Kashiwa Reysol are still reeling from the shock resignation of manager Nelsinho last weekend, but with the club competing on four fronts heading into September, there is no time for an extended grieving period.
Nelsinho stunned officials, players and fans last Saturday by announcing his intention to quit in the aftermath of Reysol’s 3-1 defeat away to Kashima Antlers, bringing the curtain down on the most succesful period in the club’s history having won the J1 and J2 titles and the Emperor’s Cup during his four years in charge.
“This team should be challenging at the top of the table,” said the Brazilian, who has also managed Tokyo Verdy and Nagoya Grampus during his long J. League career. “It’s unacceptable to be in ninth or 10th place. Resigning is not something I have just decided today. I have thought it through in a calm manner.”
Saturday’s defeat leaves Kashiwa ninth in the table, but recent results have been nowhere near as bad as Nelsinho’s actions suggest. Reysol headed to Kashima Stadium unbeaten in nine J. League matches, with the second leg of an Asian Champions League quarterfinal against Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab and a Nabsico Cup semi against Yokohama F. Marinos still to play.
Perhaps the pressure of keeping what has historically been a middle-ranking club among the J. League’s upper echelons has taken its toll, and for a manager with a perfectionist streak like Nelsinho, mediocrity would be hard to accept.
For the players and staff he leaves behind, however, there is no time for reflection. Coach Masami Ihara was set to take temporary charge for Wednesday night’s Emperor’s Cup game against Tsukuba University, and the mood on the training ground has been anything but defeatist.
“It’s the players who go out onto the pitch,” said midfielder Ryoichi Kurisawa earlier this week. “If each one of us keeps his focus, we can get results. The team’s morale has not dropped.”
For a manager who brought as much success and happiness to Reysol as Nelsinho, slinking out the side door defeated and demoralized was hardly a fitting way to end his tenure.
In soccer, however, the only game that matters is the next one.
There may be only 10 games left to play, but the identity of this season’s J. League champion looks as difficult to predict as ever.
Yokohama F. Marinos lead the way on 47 points after last weekend’s games, with Urawa Reds in second on 46 and defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima two points further back in third.
Even Kashima Antlers, Cerezo Osaka and Omiya Ardija cannot be discounted as potential champions with all three within eight points of the top, and a lack of consistency among the front-runners means more twists and turns are guaranteed before the title is finally decided.
“The watchword for us today was consecutive wins,” Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi said after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Omiya Ardija. “The players went out onto the pitch with the importance of winning consecutive games firmly in their minds. Unfortunately we lost, and we have to accept that.
“There are now 10 games left to play, and we will have peaks and troughs, but we have to work on our weaknesses, put this behind us and move on.”
Wildly up-and-down form means Shimizu S-Pulse have been involved in neither the title race nor the battle for survival this season, but forward Toshiyuki Takagi has been doing his best to catch the eye in recent weeks.
Takagi followed up a hat trick in last Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Kashima Antlers with another goal in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Oita Trinita, and the 22-year-old is targeting more success when S-Pulse return to action against Nagoya Grampus on Sept. 14 after the international break.
“It was a great ball that came to me,” Takagi said of Saturday’s goal, his fifth of the season. “The defender in front of me was ball-watching, and I managed to get a clean strike on it just as I intended into the far side. I knew what I wanted to do before the ball arrived.
“But I had more chances to score, and I have to become the kind of player who can put them away. I want to keep aiming higher and higher.”
Quotable: “I was up against the player who wore the No. 10 shirt for Japan when I watched on TV as a kid.”
— Omiya Ardija’s Shohei Takahashi pinches himself after marking Shunsuke Nakamura in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Yokohama F. Marinos.