Footballers can tend to be a very self-conscious bunch. There are the likes David Beckham and Robbie Savage trying to craft media-friendly personas near the end of their playing careers. Then there are those who are associated with their hair. Bobby Charlton seemed to fix his comb over hundreds of times every match, while more recently Carles Puyol, dubbed Captain Caveman by one journalist, adopted his hairstyle because he was worried about the size of his ears. Adding to the frenzy are the inevitable rankings of best hairstyles at every World Cup, which can make a player more memorable for channeling Travis Bickle than anything they did on the pitch.
The 19th episode of Giant Killing shows 2 such self-conscious players on Osaka’s team, which provide part of the first area of interest in this episode. In addition, there’s a little look at the club-versus-country debate that pops up for the first time in the series. Finally, the pressure gets to even the most optimistic of ETU’s players, but why exactly?
Osaka’s Split Dressing Room
So far, Osaka has climbed to the table by ruthlessly demolishing their opponents while embracing Dulfer’s commitment to playing beautifully. In this episode, we are presented with a third case of factions emerging within a squad. First, there was ETU itself which had issues with older players and younger players who were split on how they could achieve better results. Then, Nagoya presented a case of nationality based factions where the 3 Brazilians were treated very much differently from the rest of the squad. Osaka, though presents a whole variety of potential conflict.
First, there’s personality differences between groups. Among their four starting strikers, there’s the big Dutchman Hauer, who worries about his hair almost as much as scoring goals. The Kansai duo of Katayama and Hatake, who try to outdo each other statistically as well as comedically. Finally, Kubota, who seems so worried about belonging in the squad that he says absolutely nothing of worth, making him seem boring to everyone else in the dressing room.
Then there is a national team faction within the squad. While they have one Brazilian defender in Biva, the rest of the defense are Japan internationals along with the young midfielder Komuro. This is interesting because while Osaka’s reputation is one of attack, it is the defensive side of the team that is recognized by the national team. That could lead to some elements of concern among the strikers if they continue to be ignored by the national team manager, Blanc.
Finally, there remains the mystery of how exactly Osaka would respond to adversity. Will Dulfer’s stereotypical commitment to attacking football lead to the typical internal destruction that characterizes Dutch sides in general?
Club-versus-Country at Different Levels
The match between ETU and Osaka sees the national team manager, Blanc, go to the match to scout for potential players. At the moment, Osaka have four players in the Japan side, while ETU have none. How this is viewed by their respective fans is not very surprising though.
When the 3 young ETU fans spot Blanc, they get excited by the possibility of having a national team player. That would mean increased visibility for the club as well as showing the fans that they are improving to the level of other clubs which have international players. The Osaka fans, on the other hand, are angry at Blanc because he continues to call up their players. As a bigger club, those players may be necessary to win matches and international matches risk injuries to their best players. It also deprives the fans from seeing their better players.
Blanc, though, is probably there to judge how Osaka’s non-internationals, deal with a well-organized opponent before calling them up to the national team. Also, he probably wants to see an entertaining match more than anything. Maybe he sees some surprise names star in this match as well.
Natsuki to this point has been shown as a strong clinical finisher, who also has an optimistic and determined personality. However, in the warm-up, he seems to be the only one genuinely stressed by the occassion. The question is why the sudden panic from ETU’s best striker?
He may actually struggle from the same pressure to perform as Tsubaki. After taking over as ETU’s main striker in the previous season, he scored many goals in a team that was expected to lose almost every match. Against Urawa, he only showcased his talent when ETU were losing to a better team. In a match against a Niigata side they expected to beat he contributed nothing, with ETU only threatening when Sera was introduced to replace him.
With Tatsumi depending on attack against Osaka, Natsuki will be expected to score to give them a chance to win. This is something much harder than asking him to score a consolation in a 4-1 defeat. He may be the perfect player for a bad team, but the worst player for a team that aspires for more, unless he can find it in himself to live up to expectations.
Thoughts: Now some thoughts on the actual match itself. ETU’s 4-man midfield should be able to dominate possession when they have the ball. However, I’d expect Osaka to try to find a goal early using the size of Hauer to their advantage. It’s still a little early to try to call a result on this since I see it lasting over 4 or 5 episodes, but I think there could well be an early goal here.