HIRATSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — A year has passed since Japan’s Beijing Olympic soccer debacle, but for manager Yasuharu Sorimachi, the wounds healed a long time ago.
The smoke from the Opening Ceremony fireworks had barely cleared before Sorimachi’s team was sent packing from China after defeat in all three group games, and the disappointment was palpable in a country that had reasonable expectations of reaching the knockout stage.
But Sorimachi has not allowed the setback to stop him from moving on. Appointed manager of second-division Shonan Bellmare at the start of the season, the 45-year-old has enough on his mind as he attempts to keep his club among the promotion contenders.
“This week has been very tough because we have two games in a week, so I have to prepare according to the condition of the players,” he said at the club’s training ground on Tuesday. “I have to consider many things for the next few games.
“I’m not so happy. We have too many problems and I had to change the concept of this team, but I have done the best I can. The results have not been so bad, but the most important thing is the last 20 games.”
The constant strain of competing for a place in the first division means Sorimachi does not have much time to dwell on the past. But the former Albirex Niigata manager admits that a return to the day-to-day involvement of the club game is welcome after the interruptions that come with life as an international coach.
“I think it’s easier to work at a club because with the Olympic team we didn’t have much time to prepare and talk about what we were going to do tactically and physically,” he said.
“I wasn’t satisfied with things. But with a club team, every day we can have conversations with the staff and the players. So I have enjoyed myself here.”
Returning to a club where he spent four years as a player in the mid-90s has also helped ease the transition, but Sorimachi insists the stakes in the second division are just as high as they are in the international spotlight.
“It is comfortable, but I have to do many more things to bring the level up, for the players individually and for the team as a whole,” he said. “I have the same pressure. I’m not satisfied because it is only after the season has finished that I can be satisfied or not satisfied with my job.”
After preparing for the Olympics for so long, Sorimachi was understandably disappointed with how things turned out in China. But he believes the experience was not entirely in vain.
“The results were not so good, and for football fans in Japan it was very sad,” he said. “It was a pity, but I did my best over the three games. The opponents were so strong — too much for our team. With Nigeria, the Netherlands and the U.S., it was very difficult to score goals and win those games.
“After that I realized some things about football. Everybody has a character, so I have to utilize that character for the good of the team I have now — tactically, physically and psychologically.
“My players are enjoying the games — they are not under pressure. With the Olympic team we had some pressure to win the games. The young players couldn’t give their best performances because of the pressure.”
Criticism of Japan’s displays was fierce with the team’s elimination confirmed after only two games, but Sorimachi prefers to focus on the positive legacy defeat can leave.
“I didn’t know too much about what was being said because I didn’t read the newspapers or watch the TV,” he said. “Many people criticized, but playing football brings progress and people forget that. So it was no problem for me.”
Sorimachi’s thick skin and willingness to learn are attributes that would go down well in Europe. His proficiency in Spanish and English also suggest he has what it takes to blaze a trail for Japanese managers abroad, but for the time being he prefers to concentrate on matters closer to home.
“Japanese managers are too shy to manage overseas clubs, I think,” he said. “Some people said to me, ‘Sorimachi, you could go overseas and manage a foreign club,’ but right now I don’t have any interest.
“After 10 years maybe some manager can get a job overseas, maybe me. But I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. The most important thing is now, because when a manager loses his job, it is always because of results.”