The source of toughness” that Yuto Nagatomo was able to show in his play even though he was continuously exposed to criticism | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The source of toughness” that Yuto Nagatomo was able to show in his play even though he was continuously exposed to criticism

35-year-old Nagatomo's current situation after being criticized in the final Asian qualifying round for the World Cup

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
The moment Junya Itoh scored the second goal to seal the victory against Saudi Arabia on February 1. Nagatomo, who made the last pass, exploded with joy (Photo: Afro)

In the final Asian qualifying round for the World Cup in Qatar, Japan easily defeated China and then went on to win comfortably over Group B leader Saudi Arabia. In the final qualifying round for the World Cup in Qatar, Japan easily defeated China and then went on to win against Saudi Arabia, the leader of Group B. They now find themselves on the verge of a breakthrough if they win their next away game against Australia in March. Although Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu is bracing himself, saying, “We haven’t got anything yet,” it is safe to say that the “missing out on the World Cup” crisis that began with the two early losses is over.

But it’s safe to say that we’re out of the danger of missing the World Cup, which started with the two early losses. “We need to have Nagatomo criticizing us on TV…”

Perhaps the most exciting part of the two home matches was the series of exchanges over the use of 35-year-old veteran Yuto Nagatomo. There were many reports in the press and on social networking sites about the need for Nagatomo and his limitations, and Nagatomo himself responded to them.

First, criticism of Nagatomo’s performance in the January 27 match against China led to an outpouring of criticism about the need for his services. On February 1, Nagatomo gave a passionate performance against Saudi Arabia that blew away the voices of the outside world, and he appeared in the post-match press conference. In other words, the interaction between Nagatomo and the “voices of the public” was visualized over the course of several days.

It is not uncommon for Nagatomo himself to respond to news reports, but these days, most of the time it is through his own SNS. This time, however, Nagatomo did not react angrily to the criticism through the media, but instead showed his frank acceptance of the criticism with his characteristic humor and self-deprecation, and then responded with a performance. I think this was a rare case.

Born in 1986, Nagatomo is now 35 years old. He is now 35 years old, and the sound of a generational change is fast approaching. As if to confirm this, from the third game of the final qualifying round in October, which began in September last year, Nagatomo has always been replaced in the second half by 24-year-old Yuta Nakayama. Counting the last match against Saudi Arabia, Nakayama has been replaced in six consecutive matches, and it is natural to assume that Moriyasu sees Nakayama as the successor to Nagatomo at this point in his career. Therefore, if Nagatomo is underperforming and Nakayama is doing well, it will be easy for Moriyasu to say, “We need a generational change.

In an interview on January 30, Nagatomo said, “I am grateful for the criticism. It’s a great situation. He welcomed the competition, saying, “It’s a great situation, and when good young players come out, it gives me even more energy. He also mentioned the differences between Italy, Turkey, and France, where he played in the past, and Japan.

The level of soccer in Japan is improving, and I think the level of the people watching is also improving. I really feel that Japanese soccer has developed. However, the beating is still half-hearted. The number of soccer fans will not increase unless the criticism of Nagatomo becomes so popular that it is covered not only on the Internet but also on TV.

This comment comes from someone who has experienced the frenzy of European soccer. At the same time, Nagatomo’s choice of words to stimulate himself and those around him is very much in keeping with the impression he gave when he returned to FC Tokyo last summer after an 11-year absence : “To be honest, the atmosphere at FC Tokyo matches is lukewarm. These comments remind me of the strength of Nagatomo’s competitive spirit, and I am reminded that this is the reason why he has been able to compete with the world.

However, as Nagatomo mentioned in his comment, “criticizing Nagatomo on TV” is difficult under the current circumstances. First of all, soccer programs have long since disappeared from terrestrial national broadcasting. The final qualifying round and other matches are covered in one of the news programs, but it is all they can do to report the current situation.

