Bruno Garcia and Japan: Renewing and Reviving

Bruno Garcia and Japan: Renewing and Reviving (Photo courtesy: JFA)
Bruno Garcia and Japan: Renewing and Reviving

Japan Continues with the “Spanish School” of Futsal

Interview by our collaborator Steve Harris

It’s Feb. 17, 2016. The weather is sunny and cool in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and we are inside of Universal Stadium watching the Japan national team in stunned disbelief. It is the quarterfinal phase of the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship, which is also a qualification round for the Colombia World Cup to be held later that year. Japan is seeking a third consecutive title in the competition – and an immediate ticket to the world championship – but has been defeated by a feisty Vietnam. The possibility of qualification via the 5th-place game is still an option for Japan, but the Samurai Five are in a state of shock and will fall the next day 2-6 to an unspectacular but efficient Kyrgyzstan.

Prior to their departure to the Asian championship, the Japanese futsal national team was heralded domestically as the “strongest ever.” Miguel Rodrigo, the charismatic Spanish manager who took charge of the team in 2009 and consequently led it to two AFC titles, was hailed as a magician in Japan and featured in a nationally televised TV documentary called “The Miraculous Lesson.” But the magician and his Japanese armada suffered a decisive defeat in Tashkent. The players quietly returned to their respective teams and Miguel Rodrigo was told by the Japan Football Association (JFA) that they would not be renewing his contract.

Japan’s fall was sudden and devastating. The three-time AFC champion had never even needed to participate in the qualifiers for the Asian championship, as their tournament performance always guaranteed qualification for the next one. Just this month – November of 2017 – for the first time ever, Japan was reduced to playing in an AFC qualification round. In the first game of three, Japan defeated opponent Mongolia 5-1 under the guidance of Spaniard Bruno Garcia, the Galician coach who led Vietnam when Japan crashed and burned in Uzbekistan. Miguel Rodrigo had been shown the door and Bruno Garcia had been welcomed on board as Japan’s next Spanish savior. Japan won all three qualification matches and will be playing in the 2018 AFC finals in Chinese Taipei.

In the march by Bruno Garcia and Vietnam to their first World Cup, Japan was left behind. (Credit: VFF)

“Tashkent Was the Breaking Point”
In an interview in Spain after his appointment as the new manager of the Japanese national team in Oct. 2016, Bruno described Japan as “having very high potential but not being in good health at the moment.” He arrived in Japan with little fanfare and has been quietly but earnestly observing the F.League and planning the national team’s return to its status as an Asian powerhouse. The media in Japan has shown little interest, so the only source of comments by Garcia have been found in the press releases of the JFA – until I requested and was granted an interview in October of this year. My article about the interview with Bruno was released to coincide with Japan’s AFC qualification campaign in Bangkok. Let’s start with Bruno’s thoughts about the current state of the Japanese national team.

“Asia changed a lot in in the last four or five years. Before that, the Japanese national team was active enough to qualify for the World Cup or win in Asia. But that’s not enough any longer. The AFC competition and international tournaments are not enough. We need to change. The experience in Tashkent in 2016 showed Japan that it needed a new direction – and now I can talk about that because I’m the leader of that project.”

“New countries are working very hard and investing in new coaches and in futsal – and it’s not just Iran, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Before the World Cup started, the media asked me about Asia and I told them ‘you will see.’ By the time the tournament finished, Iran had finished in 3rd place and Thailand and Vietnam reached the final 16, which showed that the level of Asia had indeed increased. For a long time Japan had been increasing its level but then it stopped – and Japan missed the World Cup because of that. Tashkent was the breaking point.”

Bruno Garcia is presented at the new manager of Japan in October 2016 (Credit: JFA)

“Be the Protagonist throughout the Entire Game”
The Spanish school that Bruno Garcia refers to became Japan’s touchstone when Spaniard Miguel Rodrigo replaced Brazilian Sergio Sapo in 2009 as national team manager. In fact, some of the JFA’s futsal directors, coaches and instructors are Japanese nationals who have extensive experience in Spain. One might wonder why Miguel was replaced by another Spanish coach who might do exactly the same thing, so Bruno explains.

“I want the Japanese national team to be the protagonist throughout the entire game. I want them to hold onto the ball in attack and when in defense to press in the high zone. I like a dynamic game and I’m used to playing with two systems of attack: the 4-0 and the 3-1. I like the players to be creative in 1v1 situations. Miguel Rodrigo and I share the same methodology but our styles are different. I want the Japanese national team to be the protagonist, which means that we dominate all situations throughout the entire game: in attack, in defense, in transitions and in set plays.”

“For me there are three things of maximum importance – one is the individual input of the player and the other two are requirements that I impose. I require intensity and concentration – and concentration in two ways: in a player’s activity and in tactical concentration. A player needs to play with high intensity and high tactical concentration to follow the match plan, the system and the modern game. This is my style. If you watch one training camp, maybe you can feel that.”

