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Zico’s farewell anything but a party

by Stephen Ellsesser

Zico wanted to say goodbye.

News photoJapan Coach Zico, accompanied by JFA President Saburo Kawabuchi, formally announces his resignation on Monday during a news conference at Tokyo’s JFA House.

Sometimes parting remarks are the hardest to make, and in such times, stating the blatantly obvious is a good rule of thumb for avoiding the awkwardness of closure.

“Our performance can only improve if we develop our physique,” Zico said, explaining why his players are back in Japan instead of getting ready for the knockout round. “We were inconsistent, and in order to change that, we must improve lower- and upper-body strength.”

By “we,” Zico must mean his successor, because the Greatest Player Never to Win a World Cup is off for greener pastures.

Japan’s need to get stronger was Zico’s refrain for his farewell press conference Monday at the JFA House.

Deftly avoiding anything really interesting, Zico managed to swerve the discussion back to Japan’s lacking physical prowess for the World Cup finals, lifting a page from the Donald Rumsfeld book of press conference management.

The Zico Era (is it really worth a capital “E”?) is over, for better or worse. Exhale.

An Asian Championship and victories in 11 of 12 qualifying matches show Zico’s tenure wasn’t all bad, and in all fairness, it wasn’t. But the sour taste in Samurai Blue fans’ mouths sure is. This time last World Cup, the Boys in Blue were rolling into the second round.

Now they are just rolling sushi.

“When we play in a serious game, we can’t stay strong against them,” Zico said later in the conference, referring to the meltdowns Japan experienced against Australia and Brazil in the World Cup, and their draw with Germany before the tournament. “When we play European teams, they kick longballs in the second half, and we have to jump too much. We must get better with sports training.”

Again with Japan’s apparent physical deficiencies. And also with the “we” business.

Zico said Japan needed to model African sides like Ghana this year and Senegal in 2002, which were able to turn heads by being in top physical condition.

Eventually all the blame being shouldered on Japan’s apparent ill-preparedness got to the room, stuffed to the gills with journalists recovering from jetlag sooner than they would have hoped.

“Didn’t you know this would be a problem?” asked one reporter, making a good point, after the third or fourth time Zico confessed his side was too physically weak to be consistent against good teams. Isn’t preparing a team physically part of the deal for a manager?

“If you have seen our practices and training the last four years, you would understand we knew about it,” Zico said. “On the national team, we have tried to improve physically, but it did not come along as fast as we wanted.”

Too bad.

Too bad Zico is leaving Japan after a 15-year relationship with Hinomaru soccer going back to the J. League’s early days. Too bad memories of his days as a big name lending credibility to a fledgling league have been replaced by those of disappointment on soccer’s grandest stage.

Obviously, Zico didn’t want to talk about that.

“I never think of could’ve and would’ve,” Zico said. “Football managers don’t think that way.”

So what if Zico doesn’t deal with ifs and buts? Apparently he’s fine flying back to Rio de Janeiro as Japan’s greatest national team coach never to win a match. Sort of a step down for the Brazilian.

Too bad.

Sayonara, Zico.

New Japan coach

The Japan Football Association, which is in talks with Ivica Osim for the Japan coach job, is set to offer a two-year deal with the JEF United Chiba and former Yugoslavia coach, JFA President Saburo Kawabuchi said Monday.

“We are certain Osim will accept our offer and we just need to work on the terms of the deal,” Kawabuchi said. “He has said he will not sign a four-year contract and it’ll be acceptable for us if we can keep him for at least two years.”

On Sunday, Kawabuchi revealed that the JFA is negotiating with Osim for the national team job to take over from outgoing Zico, who coached Japan at the World Cup in Germany, where his side was knocked out in the first round.

JFA technical director Kozo Tashima left Monday for Europe for the next round of talks with Osim. Kawabuchi has said the deadline for their negotiations to end comes shortly after the July 9 end of the World Cup.

JEF United Chiba said on its official Web site it was regrettable the JFA made the announcement about its talks with Osim without obtaining approval from the J. League first-division club.

But JEF president Takahiro Yodogawa has indicated the club will allow Osim to take charge of the national team.

“We want him to stay with our club until the expiration of his current contract. Hopefully we will have talks with him and know what’s on his mind after he returns to Japan,” Yodogawa said on the Web site.