One of the greatest sights at the FIFA World Cup™ is the meeting of cultures it brings. The opposing players on the field, coaching staff on the sidelines and the mingling fans all go to show what a global sport we love. And all speak the common language of football.
At club level, managing the blend of nationalities and languages is a daily challenge, be it between team-mates or the manager and their players, and ensuring information is conveyed successfully is a vital tool for success. On the international stage this is a less common issue, but when coaches and players come from differing backgrounds they need a system to try ensure they get results – as Japan have found.
In Alberto Zaccheroni, the Samurai Blue acquired a top-class coach who led them to success in the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, but overcoming the communication barrier for the Italian-speaking tactician was always going to be a challenge. As Japanese veteran Yasuhito Endo explained to FIFA, it is a team effort to ensure the east Asians think as one – with the sideline gesticulations of Zaccheroni being a key component.
“We don't speak Italian, so he [gives us instructions] through an interpreter, but we usually understand his gestures,” the midfielder, who has 145 caps, explained. “For example, when he wants us to move faster he waves his hands quickly, when he wants us to be more compact he goes like this (gestures), generally he's been doing the same actions for four years, so we mostly understand what he wants to say.”
One member of the side who is at a clear advantage over his colleagues – and no doubt is a key communicator because of it – is Inter Milan fullback Yuto Nagatomo. “I speak directly to the coach in Italian,” he explained, having now played in Zaccheroni's native country since 2011.
After their opening defeat to Côte d’Ivoire, at the following day's training Zaccheroni gathered his charges to together as they looked to move forward and bounce back in Brazil 2014's Group C. “He talked about the [game] and how we can't help looking back,” Nagatomo revealed. “We lost, and we have to acknowledge that. [He said] we have the match against Greece ahead of us, so we should all be focusing on that and working on moving forward towards that.”
Two quick goals from the Africans saw the meeting in Recife turn on its head – a fact which hit the Japanese players hard – and elder statesman Endo took up the task of lifting his fellow team-mates. “On the day of the match everyone was fairly depressed, and I talked to a few different players, said that it's finished, we can't turn back time, we should look forward, get motivated again, and go out and get back to work,” he said.
Greece enter the game in a similar scenario to the Asian champions, having fallen to Colombia in their first game and requiring a win to keep their hopes of reaching the Round of 16 in their hands. Having run the rule over Fernando Santos's side, Nagatomo knows the task in hand is not an easy one. “You can see that Greece is a really compact team, their defence is really tight,” the 27-year-old said. “Their forwards are good at countering and closing down, and that's something we have to work on: countering. They're certainly very strong opponents."
Taking in lessons he has learned from his travels, the attacking fullback believes the squad need to adopt a more European frame of mind when it comes to defeat to have their best chance of success: “Even though we lost our first match, we can't look on it in a negative way, we need to change our way of thinking entirely. We need to look at things in a more positive light. That's something I've learnt in Italy.”
When it comes to footballing culture, however, Endo is more concerned about reflecting the best that their own has to offer when the whistle blows at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal. He concluded: “We just want to do our best to finish at the top of our group and to believe in ourselves. In order to get a good result we need to give it our all and show the world that Japanese football really has something to offer.”