Bruno Garcia and the younger players he called up for a training camp. (Credit: JFA)

Translation Lesson: What Is Intensidad (“intensity”) in Japanese?
Bruno often uses the word “intensity” in explaining his goals for the team. “High-intensity training” is a key element of national team camps. Intensity sounds like a good quality to have, but what on earth does it mean in actual playing situations?

“In my style, I like players to press hard. When we’re in attack I like them to run hard to gain superiority. You need intensity for this. When you lose the ball, you have to organize your defensive system very quickly. You need intensity to do that. And when in attack, I like mobility: I like the ball to be moved around very quickly, which again requires intensity. But the speed of play is linked to concentration. It’s not enough to just run; you need to know where to run. You need tactical rules and tactical concentration to know where to run when in a counter-attack.”

“We have tactical rules and systems. You need to link intensity and tactical concentration for this. This is extremely tiring for players. They cannot play for more than three or four minutes when required to play this way. It’s very difficult. If I see players able to play for five or six minutes, they are not playing at my style of intensity. The new futsal is high intensity, high concentration. Linking those two things for me is the key because if you have that and motivation – which is of course expected of national team players – then you can follow my match plan, which is the road map for the game.”

So how has “intensity” been rendered in Japanese? Kyodo: In Japanese that is a term more commonly used to indicate the strength of steel, but it has been adapted by the Bruno’s national team to express the idea of having the mental and physical ability to withstand the pressure of modern futsal of the Spanish school. Low-intensity players have no place on the current Japan national team.

The word “intensity” (kyodo) is used by virtually all national team players when commenting about training camp sessions. (CLICK HERE!)

U-25 Japan: Rediscovering Japan’s Lost Generation
Despite hiring Bruno Garcia to coach the national team, the JFA still failed to address the biggest cause of their failure at Tashkent. The JFA’s 2017 annual plan included very few official or even friendly matches for the futsal national team. Bruno noticed this immediately.

“When I came to Japan and sat down and started planning, there were only two main competitions scheduled for 2017: the Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG: held in Sept. 2017 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan) and the 2018 AFC Championship qualification round (Nov. 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand). For the latter, obviously we would use the top team, but the JFA had told the club teams that the league would continue during AIMAG. The agreement was that I would not borrow top players from the clubs during that tournament, so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to invite young players to give them international experience.”

“I noticed that there were players who had been in the pool but had not been actually playing with the national team, like Yuki Murota. He went with the national team to Tashkent in 2016 but didn’t play there. He is 25, which is not young. That is how I arrived at the idea for a new national team – that the cutoff would be the age of Murota and a couple of other players: 25. I told the JFA that if they did not plan on stopping the league for AIMAG in the future, that the cutoff should be U-23. But when I planned this time I thought that it would be good to invite some players who were 24 or 25. Still, the average age turned out to be 22.7.”

And so it was that the U-25 Japanese national team – the first time this category has been used in the sport – represented Japan at AIMAG and performed well enough to win the bronze medal.

Garcia with Yuki Murota and former national team captain Kazuhiro Nibuya (Credit: JFA)

Japanese Culture’s Negative Effect on National Team Development
“I think that there is a cultural problem. In Japan, teams seem to have difficulty in trusting younger players. If you watch F.League matches, you will see that when games are in their most critical moment, young players are not trusted to perform. But when I say young players, I’m thinking about players under 20 years old. In Japan, however, they will say that a player is ‘young’ when the player is 25! For me, that’s not young! 24 or 26 is not young! It’s the same in Spain and Brazil – players that old are not considered young.”

“So maybe a problem here in Japan is the mentality of not trusting players in their young 20s to do serious work. This is not good for futsal because futsal needs short-, medium- and long-term planning. If I just thought about the next two to four years or the next World Cup, I think that we have enough players. There are enough, but that’s not the way I do things. I come from the Spanish school where we think all of the things we need to do to increase the futsal level everywhere. And in Japan we in fact do have the environment for that – plus now we have the AFC U-20 Championship to work toward as well.”

“Japan needs to come back to the World Cup and as a leading team in the AFC Championship. We need to renew the national team. We can’t allow our current players to be comfortable. My message to all of my players is that if there are two players of the same level, I will always give the spot to the younger player. Why? Because the older player already has had many chances to demonstrate their ability but new players need new chances.”

Video review session of the national team (Credit: JFA)

Renewing the Team with New Players but Maintaining Its Identity with the Old
The U-25 Japanese national team that won the bronze medal at AIMAG attracted the attention of others. Better known as Pulpis, Jose María Pazos Mendez is a Spanish manager who is famous throughout Asia and the rest of the world due to his success with the Thailand and Uzbekistan national teams. He readily offered praise for the performance of U-25 Japan at AIMAG.

