Avispa currently finds itself at a junction.
We are now in a similar position to last season where with 8 weeks of the season remaining the chances of sneaking into the play-offs are very, very small and the players have had a bit of an adrenaline dump as they find it hard to motivate themselves to finish 8th rather than 16th.
A large part of this problem has been directly caused by the club continually saying that our ambition is to return to J1, an honorable goal, but one which is entirely beyond the current budget of the club.
Let’s make no mistake about this Avispa are in a terrible financial situation. The club can release slogans saying “Let’s make J1”, and hope that some players and fans will believe it but this season we were playing in a division which had Gamba Osaka and Vissel Kobe nearly 100% guaranteed to secure the 2 automatic promotion spots, and clubs like JEF and Kyoto with a budget 8-10x higher than ours fighting for the remaining places.
How exactly did anyone think we were going to get promotion? When it became apparent that we couldn’t get promotion did they think we’d forget they once promised we might?
So where did it all go wrong?
I have consistently heard that the root of our problems has been from serious mismanagement of the club at the higher levels.
Even as a fairly casual fan I have heard that there are companies within the city who refuse to do business with the current regime in charge of the club, it is only rumor but there must be some reason as to why we struggled to get even a shirt front sponsor while last week’s opposition in Kitakyushu had shirt front, shirt back, shorts and coach sponorship.
The city is presently pushing a program of being a 1.5m population centre, but has a football team (Japan’s most popular sport regardless of the baseball publicity machine) which under the stewardship of Otsuka have gone from J1 to massively in debt in J2 in the space of 3 years.
One thing for absolutely sure is that the club needs a change. Otsuka, and the current financial stewards of the club could leave now and still have some credibility in tact. If they try to stay on then there is going to be a point when the fans turn on them in a major way and thing may start to become quite uncomfortable.
Where could it become good again?
Our performance on the pitch, our points tally, our chances going into next season have all improved from last season to this.
There is one main reason for this: Marijan Pusnik.
In previous seasons the club have brought in players (Makoto Tanaka: ~40m yen pa, Norihisa Shimizu ~26m yen pa, Ramazotti ~40m yen including all fees) who have been past it, inadequate, and over-priced. Even this season we have Koga (~20m yen pa) who is woeful in defence, but has been brought in as an older player who will ‘take us to J1’.
This season you will find few fans who wouldn’t say that the only bright points of the season have been Ishizu, Nakahara, Mishima and Kanemori; 4 players who if it wasn’t for Pusnik would probably have had less than 15 substitute matches combined.
This might seem like an exaggeration but I would point to Masato Yoshihara, a player who played for Japan U-19 team and went to Bordeaux but had only had 6 5 minute chances by the time he was released aged 22.
The bizarre structure in Japan means that young players get paid almost nothing compared to older (finished) ‘senpai’ players. We have shown we have a manager who will give these young players a chance to get first team experience. If we also show that we are happy to let them go on National Team tours, and move on to top J1 clubs if they prove themselves then we can become a centre of excellence for Kyushu.
That is the way to make Avispa stand on it’s own feet financially, to build an identity within the city as something of Kyushu pride, to get the homegrown Kyushu players like Endo, Okubo, Kiyotake, Nagai, Hirayama, to see Avispa as the natural place to start their career.
Maybe we don’t have the money to keep them at the club for their whole career, but I think everyone at the club would sooner see players of that standard before they move to Urawa or Europe than players stepping down from jubilo Iwata at the end of their career.
In Pusnik we currently have the manager with the experience, the skills, and the confidence to do it. The only question is can the Avispa presidency be sorted to let him do it?