The Romance of the Cup, The Grind of the League

Alan Shearer looks on as his Newcastle side are relegated in May 2009
Newcastle United appointed former striker Alan Shearer to avoid relegation last season. A different manager brought them back up.

Coming the day after Lionel Messi’s four goal haul in the Champions League, it may seem that maybe there was something realistic about Captain Tsubasa after all. Giant Killing takes place at a much different level. This is the story of an eccentric manager, brought back to manage the club he once played for, and building a team that can compete.

A scene from a 4th Round FA Cup tie between Portsmouth and the fictional East Ham
A scene from a world where Pompey didn't run out of money, and the guy with the bell doesn't exist.

The story kicks off in England where two officials from East Tokyo United take in a Fourth Round FA Cup tie between Portsmouth and fictional amateur side East Ham. The atmosphere is electric and a local man tells the two visitors about the romance of the FA Cup, which allows amateur clubs to potentially take on the giants of the game. As a supporter of East Ham, he lists the full-time jobs the players hold and says their progress is down to one man alone, their Japanese manager.

East Tokyo ultras confront a board member outside the training ground
A scene straight out of Italian football, at least the kids training aren't being locked in by the ultras.

The story resumes at the training ground of East Tokyo United.While the ultras protest at the management of the club, the academy prospects train nearby. One of the kids selfishly goes for goal and misses badly only to hit a man walking by. The man is suspicious to the kids, but they sit down and tell him about how bad the ETU first team is. The man listens and eventually tells them that he is here to make them strong again.

In the board room, arguments break out as to the running of the club. Poor performances on the pitch have led to a drop in support, the local council could potentially withdraw support leading to a loss of their ground and end of their existence. Eventually General Manager Gotoh stands up and says the only way to get out of this situation is for the team to win, and he says he had no choice but to bring Tatsumi back, in fact he had to beg him to come back. Listening outside was Tatsumi, who jumps inside and catches up with the board members, before he says he has more important things to do, like moving house.

He decides to move into the club house, and argues with Nagata over his accommodations. The vice-president believes the fans won’t agree with his appointment because they’ve changed since Tatsumi was a player for the club. Gotoh says they will accept him once they’ve seen him manage. He then recounts his and Nagata’s search for Tatsumi throughout England, only to discover him managing East Ham and being carried through the town by the fans. The local man from earlier tells them they are through to the Fourth Round having beaten a Championship side in the last round. The vice-president then reminds them they lost to Portsmouth eventually, but Nagata jumps in to say they did lead the match 3-2 at one point. The vice-president only responds with sarcastic amazement.

Tatsumi takes a ride through an English town on the back of local fans.
Does Tatsumi plan on bringing the locker room culture of 1980s Arsenal to East Tokyo?

The kid from earlier in the episode returns home and tells his father that he got to talk to the new ETU manager, but his father doesn’t really care. The kid starts criticizing the strength of his father’s support since he doesn’t go to games anymore. The kid walks into another room and then recognizes the new manager from a picture, and his father stares in amazement as it is Tatsumi. He runs through town and stops one of his friends and they get excited at Tatsumi’s return. However, they quickly realize that they have no basis for optimism.

Tatsumi spends the night watching DVDs of ETU generally being hopeless. Then in the morning, the ultras return to protest Tatsumi’s return to the club. They say it was dishonorable how he left for a European club, which led to their relegation to J. League 2, and they put up banners letting him know he isn’t welcome. Current player Murakoshi, known as “Mr. ETU” is the type of man they want in charge since he stayed around to lead them back up to J1.

Tatsumi wakes up late and says it will be a while before he is ready. He hands Nagata some instructions for the players before he heads to training. The assistant manager gets the instructions and tells them they will be running timed 30 meter sprints, and they should take it seriously. The younger players talk about the new manager and their nervousness at meeting him, but reserve midfielder Tsubaki says he’s never heard of him despite the fact Tatsumi represented Japan at one stage.

Yoshida then walks over to Murakoshi and comments on the fact that he once played in the same team as Tatsumi. Murakoshi says it was only for one season, and he is not particularly looking forward to meeting him again, since he only cares about how good he is as a manager. He gets the younger players on board by saying they have to have heart if they want to advance this season.

The assistant manager thinks about Murakoshi and says it is one of his qualities to get players in the right mindset. He thinks back to when the team was quickly relegated to J2 after Tatsumi’s departure, and how Murakoshi led them back up even after many players had left the club.

The exercise begins and Tsubaki is prominently matched up with Murakoshi. Tsubaki beats Murakoshi easily over the distance. The exercise continues through multiple runs until most of the players are exhausted. Only then does Tatsumi make his appearance, and he surprises everyone with his informality around his assistant before he asks for the clipboard with the sprint times. He reads off a list of names, which are predominantly the younger players and not Murakoshi. Yoshida then believes they are the reserves, but Tatsumi says they are actually the regulars. He says if those selected want to prove him wrong, they can do so in a match where he is managing the players he selected.

Tatsumi makes his announcement of the first team.
The manager breaks the good/bad news to the youngsters/established players.

Thoughts: Portsmouth’s stadium in the beginning of the episode looks like one they were considering building before they spent too much money building a club to win the FA Cup. Administration and certain relegation to the Championship (and beyond possibly) have probably put that on the back burner. The little ground to the left of the picture below could pass for Fratton Park though. Tatsumi’s character is definitely a bit more Jose Mourinho than Phil Brown, thankfully. Star players returning as successful managers are pretty rare, Pep Guardiola is the only current real life example I can think of at the moment. Finally, there is something like the FA Cup in Japan, the Emperor’s Cup, which is even open to selected high school teams.

2 thoughts on “The Romance of the Cup, The Grind of the League”

  1. Phew, it took me till the ends of the Earth to find a translator willing to do this with me. /heh

    Anyway, a quiet but decent start though, despite DEEN choosing to scatter Tatsumi’s stint at England across the episodes rather than making it into a whole episode.

    Of all teams, it just had to choose Portsmouth, eh. I can’t help but to chuckle at the irony of it all. Solent Stadium…it was only meant to be real in fiction afterall.

    Tatsumi makes for an interesting character, I guess. Not as haughty as Mourinho but still controversial.

    1. Tatsumi is Mourinho-esque, though his emphasis on pace is definitely archetypal of a lower league manager. I would agree in saying that it would have been nice to have his stint in England in one episode.

      Portsmouth were probably chosen because they seem like a team that would have struggled at home against a lower league team at home. They may soon become that lower league team. The Solent Stadium is probably about as fictional as Spurs actually completing their new ground or West Ham moving to the Olympic Stadium

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