“They had a very good tournament, playing solidly in defense and daring in attack. There were new set plays that Japan hadn’t used before on corners and kick-ins. They tried to use speed in every action. When the ball went out of play, the goalkeeper would even try to put the ball back into play up front before the opponent’s defense could the get into position. They combined 4-0 and 3-1 systems and used a lot of blocks and screens to create lanes for passes to the pivot. Using a younger team like this is a concept I used in Thailand in 2008 and 2009, after first arriving. The young players from those teams are now the core of the top national team.”

So are younger players the new face of Japan? Bruno says no.

“The leading national team players are still Morioka, Minamoto, Yoshikawa, Nibuya, Takita, Henmi, Sekiguchi, Higor and others. They are leaders in their clubs and possess a lot of quality. They understand my system and my style. Having a recognizable identity is essential for a national team. Our players must understand what that identity is and follow it in order to increase the level of the team. Young players like Murota, Tamura, Uematsu, Yazawa, Shimizu, Kato (Minami) and Saito need to be taught to fit in with this.”

The Japanese national team wins their third qualification game and acquires a ticket to the 2018 AFC finals (Credit: JFA)

Comparing Asian Nations
Asia has long been dominated by Iran, with Japan the only other country to deny the Persians domination of the region – on three occasions, in fact. Did Japan’s failure to qualify for the 2016 World Cup signify that the futsal of countries like Thailand and Vietnam had caught up with and even surpassed Japan?

“The Vietnamese players have improved greatly because they are very fast and work very hard, but there are aspects of futsal that they have not mastered as well as Japan’s top players. For example, there are three zones of attack: the opening zone, the elaboration zone, and the finishing zone. In the elaboration zone and finishing zone, the Japanese players are better because of superior possession skills and decision making.”

“I don’t think that Thailand has surpassed Japan, but maybe the difference has been narrowed in the last ten years. Many Thai players are very good in 1v1 situations – there is good quality there. And a good coach with Pulpis. But for me, Japanese tend to be better – but that is only if they continue to work at it. If we don’t work, we will see – as we did in Tashkent – that the other countries can and will surpass Japan.”

“Iranian players have all of the best qualities that good futsal players need. That’s why they can compete with the best teams in the world. So we need to work hard as a team to increase our level to beat them, because they have many, many players who are top quality – more than Japan. And the Iranian national team plays in a lot of competitions, which makes them even stronger. The key for us is to work harder and play as a team. Then we can beat Iran.”

Bruno Garcia is hoisted high in celebration by his Vietnamese players (Credit: VFF)

Bruno’s Roots and Futsal Values
Bruno was only 33 years old when he was signed to manage Azkar Lugo in the first division of Spain’s LNFS. After four years of success at that club in the world’s top league, he would move on to a Chinese club team, the Peru national team and then the dual positon as head coach of both the Vietnamese national team and top club Thai Son Nam.

“I started as an assistant at 24 and then my first head coaching job was at 26 was in the second division of the LNFS. My success as a manager might be because I have passion for the sport that is stronger than others. You can learn many things about futsal tactics, but you need passion to excel as a coach. For any job, you need passion – otherwise the work will be very difficult. I never watch the clock when I work because I do it out of passion – no matter where I work.”

“And I come from the best school in the world: the Spanish school of futsal. We have been cooperating with each other for many years. Javier Lozano, Jesus Candelas, Jose Venancio and many others have all been supporting each other. We always share. It’s key to share the knowledge because I learned from Javier Lozano and others. And now for me it’s mandatory to teach new coaches because I have received the same.”

Garcia with the 2007-2008 Azkar Lugo team in Spain’s first division (Credit: Azkar Lugo)

Born in 1974, Bruno was able to watch the rise of futsal in Spain in the halcyon days of the ‘90s and had already started his career in coaching at the time of Spain’s historic victory over Brazil at the 2000 World Cup in Guatemala. Here are the teams and players who he cites as demonstrating the type of futsal he embraces as a coach.

- Vietnam national team in the last AFC 2016 and in World Cup Colombia 2016
- Spain national teams that were world champion in 2000 and 2004 and runners-up in 2008 and 2012
- Argentina national team which was champion in the last World Cup.


- Goalkeepers: Luis Amado, Paco Sedano, Tiago, Juanjo, Cristian, Jesus Herrero, Jesus Claveria, Julio Fenrnandez
- Fixos: Kike Boned, Torras, Orol, Javi Lorente, Ortiz, Cico, Neto, Gabriel, Rafael Rato
- Alas: Ricardinho, Vinicius, Manoel Tobias, Daniel Ibanez, Andreu, Alvaro Aparicio, Alemao, Saad, Adri, Miguelin, Pola
- Pivots: Marquinho, Paulo Roberto, Lenisio, Javi Rodriguez, Marcelo Soares, Betao, Fernandao, Fernandinho, Wilde, Alex Yepes, Ferrao

Posted by Luca Ranocchiari --> luca.ranocchiari@futsalplanet.com


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