Kashima Antlers manager Ishii sacked after ACL exit

Defending J.League champions Kashima Antlers on Wednesday announced the dismissal of manager Masatada Ishii, an unexpected development just six months after the club’s dramatic second-place finish at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.

The 50-year-old took over at Kashima Stadium following the July 2015 dismissal of Toninho Cerezo, leading Antlers to the J.League Nabisco Cup title just three months later.

Ishii’s squad continued to gel, dominating the First Stage of the 2016 J1 League season and recording a sly a semifinal win at Kawasaki Frontale before dramatically beating Urawa Reds on away goals in the two-legged J.League Championship.

But it was his leadership at the Club World Cup that gained worldwide attention, as Antlers upset Atletico Nacional in the semifinals before taking European champions Real Madrid all the way to extra time.

Yet despite being named the J.League’s 2016 Manager of the Year and capturing the Fuji Xerox Super Cup in February, the notoriously disciplined Antlers front office clearly expected Ishii to achieve more on the continental level, a goal that was denied when the team exited this year’s AFC Champions League on Tuesday night.

Rumours of a rift between Ishii and the club first emerged last summer, when he went on temporary leave following a sideline confrontation with star midfielder Mu Kanazaki after the player was substituted off. While Ishii did not resign as some local media reported, the front office’s deference to Kanazaki remained a point of friction.

Antlers also announced that former defender Go Oiwa, a coach at the club since 2011, will take over as manager.