J-League clubs are once again struggling in the Asian Champions League. Though the domestic competition is arguably the most popular across East Asia, the quality of the competition is in dispute as repeated failings against CSL, K-League and A-League clubs provide the evidence, the J-League is not all it’s cracked up to be.
In this year’s installation, J-League clubs have taken eight of 36 points available to them in the first three rounds of the ACL. Treble winners Gamba Osaka have been far and away the most disappointing.
In their three fixtures they’ve gone down to China’s Guangzhou R&F, Korea’s Seongnam, and drawn with Buriram United of Thailand. After the failure in Korea (a match in which large numbers of Gamba fans attended) manager Kenta Hasegawa was typically apologetic, but sounded like the proverbial broken record, “. . . we will do our best in the next few games and try to qualify to the next round,” he said.
Urawa Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic was still managing to find positives after his team’s tepid display against Brisbane Roar on ACL Matchday 2. The manager spoke of promising signs on the training pitch, before his eerily similar, ” . . . we are still in the race and will do our best to qualify for the next stage.” Since the loss to Brisbane, Urawa went on to be soundly beaten by Beijing Guoan.
With Japan’s best youngsters heading off to Europe at the first sign of interest it’s not surprising the league is struggling to match the national team’s success (in Asia). Add to that the fact Japan cannot compete with neighbouring China when it comes to luring quality imports, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Further compounding problems for the J-League’s status is this year’s bizarre end of season finals series puzzle. The heads of Japanese football decided with none – to little consultation of fans that the league should return to a two stage system. The explanation of the system on the J-League Officialwebsite, seems to indicate the finals series could involve three or four teams, depending on whether a stage winner also has the most points across the total 34 regular season matches. For more detail click the link provided above.
Before season kick off J-League boss Mitsuru Murai was interviewed by AFP and it was there that he stated, “I hope to see the J-League become tougher, quicker and more aggressive to help raise the level of the Japan national team.” Though this would improve the league, a larger issue is the quality of imports in Japan as compared with those in China. Murai alluded to this in the interview, “The financial rewards are a little higher there so we need to do more to bring in star players.”
Unfortunately for Japan their ability to attract superstar imports will not exceed that of China’s, unless there is some kind of economic upheaval in one of the two countries. So the J-League will have to rely on a new found, ‘old fashioned’ toughness to improve performances in ACL competition.