It’s a wonder former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou doesn’t have Mitch Langerak’s number on speed dial because he could sure use a decent goalkeeper.
That’s right folks, this one’s going to be about Japanese football.
So if you don’t like the J League or you firmly believe that Postecoglou is the devil incarnate, look away now.
But if you’re interested in what Australia’s most intriguing coach is up to at Japanese powerhouse Yokohama F. Marinos, then go ahead and read on.
Because Postecoglou is in with a genuine chance of winning Asia’s most prestigious competition – but only if he can coax some better performances out of goalkeeper Park Il-gyu.
I don’t pretend that football fans in Australia should understand the intricacies of Japanese football but there’s long been a tendency – particularly among foreign fans – to blame defensive lapses in the J League solely on Japanese goalkeepers.
Park presents an interesting case then, because he’s actually a Zainichi Korean.
For the uninitiated, Zainichi Koreans are the descendants of Korean migrants to Japan whose forbearers moved to the country before 1945.
Park was born in Saitama and educated at the North Korean state-run Korea University in Western Tokyo. He even turned out for FC Korea – a Zainichi Korean club playing in the Kanto regional league – before making the step up to professional football.
Unfortunately for Postecoglou, his frequent lapses in judgement and tendency to get caught off his line are becoming a major problem.
In a top-of-the-table clash with FC Tokyo just over a month ago, Park let a tame Na Sang-ho drive slip straight through his hands to concede an equaliser, before charging off his line and being chipped by the speedy Kensuke Nagai soon after.
FC Tokyo went on to win that game 4-2 and it proved an important victory, with the Gasmen currently six points clear of Kanagawa duo Kawasaki Frontale and Postecoglou’s third-placed F. Marinos.
But it was Saturday night’s 1-0 defeat to lowly Shimizu S-Pulse that could seriously dent Yokohama’s title hopes, after the Tricolore dominated possession but failed to find a way through against the club from Shizuoka.
Once again it was that man Park at the centre of things, as for the umpteenth time this season he was caught off his line, allowing Kenta Nishizawa to run onto a Yosuke Kawai pass before drilling home a low drive that bounced in off the back-tracking F. Marinos goalkeeper.
Not that the defending was anything to write home about, but a better goalkeeper would arguably have kept out Nishizawa’s strike.
It’s surprising, then, that Postecoglou has never made a move to sign Langerak.
The Australian international has made a few high-profile errors of his own for Nagoya Grampus, but on the whole the former Melbourne Victory shot-stopper has enjoyed an impressive stint in the J League.
And Yokohama could come to rue their habit of conceding sloppy goals.
Last year F. Marinos scored 56 goals in what was an exhilarating campaign in the attacking third, but conceded the same number of goals down the other end.
They ended up closer to the bottom of the league than the top, but critics who assumed the club would therefore part ways with Postecoglou don’t quite understand why he moved there in the first place.
Postecoglou didn’t end up in Yokohama because he’s partial to Ferris wheels – he’s there as a representative of the City Football Group and their worldwide network of clubs.
And in his second season in charge in a high-quality foreign league, his relentless attacking football has well and truly clicked.
Yokohama’s high-tempo, possession-based game has taken the division by storm and made the Kanagawa giants the entertainers of the competition.
With 12 games still to play, the title race is far from over.
Ange Postecoglou could become the first Aussie tactician to win the J League.
But even if he doesn’t, he’s still the most interesting coach we’ve got.