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Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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First Coaching Casualty -- Vissel Kobe
Well, the rumor was that Vissel's coach Hideki Matsunaga was going into this past Sunday's game with his head in the guillotine... Unfortunately, the team did not show any promise of improvement (they lost 0-2 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima and are currently in 17th place) and today it was announced that Matsunaga was being replaced by Brazilian Emerson Leao (55 years old). Vissel changed coaches mid-season last year too, and somehow they have been able to avoid relegation. Perhaps that is their only aim. [photo from]

From what supporters have been saying, the biggest problem with the team may be in the lack of useable players -- looking at their top team, their satellite teams, their youth teams, very little foresight seems to be reflected. This season, Vissel were able to get their hands on left sidehalf Atsu Miura (NT, from Verdy). They have Czech Holvy and King Kazu, and FW Bando is showing promise up front. But the defense is pretty much in shambles, and if any of the above players get hurt, there is very little to choose from. It doesn't help that the Owner Miktani (CEO of Rakuten) has shown little understanding for development or love for football, and seems to be more distracted by his Baseball project this year. During one of the games he was watching, Vissel was losing and Mikitani apparently left in the middle in disgust/boredom. Well, if the owner can't hang around and root for the team how does he expect the team to fortify their finances by attracting more fans? (Well, these are the basic gripes)

New coach Leao is expected to arrive this weekend, and in the meantime the next game will be "coached" by Yasutoshi Miura from headquarters (he is a retired J-league players who has played at various J teams like S-Pulse, Verdy, Avispa, and also spent time at Santos FC in Brazil). [Edit: sorry! I just found updated news that one of the remaining coaches Czech Pavel Rehak will be taking over head coaching responsibility during the next game against Oita.]

Not only has Leao coached the Brazilian NT, but he has also spent about four years total in Japan: two years as the very first coach for Shimizu S-Pulse, and about a year-plus with Tokyo Verdy. And thinking back to gossip from about 8 years ago, there was some quote from then-Verdy player Ramos about leaving Verdy if Leao gets hired to coach. Leao came to Verdy, and Ramos left for PurpleSanga. I don't remember exactly what Ramos's issue was (could be more of a personal/private matter? anyone know?), but it sounds like Leao is having similar player problems at Sao Paulo FC as well, (the rumor is he's butting heads with forward Falcao), so it might have been good timing for him to get this offer from Japan.

Leao has been coaching at Brazilian club
Sao Paulo FC, and the club will notify the players today about the coach's move. Leao was quoted as saying that he was "going to go help a friend on the other side of the world", referring to Miura who played under Leao at S-Pulse. (The financial angle I'm sure has not escaped him either, as he will be getting a healthy chunk, roughly 25 million yen per month.)

Before coaching, Leao used to be a Goalkeeper, and was a member of the Brazilian national team at four World Cups. He returned to the Brazil NT as a coach in 2000 and lasted about a year.

Vissel player Kazu Miura was quoted as saying that "there is responsibility on the players for the poor performance until now, not just the coach". Hopefully, new coach Leao will be able to fit comfortably with the team. With few promising options in the satellite/youth teams, perhaps Vissel will announce some temporary transfers in the near future to reinvigorate the top team...
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