Traditionally, bigger clubs tend to impose their will on smaller clubs, and when the opposite happens it usually ends in disaster. This is the story of a manager who was able to do so with some success.
In the early 1990s, Zdenek Zeman’s Foggia side went up to Serie A playing an extremely attacking style inspired largely by handball and which ran counter to the prevailing strategies in Italian football. In the 1991-92 season, the conceded the 2nd most goals of anyone while scoring the second most. The odd 5-2 or 8-2 defeat could hardly be surprising, but they finished in the top half playing all-out attacking football. The following 2 seasons, while stripped of their best players they continued to finish mid table even as the goals began to dry up. When Zeman left, the club were relegated in 1995 and have gone between the lower divisions. Now 15 years later, Zeman has returned to Foggia, and the attacking style is back.
The 25th episode of Giant Killing sees ETU turn the match around in the final 10 minutes with goals from Sugie and Sera giving the home side the 3 points. The focus of today’s post will be on Dulfer’s multi-level defeat, the seeming lack of suspense involved in the winner and how much ETU has changed in just a few months.
Dulfer’s 2 Level Defeat
In the last episode, Dulfer was revealed to be a manager who chose to impose his own philosophy on his opponents. Hiraga, as captain, was at the heart of this philosophy. With ETU pressing for an equalizer and sensing his team was struggling, he opted for pragmatism. He explained his reasoning to his assistant/translator Sonoda, but he wasn’t entirely convincing. With Sugie’s header leveling the match, Dulfer continued with the substitutions. Off came Hauer, because he was on a yellow card, and Hiraga, because he was shatter. With that, Tatsumi had confirmed a mental victory over his counterpart.
With Osaka now firmly playing on the counter, while time wasting in the hope of preserving a draw. It was only a matter of time before something else happened…k
Late, but Unsurprising Heroics
With ETU virtually camped in Osaka’s half trying to find a winner in the final minutes, I couldn’t help but feel like a winner was coming eventually. Tatsumi’s strategy and Dulfer’s decision making had combined to create a situation where bizarrely Osaka were now having to adapt to ETU imposing their will on the match. For Osaka under Dulfer, this had to be a new situation, and it was little wonder that they did not manage to last.
There were two interesting parts that did come out of stoppage time. First, Gino actually looked for Natsuki on a cross, perhaps signaling a change in their relationship. Then, Tatsumi finally giving his reason for including Sera in the side. Since, he is a very limited player, he would not try to do things he was incapable of doing, but would work very hard on the things he could do. Remembering that the only goal he had scored earlier in the season was a diving header, and that he has an incredible level of determination, it was little wonder that his goal came the way it did.
The view the press and the fans have had of ETU as well as the progression the team has made under Tatsumi’s management have not always been in sync. Tatsumi gave away his strategy for beating Osaka in his very first training session in charge, demonstrating that simply having greater stamina and patience could lead to emphatic victories. After the disorganization of preseason training, stripping Murakoshi of the captaincy and giving it back to him, dropping his 2 best central defenders until they learned their lesson, a long losing run, convincing a promising player that failing was okay, a striker’s confidence plummeting as a more talented one returned from injury and another winless run amongst other things, when Tatsumi returned to the original strategy the immediate buy-in from the rest of the club suggested a team fully behind their manager.
The press and the fans were much different. Only the Skulls were present early on as the team was expected to be haunted by the prospect of relegation this season. The home friendly against Tokyo Victory was dominated by visiting supporters. When Tatsumi made his statements at the league’s press event before the season started, the press scoffed. When the season started badly, they questioned Tatsumi’s words. It wasn’t until the win against Nagoya that belief began to build in the side. Fans began to show up to training to cheer the team on, rather than hurl abuse at the manager. There still remained one final hurdle, for all the improvement the team had made, they were never exciting enough to upset the odds.
At the end of the day, one reporter can say it is different, while the kids who told Tatsumi on his first day on the job about the problem now have a 3-2 win over Osaka as evidence that this in now an exciting team to watch.
Thoughts: I would have thought this would be the perfect way to end the season, but there’s still another episode to go. Akasaki gets called into the Olympic squad, which makes perfect sense as a young starting winger in excellent form. I still have to wonder if that will be all the international calls for ETU. I’m still hoping for a second season of this, but if this is all at least the title of the series makes sense. What was once a hopeless doomed team is now capable of beating anyone on their day.