After the club announced this week that Marijan would be returning to his home country of Slovenia I have been thinking about what direction the club is now moving in.
I know that there are also personal circumstances announced, but I really hope that the club did everything they could to work with those and keep what I believe is one of the best managers in J2 (and possibly J1 too) in the league.
It is impossible to comment on Pusnik’s work here without acknowledging the fact that it is a notoriously difficult place for foreign managers (and particularly non-Brazilian) to succeed.
Clubs, and the league as a whole, know that they need to try to modernise their clubs and bring in good practice from overseas, but then as with so many other areas of Japanese society and business are very closed to new ideas and change, making a fraught juxtaposition between foreign managers who walk into a club and see there are so many things they need to try to change, and a structure of coaches and players who are opposed to doing anything differently to how they have done it for the last 25 years.
You can go back through managers from just the last few years (Verdenijk/Omiya/JEF, Arnold/Sendai, Ghotbi/Shimizu, Badu/Kyoto, and so on and so on, even Avispa have tried it before with Littbarski), all coaches with decent experience who would know exactly how to get a team playing and what they should be doing in training, but all managers who have left clubs after less time than Pusnik.
Any club hiring a manager from overseas needs to know that they can get results that they wouldn’t otherwise achieve with a domestic manager, but it is through the foreign managers doing something differently and getting the most from players in areas which may otherwise be being missed within Japanese set-ups. If they club and players don’t buy into this fully, and oppose any changes brought in then the situation is impossible.
The foreign managers who have held positions for longer have quite often been managers who have played in Japan before becoming managers. I don’t think this is a coincidence, Japan is still a very different country to the rest of the world and the way certain things work is very unfamiliar to a foreigner new to the country.
Speaking from personal experience I know it took me some time to try to understand the ‘Japanese psyche’ in certain situations. By getting rid of these foreign managers so early clubs are going through the hard yards of acclimatization and then losing managers before reaping the rewards they could bring.
Pusnik did much better in this area than possibly any manager I’ve seen here as I have noticed that he does try to speak to his players and interviewers in Japanese at times, and shouts instructions in Japanese (to the enjoyment of the crowd!). His interaction with the supporters has been flawless from the day he came to the club, and every press release about going on parades and shrines he seems to be fully involved in public duties of the club.
When he came to the club I remember them saying that they had a 3 and 5 year plan for the club, and as far as I can see we have made giant steps with training and infrastructure, links to the youth team, sponsorship deals and sale of the club while Pusnik has been at the club; but it still a 5 year plan.
What is the point of stopping after 2 years?
To really assess how I think the manager has done during his time at the club I looked back at what I expected when he first game, and before I’d even seen a training session or press conference by the man.
In this post I said the following should be targets after coming to the club:
1) Bring a new era, with fresh tactics and formation.
When Pusnik came to the club we were as broken as it is possible to be as a club. We’d just finished 18th in the division, with the 2nd worst defence and a group of players who seemed to hate their manager.
We needed someone to come in and give the club a fresh start. Marijan did exactly that. From his first day the Maeda season wasn’t ever mentioned, and the fans gained enthusiasm with a manager who clearly had heart for the job.
Our tactics and formation changed, and after just 1 game we had more identity, and more of a gameplan than we had had in the 2 years previously.
2) Play in a more aggressive European style.
I’d said that a 3rd division English team would beat Avispa, and not because they are any better technically, but because of their style of play.
This is something which Pusnik clearly tried to introduce at the club with a high pressing style and aggression on the pitch.
There were times that it showed it really worked (2nd half against Kitakyushu away for example; 5 second half goals against a team who will finish 4th?!), but I don’t think the players ever really bought into it.
This should be to their shame, but after 10 years of floating round the pitch anonymously while being idolised for sporadic good goals, maybe players like Jogo just couldn’t change.
Jogo would be well advised to read internet message boards at the moment where is being compared to the ‘Unclothed emperor’, rather than the ‘King’.
3) Bring through young players.
Another thing which we saw from the very first game was that he gave 18 year old Kanamori a game to everyone’s surprise. Just look at Kanamori now. For any Japanese manager he would still be on the bench right now, maybe still waiting for his first game.
He also gave games to Mishima, who also made the U21 team. Previous to Pusnik we had players like Yoshihara who couldn’t even make the bench despite being at the club for 3 years and also being called up to Japan teams.
I’ve been to exhibition games where U18 and U16 Avispa players have been given time on the pitch. Mitsunaga has the potential to be better than Kanamori.
This is another area where I think the players have let him down a bit. When substituted in the Yamaga game Kanamori even refused to shake the manager’s hand; this is a player who wouldn’t even be on the bench let alone starting a game if Pusnik hadn’t come to the club.
So the 3 things which I said that I hoped Pusnik would do at the club, he has done all 3. I guess that is why I am very disappointed that he is leaving the club.