On the other hand, in Italy, where the comparison was made, and in Germany, where I live, soccer is the national sport and the most popular. At the European Championships and the World Cup, the prime minister is present at the matches and even gives online encouragement. In other words, it is seen as a national event, and simply put, soccer itself has a different status.

Yuta Nakayama, go, go! In the 23rd minute of the second half, Nagatomo, who had started the game, loudly encouraged the 24-year-old Nakayama as he took over. While there were many who argued that Nakayama should be the starter, Nagatomo’s attitude of inspiring the youngster who threatened his position was praised on social media (Photo: Afro)

In the long run, the status of soccer in Japan is slowly rising, but if you look at the past few years, it has been a calm rather than a tailwind. It has gained recognition, but not as much as professional baseball. That’s why the only thing to do is to produce results at the World Cup and continue to generate interest every four years. Despite the fact that the word “TV deprivation” is now on Wikipedia, the power of TV for the domestic market is huge when it comes to increasing the number of soccer fans of all generations, not just young people.

Also, from first-hand experience, I feel that there is not much of a culture in Japan to verbally express legitimate criticism. As the word “discovery” has become popular in recent years, the Japanese way of thinking is to find areas for improvement and grow by exchanging words as gently as possible. You may have more or less experienced that a person who is harsh in writing is surprisingly kind when you meet him/her face to face.

Or, criticism is confused with anger. It seems that we are not good at conveying criticism or opposing opinions without getting angry. Perhaps that is why it is difficult for us to criticize our favorite popular players on TV, and why criticism is more likely to be heard on the Internet.

Nevertheless, it is inevitable that Nagatomo will be discussed in terms of generational change, considering his age. In the European countries where Nagatomo played in the past, age is more of a factor than in Japan. There is no need to keep using so-so players in their 30s, as promising youngsters are coming up one after another.

For example, in the case of Makoto Hasebe, who is still a mainstay of Frankfurt’s Bundesliga side at the age of 38, he is often referred to in articles as “uncle” or “the oldest player on the team. This is not a criticism. It’s not a criticism, it’s reality. In fact, both Glassner and Hütter attempted to field a regular squad without Hasebe in the early years of their careers.

It is natural to want to try younger, more promising players rather than older Japanese. However, in Hasebe’s case, he has repeatedly regained his position on his own merits and continues to perform miraculously. It is only natural that Nagatomo, who is three years younger than Hasebe, would be called out for his age and his limitations in the Japanese national team, and the only way to overcome this is through performance.

In fact, Nagatomo did just that against Saudi Arabia. In the 13th minute of the first half, he was applauded when he persevered high up on the left side of the pitch to throw in his own ball. In the fifth minute of the second half, Junya Itoh scored after Nagatomo had closed in on goal and given Itoh the final pass, despite the opposition pulling him back. When asked for a comment, Nagatomo replied, “You’re giving me an assist? That’s very kind of you,” he said with a smile.

Nagatomo, who had been under fire on the 30th, said after the Saudi match, “Please give me some water, some nourishment in the name of praise, at least for today. If not, I will burn out,” he jokingly requested. Nagatomo was being watched by his juniors as he did online interviews. “They are taking pictures of me right now,” he said, telling us about a scene that we could not see through the computer screen. He looked very happy.

This doesn’t mean that Nagatomo is safe at left back. This is one of the positions where I feel there is a chance for players who are not in the squad at the moment, as the squad may be reshuffled in the 10 months before the tournament. However, Nagatomo’s performance in defying criticism, his pride in representing Japan, his mental strength and determination, and the humor and frankness of his comments. It was a reminder of the veteran’s charm.

  • Reporting and writing by Yoshiko Ryoukai

    Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1975. Graduated from the Department of History, Faculty of Letters, Japan Women's University, and began reporting on soccer in 2001, before becoming a writer after covering the 2003 World Youth Cup (now the U-20 World Cup) in the UAE. Has covered four World Cups and three Summer Olympics, and has been living in Dusseldorf, Germany since March 11, 2011.

Photo Gallery2 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles