1 September ~ Japan's upcoming friendlies with Paraguay and Guatemala were supposed to provide the new coach of the national team with a first look at the players at his disposal. Unfortunately, despite having had the best part of two months to replace Takeshi Okada, Alberto Zaccheroni – who was officially announced as the new boss on Monday night – was not hired in time to do this. Consequently, Hiromi Hara – the JFA's technical director who had been charged with finding Okada's successor – will be in the dugout. When asked about the slightly embarrassing situation Hara merely stated: "It would have been good to have the new coach in place but unfortunately it hasn't worked out like that."
The Japanese have a healthy appetite to learn from the best in the world, but the recruitment of their national team coach seems to have been carried out in a similarly haphazard way to which many in the country follow the latest fashions and trends – every season there's a new taste. It often appears that the coach has to be from whichever country are currently world champions – Philippe Troussier and Zico were seemingly hired using this logic in 1998 and 2002 respectively – and it looked for a long time like this year's flavour was Spanish (with Vicente del Bosque and Víctor Fernández two of the names being linked to the job). Instead they have gone retro, in hiring an Italian.
While Hara traipsed around Europe conducting his search, many in Japan were pointing out that Okada had just guided the team to its best ever World Cup finish outside the country and suggesting that another coach from closer to home may have been a good idea. Gamba Osaka's Akira Nishino, for example, was a popular choice to succeed his compatriot – although he claimed to have no interest in the role, aligning himself with Arsène Wenger and citing a preference for club management.
Along similar lines, the Kashima Antlers manager Oswaldo de Oliveira was being championed – and even indicated his interest at the 11th hour. While not a native, the Brazilian has won the J League in each of his three seasons in the country and exhibits a similar understanding of the Japanese game as Okada's predecessor. the Bosnian Ivica Osim. Osim was hugely popular as a J League coach at JEF United and in his short term at the helm of the national team, which was curtailed due to illness.
The JFA had already made their minds up, though, and there was no way they were going to lose any more face having so publicly conducted their search overseas. Zaccheroni does bring a wealth of experience to the post, and will find many willing students in Japan. Yasuhito Endo, for example, recently stated of the search for a new coach that: "I'd like it to be somebody from a country we haven't had yet, so we can get different ideas and learn from that."
The former Milan, Juventus and Inter boss's first match in charge will be against Argentina next month, swiftly followed by a tricky encounter with fierce rivals South Korea. You can't help but feel that he would have preferred the more imminent pair of matches – and a little more preparation – ahead of that baptism of fire. Sean Carroll