Hideki Kuriyama, who led the WBC, has a plan to be the next manager of Nippon-Hamu. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Hideki Kuriyama, who led the WBC, has a plan to be the next manager of Nippon-Hamu.

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Manager Shinjo watches his players from the bench with a stern expression (PHOTO: Kyodo News)

A month has passed since Samurai Japan’s WBC victory, and the fever has subsided, but Hideki Kuriyama, 61, the world’s top manager in both name and reality, continues to be inundated with appearances on TV programs day after day.

Although he has made numerous public appearances, he has yet to make a clear statement about his future plans. Immediately after the final match against the United States, he said, “Today is the end of my coaching career. I will be a person without any title from tomorrow.” After returning to Japan, he hinted that he would continue as manager, saying, “If there is something I have to do, I will do whatever it takes to repay the favor.

The announcement of his appointment as director was made in December 2009. His contract is for one and a half years, and his term of office will expire at the end of May this year. He must come to a decision within the next month, whether he will retire or extend his contract to continue leading the Samurai Japan team. The question is whether he will retire or extend his contract and continue to lead the Samurai Japan team.

The public opinion is probably the same, but even within the NPB, there are growing voices in the “continue to pitch” camp. The biggest reason is the presence of Shohei Otani, without whom we would not have been able to achieve our goal of regaining the world’s top spot. If Otani is to play in the next tournament in 26 years, Mr. Kuriyama is the only one who can manage how to use the two-tooled pitcher. Even though he does not give Ohtani specific instructions, he is able to grasp his ideas “in the same breath” based on the relationship he has cultivated with him over a long period of time. That is not the case with other coaches.

Besides, there is a high possibility that some of the members of this year’s winning team will be active in the major leagues three years from now. Even the players who had no contact with Mr. Kuriyama in the past have established a relationship with him through this tournament, so it should be easier for them to send him calls for the national team again in 2014. The NPB is probably more interested in having him continue to make use of his personal connections and network than in his leadership skills.

On the other hand, immediately after Kuriyama indicated that he would step down, sports newspapers all over the country reported the names of potential successors. The list included Kimiyasu Kudo, Shihito Iguchi, Yoshinobu Takahashi, and Shinya Miyamoto, all of whom are legends and all of whom have their own fatal flaws.

Kudo had managed Softbank and Iguchi had managed Lotte, but neither was well-liked by the players. The same was true for Miyamoto, who served as head coach of Yakult. The Showa-era gutsy approach he learned at PL Gakuen is not followed by today’s young players.

It is difficult for a leader with a bad label to lead a team. Takahashi, on the other hand, is well-liked, but he has not proven himself as a leader. We can’t just rely on Kuriyama forever, and many people in the industry must be worried about the appointment of his successor.

If Kuriyama were to step down, what kind of position might he take?

“There is a possibility that he will continue to be involved with Samurai Japan in a different capacity at the NPB, as the person in charge of team organization or the strengthening of the team.

He could continue to be involved with Samurai Japan in a different capacity as the head of the team organization or the strengthening department in the NPB,” said an NPB official. If he leaves the national team, a senior executive at a TV station in Hokkaido said a surprising plan may emerge.

There have been reports that he may return to Nippon Ham as manager as early as next year,” said an executive at a Hokkaido TV station. Tsuyoshi Shinjo is in his second year as manager, and the team has been in the bottom half of the standings since the start of the season; if the team can stay in contention in the A-Class, he will probably stay on, but if the team does not emerge, there is a strong possibility that he will be fired after this season. If that happens, there will surely be a longing for Kuriyama to pitch again.

Nippon Ham is no longer in the bottom half of the standings. After finishing sixth last season and losing in the opening game of the season at the new stadium, ESCON Field Hokkaido, the team is now in sole possession of last place with a record of 6-14 as of March 24. The team is currently in the bottom half of the standings with a record of 6 wins and 14 losses as of January 24.

The realistic plan would be to have the next managerial candidate study imperialism under Mr. Kuriyama. He is still with the Fighters under the title of professor, and he knows the team better than anyone else. He is the perfect “bridge” manager in terms of rebuilding the team. I don’t think there will be any major objections from inside and outside the team.

The ideal scenario for Nippon Ham would be for the “master general” not to return to the pitching staff, but it remains to be seen whether Shinjo has the skills to bring the team back to the top…

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