At the beginning of the Premier League season which finished yesterday, Liverpool were expected by many to challenge for the title. They had finished 2nd the year before, added Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani to add more to an attack that had struggled to break down weaker teams, and the other contenders were supposedly weaker. By the end of the season, Liverpool had been knocked out of the Europa League, manager Rafa Benitez’s contract made him unsackable and they had surrendered their Champions League place by finishing 7th. Liverpool’s problems and ambitions were changed within the first 45 minutes of the season, when it suddenly dawned on many that Liverpool had a limited squad in comparison to their opponents on the day, Tottenham Hotspur.1
The 6th episode of Giant Killing is focused on Tatsumi dealing with the media and other managers, and not so much on his own players. What I really got out of this was the lessons in managing expectations. Let’s just say it’s starting to resemble that Cliff Hangers game on The Price Is Right.
The first part of the episode revolves around a preseason press conference involving all of the clubs in the league. This presents the first opportunity to meet some of the other managers that Tatsumi will match wits against. First is ETU’s former manager Fuwa, who oversaw the club’s last relegation to the Second Division. Now in charge at Nagoya Grampus Grand Palace, he still blames the board for the club’s performance. Next he meets Gamba Osaka Gunners’ Dutch manager Dulfer, who comes away impressed at meeting Tatsumi.
At this point, Fuwa is playing the typical disgraced former manager role. It is pretty easy to simply blame the board for lack of success. ETU could have spent beyond it’s means in finding a replacement for Tatsumi and avoid relegation, but they chose not to, so it’s their fault from Fuwa’s perspective. On the other hand, Dulfer is somehow supposed to be a great judge of managerial ability, though it’s unlikely he is a good manager himself since he is managing in Japan (or they are paying him very well).
The press gathering moves ahead with the individual managers being questioned. Hiraizuma talks up Victory’s chances of winning every competition they are entered into. Tatsumi is next and points out that ETU will be expected to lose almost every match, so the pressure is on their opponents who would be embarrassed if they didn’t win. He then goes on to say he wants to transform the league into an exciting one.
Here, Tatsumi was doing well in directing the pressure of his players onto himself and the managers of the other clubs. Then, he probably fails when he picks the wrong situation to say he wants to transform the league. It probably means the other managers are more motivated against him than they normally would be.
Tatsumi is then pulled aside by French manager Blanc, who happens to be managing the Japanese national team. As they get lost looking for food in the city, they come to realize a couple of similarites between them. Experience managing in England is one, a similar outlook to management is another. Nagata catches up to them watching a youth match and is stunned by the fact they seem on friendly terms.
Nagata later interprets the conversation as a sign that ETU players will be picked for the national team soon, getting her hopes up that the club may finally be making progress. The next day, ETU’s season begins with a home game against Jubilo Javelin Iwata. ETU’s Ultras group, the Skulls, display a large tifo to show their optimism about the season.
Tatsumi then meets another new manager in Kurashi. Now in his 15th season at the helm of Javelin, he emphasizes a passing game. While they aren’t title contenders, they are one of the better teams in the league. Tatsumi is aware that he has tricks up his sleeve and had hoped to come across him later. ETU start the better of the two sides and waste a couple of good opportunities. Then just as the episode ends, Midorikawa is lobbed from distance and Javelin go in front.
Thoughts: I think ETU ends up losing this match convincingly. The buildup of expectations that Tatsumi is a great manager, and that they can compete with the better sides in the division still disguises the fact that it is still virtually the same squad that avoided relegation the year before. It looks like Kuroda is going to be next player to experience Tatsumi’s dark side. Ultimately, I think he ends up being dropped to the reserves, since he doesn’t seem to add anything that I’ve seen.
What would be your experiences with managing expectation? Can you remember anywhere else you have seen a sudden change in outlook of a series based on a surprise event?
1. The sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid is probably the defining event of Liverpool’s season. Benitez had spent the previous year trying to sell him, and Alonso responded with his best season to date, but wanted to leave because of how he was treated. Brilliant piece of man management there.