IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN!
The joys of October and November. Pumpkin spice, Halloween, my Mum’s birthday…
Pah. It’s Football Manager season.
Once again our favourite time of the year is upon us, and so it’s time to dust off the keyboard and reveal my plans for Football Manager 2024. I’m unbelievably excited for this edition due to the new features that have already been announced (with more to come at the time of writing), but for the first time in three years I haven’t had my main save planned months in advance. I loaded almost every division in Europe and started to scour, looking for a side that presented a compelling challenge.
There were definitely a few contenders; Esbjerg fB in Denmark need a rebuild, Grasshoppers in Switzerland have become a bit of a sleeping giant, Austria Wien are in financial trouble and have a points deduction. They all looked like decent saves, but none of them really grabbed me in the way that Defensor Sporting, FC Volendam and SJK have done in the past.
But then, salvation.
Making its long-awaited debut 🇯🇵
— Football Manager (@FootballManager) September 21, 2023
Japan, almost certainly the most requested additional nation for Football Manager, will finally be in the game this year. Not only is it a nation that produces excellent talent that has been increasingly desired in European football, but they also have a history of convincing high profile players to make the move in the opposite direction.
From former legends of the game such as Gary Lineker, Hristo Stoichkov and Bebeto to early 2010’s icons Diego Forlan, David Villa and Hulk, and finally through to recent times where Vissel Kobe have signed Andres Iniesta, Juan Mata and Lukas Podolski amongst others, Japan has attracted some incredible players over the years. This juxtaposition of young, exciting domestic talent and overseas veterans offering an X-factor is really appealing and something I’d like to continue in this save.
The man fronting this save will be Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. 116 caps for Japan, including going to four World Cups, 421 J1 League appearances and spells in England and Denmark; Yoshi had quite the career. He was labelled as a ‘Japanese David Beckham’ when he joined Portsmouth in Division One, and even though his time in England was an abject failure – losing his place to 42-year-old Dave Beasant – he is still fondly regarded on the south coast. Undoubtedly a popular figure during his playing career, now it’s time for him to step into the world of management…
Tokyo Verdy are historically one of Japan’s most successful sides (including their history under their previous names of Yomiuri FC and Verdy Kawasaki), having a particular period of prominence in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Yomiuri/Kawasaki won 7 top flight titles including a record equalling 4 in a row between 1990 and 1994, and also won the Asian Club Championship (now known as the Asian Champions League) in 1987/88. In the early 90’s in particular, the side were throwing big money at established internationals such as Kazuyoshi Miura, Ruy Ramos and Tsuyoshi Kitazawa in order to try and become ‘Japan’s Team’. However, these stars aged and performances started to plummet, with the club not having the money to replace their key players. In trying to become ‘Japan’s Team’, they had also alienated their local fan base, and with Kawasaki Frontale emerging as a more community based club a large portion of Verdy’s support deserted them.
In 2001, the club left Kawasaki and returned to Tokyo in order to distance themselves from their rivals and increase their fan base, and thus Tokyo Verdy were born. This didn’t prove to be the successful rebirth that Verdy had been looking for though, as FC Tokyo already had a strong following and so Verdy still had a main city rival, just in a different city. To add to this, the move had completely alienated remaining fans in Kawasaki, as well as seeing the club branded as ‘fakes’ and ‘pretenders’ by their new rivals FC Tokyo. To add insult to injury, Verdy also share the 50,000 capacity Ajinomoto Stadium with their rivals, but have struggled to reach even 10% capacity in recent years, while FC Tokyo can command attendances 4 or 5 times higher than Verdy.
The Tokyo Verdy era has been by far the least fruitful in the club’s entire history, with just a single Emperor’s Cup win in 2004 providing their last major trophy. With only one season in the J1 League since 2006, Tokyo Verdy are clearly not the force that they once were in the Yomiuri FC and Verdy Kawasaki eras and have also garnered a reputation as a side that believed their own hype too much, trying to hang on to past glories while gradually drifting into irrelevance within Japanese football. Despite occasionally flirting with the play-off spots in the J2 League, Verdy have never really looked likely to get back to the J1 League, much less stay there, with the club unable to hang on to their young talents since financial difficulties back in 2010 when the club almost lost its professional status.
So the always popular Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi will be taking the reigns of one of the most controversial and least popular sides in the country. His aim will be to rebuild the reputation of a once great club, but also take them back to the pinnacle of Japanese and Asian football. All of this while trying to hold on to some of the young prospects that are regularly lost to their higher calibre rivals. One thing is for sure, Yoshi will have to ensure that Tokyo Verdy unite as one!
UNITE AS ONE – COMING SOON!