Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Miyaichi proves Feyenoord's rising sun
For a modern day saviour the Superman cape has become a bit of a cliché, although football fans in Rotterdam would be forgiven for dressing up a Japanese high school kid in one, should they get the chance.
Since 18-year old Ryo Miyaichi arrived on the last day of the transfer window, on loan from Arsenal, Feyenoord have secured 11 points from five games, following a tiresome struggle to take 20 from as many matches since the start of the season.
Left winger Miyaichi was playing for a high school team in his hometown Okazaka when Arsenal scout Steve Rowley picked him up and he signed a five-year contract, but he cannot play in England without a work permit. Therefore Miyaichi jumped at the chance when former Feyenoord star Robin van Persie suggested to Arsene Wenger that he send the youngster to Rotterdam.
No one had a clue what to expect when he arrived, not even whether he would play for Feyenoord, Excelsior or even for both. Although the two were both heavily involved in a relegation battle at that time, their reserves and some of the older youth teams have recently merged into Feyenoord/Excelsior. Miyaichi was young enough to be eligible for the Under-19s but, during his first training session, Feyenoord coach Mario Been immediately noticed his potential.
On his first-team debut at Vitesse the standard of the game was so abominable that even Lionel Messi or Kaka may have found it difficult to make a positive impression, but there were some flashes of talented wing play from the youngster.
In his first home game, Miyaichi scored a fine goal against fellow strugglers Heracles Almelo and immediately made an impression on the fans. The quicksilver forward proved much more effective than most of his recent predecessors in that position in De Kuip and he helped Feyenoord win for the first time in two months.
The tricky away game in Den Haag was drawn, followed by a sensational 5-1 win over fourth place FC Groningen. Miyachi did not score in any of these games, but he was always a threat and his performances took the pressure off players like Georginio Wijnaldum and Luc Castaignos, who began to reap the benefits of his arrival.
So have Feyenoord turned the corner? Looking at recent results: yes. In the long-term: no.
While Miyachi may prove the difference in the relegation battle this season, former Feyenoord star of the 1970s Willem van Hanegem was less enthusiastic about the Japanese loanee when he said: "It is not good for young Feyenoord players who cannot develop in that position. At the end of the season Ryo returns to Arsenal and the club is left with a frustrated Jason Cabral as he has spent months on the bench. From a managerial point of view, a big club like Feyenoord should not be dependent on loan signings."
The arrival of Miyaichi is a fortunate coincidence of the trial-and-error style of Feyenoord's recruitment policy - only by chance did he prove to be good. Meanwhile, the club have also signed Soren Larsen on loan from Toulouse - the Denmark international has hit just five goals since the summer of 2006, all of them in one month at MSV Duisburg in the German second tier - whose time at Feyenoord is better counted in minutes than in games.
More evidence that Feyenoord are scraping the barrel for new talent comes from earlier this season. Having been sent away after trials at several first division clubs, Jhon van Beukering suddenly turned up at Varkenoord, the Feyenoord training ground. He and coach Mario Been go back a few years, when both had a successful spell at NEC, however even then Van Beukering (nicknamed Van BurgerKing) had trouble passing the weight test - although he once managed to drop seven kilos in a few days when UEFA Cup football was on the horizon.
Van Beukering's full belly continued to haunt him, yet Been optimistically hauled him in, for free of course, as the understudy to Luc Castaignos. In his first game in December he beat the offside trap from the halfway line, but lost his three-yard advantage on the Excelsior defenders even before reaching the contours of the penalty box. After a painful experience for both player and club, last week Van Beukering pounced on an offer from Pelita Jaya FC of Java, a former club of Argentine World Cup winner Mario Kempes, and is still hoping to play international football for Indonesia.
Another body blow for the club came as 18-year-old academy product Luc Castaignos - who hit four goals in the recent five-game unbeaten streak - agreed to join Inter for €3 million last week. As his contract was ending soon, Feyenoord were forced to cash in on him or risk losing him for free, but while Castaignos looks forward to life at a top European club and a hefty pay cheque, he should be reminded of a quote from the great Johan Cruyff that it's better for a footballer's career to earn 2k a year for ten years, than one million in one.
Castaignos' chances of playing in Milan are slim, given the world-class players they have on offer, and a warning from recent times comes from former FC Twente man Marko Arnautovic who did not make it at San Siro. Hopefully, Castaignos will be loaned out to another Serie A club next season if he does not make an impression, or it would be a tragic loss of talent.
Thankfully for Feyenoord, they get to keep him for the rest of the season. His goal at Heerenveen last weekend showed his quality as a poacher as he was the only one to stay focused enough after a scramble in the box to seal a win which the home team should have wrapped up long before. The crowd could not believe the chances the frontline had missed in the best game of their season, according to coach Ron Jans, and that includes a 6-2 hammering of champions FC Twente.
But perhaps the game marks the lucky break that Feyenoord have been looking for. About 32 years ago, the Kuip club had a similar abysmal away streak, when it took them 16 games and 14 months to come home with a victory. In a spectacular reversal of fortune the team then established a record sequence of undefeated away games and returned to title contention in 1978-79 - for the purists, I hasten to add that there was an overlap of half a year of draws - and coach Been certainly believes this could happen again.
With the recent relegation worries rapidly becoming history, Been immediately turned his head around and started talking about the play-offs for European football. Stranger things have happened, as Been experienced with NEC in 2008, although it would take a lot more than the impressive form of a Japanese loanee to make it a reality.