Dragan Stojkovic was named as coach of the year at the 2010 J.League Awards and was more than humble in his acceptance speech. While he may not have conceded that he was the best in the division, everybody knew that he was key to Nagoya securing their first ever title though and I outlined why in Soccer Magazine this week.
Seigo Narazaki may have scooped the MVP award, Josh Kennedy might have scored the goals and Tulio may very well be credited with being the catalyst but, whether he accepts it or not, Dragan Stojkovic was unquestionably the driving force behind Nagoya Grampus’ success this season.
The Serb did his best to be bashful in his Coach of the Year acceptance speech at last week’s J.League Awards – first refusing to agree that he was actually the top coach in the division, and then palming the credit off onto his wife – but everybody in the room knew that he was just being modest.
While his soft side was on full display at the annual gala, it was his focused, determined, ‘mean streak’ that we were all more accustomed to seeing throughout the season, and it was this that will have motivated everyone at the club to pull out all the stops to achieve what he wanted.
Stojkovic is an intelligent, amiable guy who has an aura about him – when he talks you don’t only want to listen, you feel you have to listen. He fixes you with his eyes and you sense that every word has been carefully chosen and that you really should concentrate on taking it in.
Indeed, concentration is a key word when talking about Pixie, and at the start of the season he told me that his aim was to win the league. When I reminded him of this last week, he nodded and replied.
“We had our target. We worked very hard and concentrated on the job and the players understood our aim to become champions. Communication, work and sacrifice by all – for the team. I concentrate on my team and I don’t look at other teams. I concentrate on my team.”
Nagoya not only became champions but they did it by the biggest margin ever and sealed the title with three games to spare. This didn’t surprise their coach either.
“I had confidence we would finish it before the last game and I saw the players’ confidence and desire and belief to finish three or four games before the finish. We had a strong mentality and we believed. We didn’t care about Kashima or Gamba or Cerezo, we wanted to finish the job.
“What was important was that we didn’t make mistakes. If you lose one game it can be a problem to come back. We never lost twice in a row.”
Top scorer Josh Kennedy also paid reference to the fact that Grampus never lost back-to-back matches, and alluded to the focus that Pixie had instilled in the team.
“Everybody knows that we didn’t lose two games in a row and we played very consistent football. Every time we lost we bounced back and won the game and got back on the winning way.”
The Australian then gave a glowing assessment of his coach, and credited Stojkovic with bringing out the best of his ability.
“Under him I’ve played the best football of my career so I only have praise for him. We won the championship and I guess it’s only normal that he receives an award. He shouldn’t just receive it because we won though, I think he deserves it.”
It doesn’t look as if Nagoya’s concentration will be wavering anytime soon either, with Pixie focused on further success next season – perhaps even emulating that of his former coach and good friend, Arsene Wenger.
“He is a very important person to me and I love to talk with him about football and much more,” Pixie said of the Arsenal manager. “We want to play like Arsenal and, as I said three years ago, I want my team to play beautiful football. I don’t know about results but that is my target, to play beautiful football.”
He fired a warning shot to anyone who thinks that his side will start to favour aesthetics over achievements though, insisting that Grampus will be back next season with exactly the same target.
“Next year we will try very hard to win again. We will add two or three players, that is enough. Everything is possible and I believe in my team and myself.”