Ao Ashi – 17 – Lost in Anime

At long last, some actual coaching!  While I fully respect the “teach a boy to fish” idea behind Fukuda’s coaching directive, it’s been frustrating watching Ashito flounder about with the only real input coming from his teammates.  Peer support is great, but teenaged soccer players (and observers) are not always going to be the best ones to provide teaching.  When you ask a kid to learn a totally new position, is it so unreasonable to bend the rules a little and explain how to do it?  We’ve seen that Date-san isn’t happy with the way Ashito has been treated, and he obviously has wisdom to impart.  I just wish he’d done it a lot sooner.

It’s a good thing there was a match before Tokyo Musashino (which I hadn’t realized), because that would have been a big ask for Ashi in his first game back in the side after a month.  Kaneda is a real piece of work, to the point where his teammate Nakano-kun has to apologize on his behalf.  Kaneda blaming the tryout winners – especially Ashito – for his own shortcomings is obviously bogus.  And his demeanor is grade-A A-hole.  But I think Keiji basically gets him.  Some guys just need to make themselves angry to be motivated.  They need an enemy to rage against, to feel like a victim.  And Kaneda is such a guy.  And, naturally, he’s a right-sided forward.

There is a ray of hope for the B-team in their hour of need – Yoshitsune Kenta (Okitsu Kazuyuki).  He’s the striker whose injury necessitated the promotions which shook up the B-team, and in working his way back he’s getting game time with the Bs.  For Tachibana the king of insecurity this is a mixed blessing (he can’t help but hold himself up in comparison and find himself wanting) but for a struggling side it’s a life preserver.  Date announced he’s going with an “aggressive lineup” – which shifts Eisaku to the left and finds Ashito back in the side at left back.  Some of his teammates aren’t thrilled at his inclusion, but to be fair he hasn’t yet given them any real reason to be.

Some of those teammates are rather alarmed that Ashi-kun has gone off running two hours before the match, but the cool-headed Yoshitsune (wearing the armband, naturally) is fine with whatever a guy needs to clear his head.  Anri is freaking out too, following Ashi on her bike and pleading with him to stop.  It’s not until she name-drops Hana (make of that what you will – Anri certainly does) that he does, though, and reflects on the fact that he’s just happy about playing left back and puzzled by that.  For me it’s not so much that Ashito is happy about playing fullback, but happy about playing period.  If you’re a footballer, playing football is always better than not playing football.

Happy or not, Ashito still looks like a fish out of water, and his opponents certainly aren’t blind to that.  Whatever Fukuda-san may envision Ashi is not a natural defender – that’s something he has to learn.  And as ever, when he has to constantly think about what he’s supposed to be doing he can’t react quickly enough to actually do it (where it’s supposed to be done).  Somewhat theatrically it’s Hana’s encouragement that snaps Ashito into the moment, and the magic eyes kick in.

This is another of those fundamental soccer truths that Ao Ashi loves so much.  Defending isn’t primarily about the ball or the man, but the space.  Good attackers know how to exploit it, and good defenders know how to take it away.  Ashi has great success maneuvering Eisaku into the space on the wing (he doesn’t have to with the defensive mid, who’s already in the right place), then closing off the only space left to the attacker and stealing the ball.  The next time he fails – almost leading to a surrendered goal – because he acts on his own and winds up behind the action when the spaces shift with the movement of the other players.

It’s at this point that Date finally – finally – gives Ashi some specific in-game instruction.  Yoshitsune has already seen enough to understand why Fukuda has been talking up Ashito to the A team (which helps explain Akutsu’s attitude, and which I’m not convinced he should be doing).  Yoshitsune is clearly a class above the others (and he should be), and it’s only natural that Ashito should want to be like him (Tachibana has already decided he never can).  But every soccer player is different, and trying to imitate others – even elites like Kuribayashi and Yoshitsune – only gets you so far.  It’s only when Ashito figures out who he is as a fullback that he’s truly begin to grow into the role.