little desire to understand the role Japanese society plays in shaping such players.
In a group-based culture where hierarchies are rigidly enforced and actions are repeated ad nauseam, is it any wonder Japanese kids boast amazing techniques?
To put it another way: if a Japanese coach instructs a player to practice a hundred wall passes a day for six months, they’ll generally do it without question.
But would an Aussie?
Our unwillingness to value expertise – especially in fields that are unfamiliar to the majority of Australians – is similarly unhelpful.
When Bosnich asked Craig Moore on Twitter whether he’d been asked to “come down to national development set-ups to add your advice on game situations, training or anything else for that matter,” the answer was a resounding no.
Literally, one person in Australian football has ever asked me a question about how the Japanese approach the game, and he’s currently the coach of a J. League side.
So we laud the techniques of Asian players but import Dutch methodologies.
And the whole while Asian football continues to exist for us as this nebulous, unknowable ‘other’.
What’s the answer? No idea. But what I do know is that the horse bolted long ago.
It feels like the era of an Asian team winning the men’s World Cup is just around the corner. But it’s unlikely to be Australia.
While the Japanese are ploughing vast sums of time and money into youth football, we barely have enough spaces for our kids to even play on.