Given the state JEF United Chiba finds itself in, the club has pulled off a real coup in snaring Alex Miller for its vacant manager’s job.
When JEF fired Josip Kuze on Wednesday, following a dreadful start to the season which yielded just two points from 11 games, the chances of finding an able replacement looked slim.
Kuze, appointed at the start of the year, had been recruited from the Rwandan national team.
Four months on, with the club firmly rooted to the bottom of the table and discontent in the dressing room, Kigali must have looked like an oasis of calm to prospective candidates compared to the chaos of Chiba.
So to successfully lure Miller, assistant to Rafael Benitez at Liverpool, is an impressive feat indeed. Miller comes to the club with vast experience of top-level soccer, having managed in Scotland for 15 years before joining Liverpool in 1999.
He was a member of the backroom staff during Liverpool’s 2001 UEFA Cup and 2005 Champions League triumphs, and is highly regarded on Merseyside.
So why on earth would a man with such impressive credentials want to come to Chiba?
It could be that after almost a decade spent working in the shadows, Miller yearns to be the main man again.
But with JEF reportedly offering him a salary of $1 million a year, the most obvious explanation is money.
Too many accusations are thrown at soccer players and managers that they are only in it for the money, and if a generous offer is made, it should cause no feelings of embarrassment or guilt to accept it.
But the fact that JEF is willing to pay so much for a manager, a man who will score no goals, make no tackles and save no penalties, is indicative of the way the J. League has evolved since its inception in 1993.
When the J. League began, clubs spent lavishly on some of the world’s most famous players and managers. The trend of buying star players continued until the initial bubble of popularity burst, and clubs realized that fading big names did not necessarily provide value for money.
The days of Zico playing for Kashima Antlers or Hristo Stoichkov playing for Kashiwa Reysol are long gone, but J. League clubs continue to indulge themselves by splurging on big-name managers.
Kashima Antlers’ last two appointments have both been Club World Cup-winning managers, but additions to the playing staff have been distinctly low-key.
Nagoya Grampus took on Dragan Stojkovic as manager at the start of the year, but signed only one player of any note, in Brazilian Magnum.
Stojkovic got off to an excellent start, galvanizing a disorganized Nagoya and leading it to the top of the table, but the team has faded in recent weeks. No manager, regardless of his ability, can turn water into wine.
Kuze’s biggest complaint was the lack of quality players at his disposal, and he has a point.
JEF sold five Japan internationals in January, to add to the departures of club stalwarts Yuki Abe and Ilian Stoyanov in recent years.
Kuze demanded that the club sign four new players during the summer break, but his sacking, and Miller’s subsequent arrival, could put a hefty dent in the transfer fund at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
The club will presumably have to pay compensation to Kuze after rescinding his contract, to add to the money spent on acquiring the Croatian from Rwanda just four months ago.
All this adds up to a sizable bill, none of which will be spent on new players.
Miller could hardly do a worse job than Kuze managed in his four months in charge.
JEF cannot sink any further than it has so far this year, and Miller’s tactical nous, hardworking attitude and no-nonsense style comes straight from the Alex Ferguson manual of coaching.
The players he now has at his disposal are not as bad as their current league position suggests, but they are hardly world-beaters either.
If JEF is to keep its place in the first division, it must show as much generosity in the transfer market as it has with its new manager.
After years of struggling with the Asian Champions League, Japanese clubs have finally cracked it.
Urawa Reds’ victory last year looks like it has opened the floodgates, and once Kashima Antlers complete the formality of qualification from the first round, three Japanese teams will compete in the quarterfinals.
And as the competition rules dictate that no two teams from the same country can square off in the last eight, three of the final four teams could well come from Japan.
Just as England is enjoying domination of Europe’s top continental club event, Japan looks set to put a stranglehold over the rest of Asia.