The J. League has seen its fair share of bold managerial dismissals over the years, but few can rival the firing of Omiya Ardija’s Zdenko Verdenik last weekend.
Verdenik paid the price for Omiya’s recent dismal run of form having overseen a fifth straight defeat in Saturday’s 3-0 home loss to Cerezo Osaka, with the Saitama side slipping to fourth place in the table, six points adrift of league leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Just one month earlier, however, Verdenik’s reputation was practically bulletproof. The Slovenian guided Ardija, who have never finished in the top half of the table, into first place heading into the May 29-July 6 break, with the extra distinction of securing a place in history for the club with a new J. League record of 21 consecutive unbeaten games earlier in the season.
Ardija’s fall since then has been swift and brutal, and Verdenik cut a despondent figure as he tried to explain what had gone wrong after Saturday’s defeat.
“Having lost five in a row, the players now have the impression they are going to lose, and that is a problem,” he said. “When you’re on a losing run, your confidence goes and it seems like you are making more mistakes.
“The players understand the tactics. It’s not the tactics, it’s the fact that the players have lost their confidence that is the bigger problem.”
Omiya’s hard-pressing style was never going to be easy to sustain over the energy-sapping summer months, but Verdenik believes the team’s issues run deeper than that.
“When it’s hot like this, it’s difficult to play without giving away fouls,” he said. “The players are lacking confidence and are too nervous to do the things they normally do well. When you add in the weather, you have to do something about it.”
Omiya president Shigeru Suzuki on Tuesday said that Verdenik had lost the trust of his players, and as a training-ground manager whose strengths lie in tactics and organization, perhaps the subtleties of nurturing the team’s self-belief back to health were beyond the Slovenian’s capabilities.
But it is worth remembering where the club found itself when he arrived last June. Verdenik has transformed a team of perennial relegation candidates into genuine title contenders in little over a year, only for the powers that be to pull the plug after just a month of bad results.
How Ardija fare under replacement Tsutomu Ogura — a former national team assistant taking charge of a team for the first time — remains very much in the balance.
The number of Japanese strikers currently dominating the scoring chart means Albirex Niigata marksman Kengo Kawamata’s exploits have slipped under the radar somewhat, but that will soon change if the 23-year-old keeps up his remarkable run of form.
Kawamata scored in Niigata’s 1-1 draw at Ventforet Kofu on Saturday to take his tally to 12 goals in 12 games, with a hat trick against Sagan Tosu and doubles against Shonan Bellmare and Shimizu S-Pulse making opposition defenses sit up and take notice.
“The best approach is to try and help the team win games and score goals,” said Kawamata, who scored 18 in 38 appearances on loan at second-division Fagiano Okayama last season. “You have to be aware that the team winning is the most important thing.
“We didn’t lose and I want the next game to come along as quickly as possible. Tonight I mis-controlled too many balls. I wasn’t able to put the ball where I wanted.”
Shimizu S-Pulse fans must have feared the worst when Brazilian striker Bare left the club to join China’s Tianjin Teda last month, but new signing Dzenan Radoncic is proving to be quite a replacement.
The Montenegrin, brought in on loan from South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings, marked his debut with a goal in a 3-1 defeat to Albirex Niigata on Aug. 3 before weighing in with a brace in last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Shonan Bellmare, claiming a 150 percent scoring ratio just two games into his S-Pulse career.
“First of all it was very hot and very difficult to play in,” said Radoncic after Saturday’s game. “But all week we have been preparing for this game and we knew that the opposing defenders are not very tall, so we put in a lot of crosses from the wings. Two fantastic crosses came my way, and all I had to do was finish them off.
“I’ve shown a lot tonight, so I’m a little nervous about disappointing the fans from now on. My style is to always work hard and score goals, and I want to continue in the same manner.”
Quotable: “I was actually trying to meet it with my chest.”
— Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura reflects on his first headed J. League goal in 12 years in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sagan Tosu.