Soccer | THE BALD TRUTH

Nakata not doing the business for Parma

by Alastair Himmer

Hidetoshi Nakata is in serious danger of turning into the “Plonker of Parma.” Or worse still, the Japanese Nigel Clough.

One Italian television analyst called Japan’s $26 million dollar man hopeless after Parma went down 1-0 to this season’s surprise package Chievo (an Italian version of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang) on Oct. 21. After yet another anemic display from Nakata, the same pundit said, “I’ve been watching Nakata for three months and he hasn’t got a clue.” Harsh, but fair. Parma’s No. 10 flopped again in Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Verona and was substituted in the 85th minute to a cacophony of boos from the home fans. AS Roma must have been laughing all the way to the bank after making a mint off Nakata in merchandizing revenue and then selling the midfielder in July for the sort of silly money that gives soccer a bad name.

A brief history lesson: Clough joined Liverpool in 1993 for $4 million, which would translate to about $12 million in today’s inflated transfer market, and was an instant flop. He was soon relegated to the reserves and lost his England place, prompting him to join Manchester City (a desperate move if ever there was one) in 1996 in the hope of resurrecting his career. But it was too late. A year later, Clough ended up joining Sheffield Wednesday on loan, which is akin to buying a time-share bordering on Kabul airport, and hung up his boots in 1999.

This is a cautionary tale for Nakata, who has responded to criticism by claiming that he is being used out of position. Er, hello?! The lips might be moving but Mr. Brain has long since departed, hasn’t he? A word in your shell-like, Hide. You cost more than the national debt of some African countries. For $26 million you should have little trouble switching from the center to the left of midfield. Shinji Ono has managed the transition effortlessly, both for Japan and Feyenoord and he cost $3 million. Nakata is simply not doing the business and seems hell-bent on giving Japan coach Philippe Troussier the kind of selection headache he does not want ahead of the World Cup. As the Parma crowd chant the Italian for “What a waste of money” and a recent pole of TV viewers overwhelmingly called for Nakata to be dropped, the names of Clough, Stan Collymore and Igor Biscuit (coincidentally, all Liverpool misfits) spring to mind. Come Christmas, we could be calling Nakata the Japanese Ade Akinbiyi!

From the Tell-Me-Something-I-Dont-Know files: The standard of officiating in the J. League continues to go from bad to worse. And Japan’s most senior referee, Masayoshi Okada, is arguably the most consistent offender. I was at the Kashiwa Reysol-Kashima Antlers game on Oct. 20, when Okada remarkably contrived to get EVERY decision wrong until sending off Atsushi Yanagisawa in the 57th minute for a spot of extra-curricular. Okada actually refereed England vs. Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup in France and took just a few minutes to incur the wrath of Paul Ince, who yelled something along the lines of, “Would you mind awfully using that whistle of yours?” (My lip-reading skills are limited.)

After swallowing his whistle for 90 minutes in Marseilles, Okada was dropped like a hot potato by FIFA. But the shock of his close encounter with Ince has obviously had a profound effect on the official, who can’t stop blowing his whistle now.

However, before we point the finger at Japanese referees, it is worth noting that their European counterparts are not all beyond reproach.

Dutchman Dick Jol was far from convincing during his spell in the J. League. Ditto Scottish ref Leslie Mottram, who is another who loves the sound of his own whistle. There is, to my knowledge, no Shinto or Buddhist doctrine that preaches, “Thou shalt not play the advantage.”

Jol, remember, was badly at fault in the recent England vs. Greece game, when he awarded a phantom free-kick in stoppage time from which David Beckham scored the goal that sent England to next year’s World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea. (Sven says your Swiss account has been credited, Dick, and thanks).

Of course, officiating problems exist in England, Spain and Italy, too, so finding a quick fix is as likely as Beckham signing for Vissel Kobe.

Chelsea’s Graeme Le Saux escaped with just a booking from referee Paul Durkin recently after a horrendous two-footed lunge on Leeds defender Danny Mills, featured on page six of the Taliban guerrilla guide on 101 Ways to Skin a Camel.

Perhaps video replays, used successfully in cricket and rugby union, should be introduced to make life easier for the men in black. No doubt Okada would hog the remote control.

Some advice for Argentina’s tabloid newspapers, which claimed Japan striker Naohiro Takahara had been given banned substances by medical staff on the tour of Europe earlier this month:

Get your facts right. Just because Takahara plays for Diego Maradona’s former club Boca Juniors, doesn’t mean he is going to start popping funny pills and snorting Charlie between matches.

Besides, even Diego would think twice about going near white powder in these uncertain times.

Speaking of white lines, we can happily confirm that Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler did not reply, “I didn’t know the gaffer HAD a heart when asked about the progress of manager Gerard Houllier after training last week.”

Fowler has been the victim of prejudice and misunderstanding since he was punched by Le Saux for suggesting the Chelsea left-back (who is married with kids) was gay during a Premier League match a couple of seasons ago. Arguably, Fowler deserved a clip around the ear for that indiscretion.

Prejudice has no place in sport. There is room for homosexuals, even readers of The Guardian, in soccer at all levels.

Two of my British Football Club teammates, Kev and Phil, have been partners for years, which neither affects their performances on the pitch nor the team’s showering habits. (In keeping with British tradition we shower only on Christmas Day and the Queen Mum’s birthday.)

Earth calling Shunsuke Nakamura. The Yokohama midfielder committed three reckless tackles on Jubilo Iwata’s Toshihiro Hattori in Saturday’s Nabisco Cup final, which F. Marinos won 3-1 in a penalty shootout. Shunsuke, even if you nobble Hattori, you’re still behind Ono, Hiroshi Nanami, Alex (paperwork pending) etc. in the queue for Japan’s left-midfield spot. I know a bloke called Harry who might be able to help you, though. You’ll need $1 million in unmarked bills.

Finally, thanks to Nik Barbet of Oltingue, France for spotting the deliberate mistake in my last column and pointing out cuckoo clocks actually come from the Black Forest. Does anyone honestly care?

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