LONDON — It has been a mixed week for Japan in the Premiership. One player has arrived, one is on his way back from injury while the former national coach was beaten to the Republic of Ireland job by someone few people outside Ireland had ever heard of.
One estimate suggested that around 100 Japanese media representatives were present at Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground and the posse, which has seen Junichi Inamoto drop out of the spotlight at Fulham, was delighted to have a new focus in Kazuyuki Toda.
Kazu, as he wants to be known at Tottenham, was quickly reminded of the rivalry in north London between Spurs and Arsenal when the midfielder was “advised” it would be best if he kept his hair its natural color and not that of the Gunners.
“He’s been fairly experimental over the years,” said Tottenham manager Glenn Hoddle. “It’s all good fun — as long as he doesn’t dye it red again.”
Kazu has been signed on a year’s loan from Shimizu S-Pulse on the recommendation of former Tottenham captain Steve Perryman who coached Toda for five years in the J. League.
“Steve said that of all the Japanese internationals he felt Kazu had the true pedigree for the Premiership,” said Hoddle.
“We’ve kept an eye on him, watched him at the World Cup and now the time is right. We’re delighted.”
Kazu will, in effect, take over from Steffen Freund as the German’s contract will not be renewed this summer. So Spurs are releasing one midfielder who has not scored for the club in five years and 128 appearances and replacing him with one who took four years to score the first of only two career goals.
He hopes to wear Freund’s No. 4 shirt when the German leaves but for now Kazu will take the No. 44 jersey.
Meanwhile, Inamoto is back in training with Fulham after injury and should be available for selection in a couple of weeks.
Philippe Troussier, though, will have to continue his search for a comeback after Japan’s World Cup coach was beaten to the Ireland job by Brian Kerr, who has been in charge of the Republic’s youth teams.
Word has it that Kerr beat the Frenchman 2-1 for the job when the three-man panel made its decision last week. Troussier would bring experience and an individual style of man management, but Kerr is a safe pair of hands for the Football Association of Ireland which has been notable for getting things wrong rather than getting it right (though the FAI Web site did confirm Kerr’s appointment while directors were remaining non-committal).
The FAI panel official in favor of Troussier believed the flamboyant coach was the best choice as he would arrive with no baggage — i.e. no ties to Roy Keane, whose shadow was cast over Kerr’s arrival just as it was over McCarthy’s departure.
The 49-year-old Dubliner is by general consensus the best Irish coach — now he must prove he is the best coach for Ireland. It would be unwise to bet against Kerr who led Ireland to third place in the 1997 World Youth Championship plus the Under-16’s and Under-18’s European championships the following year.
It is also a shrewd bit of PR by the FAI in the wake of the McCarthy-Keane public spat to appoint the popular choice which limits damage for it should things go wrong.
“I didn’t know the media had a vote,” said Kerr, aware that the press was in favor of his appointment. “But I’d like to thank you for all your votes that made me manager.”
Kerr’s debut could hardly have gone better. He was given a standing ovation by the Irish media when he stepped onto the podium and applauded when he left the stage half an hour later.
His inaugural press conference showed Kerr to be a man of conviction, professionalism, eloquence and wit — “What do you mean I didn’t have much of a career as a player? I was brilliant in the Leinster Senior League,” he joked.
Kerr was tight-lipped about how would handle the possibility of a return to the international fold by Keane who has kept silent about representing his country again.
A comeback would not go down too well with quite a few of those in the squad who were less than impressed by Keane’s foul-mouthed tirade at McCarthy which saw the Manchester United midfielder sent home from the Far East.
On one hand Keane might feel, that like Alan Shearer, his form for his club would benefit by stepping down permanently from the international stage.
Yet he may also like to make a point that it was McCarthy and not Ireland he refused to play for. As so few people know Keane, the most secretive of players, there has been no hint of a yes or no from Ireland’s finest ever footballer.
Kerr, who has signed a three-year deal worth £350,000 a year plus performance bonuses, announces his first Ireland squad today for the Feb. 12 friendly in Scotland which may be too soon for Keane.
It would be no surprise if Kerr, who will be assisted by Tottenham coach Chris Hughton, promoted some of the young players he is familiar with, looking ahead to the back-to-back Euro 2004 qualifiers in Georgia and Albania at the end of March.
West Ham’s Gary Breen and Ian Harte of Leeds have struggled for their clubs since the World Cup and with defeats by Russia and Switzerland in their opening two games the Republic can afford no more slip-ups if it is to reach the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.
“We can still do it,” said Kerr. “We still have a good team and there are 18 points to be played for. There’s always the playoffs.”
For Kerr the glass is always half full and quite a few full glasses were raised in Dublin to celebrate his appointment.
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