John Duerden reckons Japanese and Korean success in Russia will help to prove Asian coaches can mix it with the best.
For the first time ever, Asia will have five teams at a World Cup. If Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t make it through then maybe Australia will. If the Socceroos don’t survive the first round then there are still South Korea and Japan to come.
With five horses in the race then the odds are not bad. If there are only to be one or two that make it over the first hurdle to continue running into the knockout stage, then it is best for Asian football that it is Japan and/or South Korea. Neutral fans from the world’s biggest continent should get behind the Taeguk Warriors and the Samurai Blue.
This does not mean that they are the best bet for success, that is open for debate. Iran have been the continent’s number one team for some time though have one of the tougher groups at the World Cup with Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Saudi Arabia are the lowest-ranked of all the 32 teams at the tournament but have been handed a reasonably easy group and have collected a couple of decent friendly results of late, defeating Algeria and Greece 2-0. Australia are the Asian champions and while France will be tough, finishing above Peru and Denmark to take second is not mission impossible.
South Korea find themselves in a difficult looking pot with Sweden, Mexico and Germany. While Japan are in the most open group of all with Poland, Senegal and Colombia.
But if there are to be two teams that do make it, better it is Korea and Japan. These are the only two of the five with local coaches at the respective helms. If Shin Tae-yong and Akira Nishino can lead the their teams through the group stage and into the last 16 then it will give the reputation of Asian coaching a much-needed boost.
Think of the most famous coaches in the world and few, if any, Asian names will spring to mind –even in Asia. The world’s biggest continent is very much an importer of tactical knowhow and rarely exports.
At home, it can be a struggle for locals to get the glamour jobs. The big Chinese Super League clubs rarely appoint Chinese coaches, preferring names such as Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello and Felix Magath despite the fact they are many times more expensive than the domestic choices.
Japan and Korea are, ironically, two leagues that are perfectly happy to hand out domestic hotseats to local backsides. Shin and Nishino could do wonders for the reputation of Asian coaching around Asia. The sight of two well-known tacticians, both past Asian Champions League winners, in the knockout stage would show that there is local talent. It could also do wonders for the reputation of Asian coaching around the world. Even around the fringes of the big leagues if Europe, there has been little to no Asian influence.
That is partly down to history, reputation and stereotype from the European side. Asian coaches are unknown and the assumption is that there is nothing much to know.
Relative success in 2010 helped a little. Huh Jung-moo and Takeshi Okada took the two East Asian rivals to the last 16 in South Africa and both could even have gone to the last eight. Neither were of an age to venture overseas. Huh was coming to the end of his coaching career and Okada was approaching his mid-fifties.
That success meant that by the time the 2014 World Cup rolled around, there was a little more interest in the great hope of Asian coaching in 2014. Hong Myung-bo was the coach of South Korea and it was felt that he could be the perfect pioneer for Asian coaching.
Here was a man who had captained Korea to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, his fourth appearance at the competition. He had played football for LA Galaxy and had the kind of charisma and confidence that any Asian coach is going to need if they are going to have a chance in Europe. He was young, spoke English and had taken the U23 team to an Olympic medal at the 2012 London games. But Brazil was a disaster and it was back to square one.
So it is time to repeat 2010. It is only a matter of time before we see Asian coaches heading to Europe. It is a necessary step in the development of the continental game but if Korea and Japan and their homegrown hands can do the business in Russia then that time may come sooner rather than later.