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Kagawa hits headlines as Jofuku becomes yesterday’s news

by Andrew Mckirdy

In the ever-changing, always-moving world of soccer, reputations do not stand still for long. After a weekend of contrasting fortunes at home and abroad, Hiroshi Jofuku and Shinji Kagawa can attest to that.

Kagawa moved to Borussia Dortmund from Cerezo Osaka this summer after missing out on a place in Japan’s World Cup squad, and the 21-year-old made a promising start to his career in Germany by forcing his way into the lineup for the opening game of the season.

A first Bundesliga goal against Wolfsburg brought further murmurs of approval, but nothing could prepare the midfielder for what came next. Two goals and a dazzling man-of-the-match performance in Sunday’s 3-1 win over local rival Schalke turned Kagawa into an overnight sensation, and suddenly the whole of Europe is sitting up to take notice.

“Kagawa is already immortal” screamed Germany’s Bild tabloid, while Britain’s The Guardian paid tribute to “the jewel in Borussia Dortmund’s crown.” Praise was universal for a player whose World Cup absence allowed him to sneak into Europe under the media radar, and much will now be expected of him with Dortmund looking to emulate the glory days of the late ’90s.

How different the mood is at FC Tokyo. Last season’s Nabisco Cup winners dropped into the J. League relegation places over the weekend with a 2-1 loss to Jubilo Iwata, and responded by firing Jofuku, the manager who won the club its first trophy in five years and secured sixth- and fifth-place finishes in his two league seasons at the helm.

No matter that Jofuku’s name was mentioned as a potential successor to Takeshi Okada in charge of the national team earlier this year. No matter that players such as Sota Hirayama and Naohiro Ishikawa have blossomed under his tutelage. With the prospect of relegation growing ever larger, Tokyo took action.

In truth, Jofuku did not help his own cause. The 49-year-old reacted to his team’s slump with a series of bizarre tactical and personnel choices, and looked powerless to reverse a talented squad’s slide down the table. Managing a team on the rise is one thing, but true ability adapts to any situation.

That is not to say Jofuku has become a bad manager overnight, however. His stock may be low for the time being, but his achievements deserve recognition and his chance will come again.

By the same token, Kagawa has not simply appeared out of thin air. The midfielder has been part of the national team for more than two years now, and three long seasons in J2 have helped shape the work ethic and determination that are serving him so well in Germany.

Soccer, however, is not a patient game. Kagawa will discover that the moment his performances take an inevitable dip, but his humble reaction to the hype that followed Sunday’s game suggests he is level-headed enough to deal with it.

Hopefully Jofuku’s future potential employers can share the same sense of perspective.