He arrived in slightly unusual cicumstances and with a cheerful grin but Jose Carlos Serrao wasn’t smiling much during his ill-fated and brief spell at Gamba Osaka…
I have to admit that my first impression when Gamba Osaka hired Jose Carlos Serrao was that the club had been pretty smart and – unusually in Japan – exhibited impressive flexibility, and even a little sneakiness.
We all knew they wanted Wagner Lopes in charge, and having had that plan scuppered by his lack of coaching badges – which, in hindsight, should have raised some questions – they looked to have done well by sticking to their guns and bringing their man in anyway, nominally as ‘assistant’ to learn from the relative (ok, complete) unknown, Serrao.
Very little was known about the 61-year-old who would officially be leading the side after the decade-long reign of Akira Nishino, but my first thoughts, based on his picture in the senshu meikan, were that he looked like a nice enough chap who was happy with his lot (which, again, on reflection, he probably was).
That impression was furthered when I met him before the season, and during a chat at the J.League’s Kick Off Conference he appeared to have an understanding of the task he was undertaking at Gamba.
“It’s not so easy to come to substitute for a manager who has been working for 10 years,” he said, paying reference to his predecessor Nishino.
“He gave a lot of titles – and he lost some – but he’s a man that contributed a lot for Gamba.”
Bearing in mind the consistency that had been so key for Gamba during the previous decade, I asked him what he wanted to change and how much he wanted to keep the same as he looked to put his mark on the club.
He insisted that the core focus would remain, with the experienced players in the side being trusted to assist in the changeover.
“Many players that are still playing for Gamba now learned a lot from [Nishino] and I think there are many good things that they have kept.”
He did, however, hint that a slightly more open and less predictable style may develop, centred upon the samba tradition of his nation.
“One thing that we could change is to give some Brazilian style inside this team,” he said with a smile.
“We have three Brazilian players, two are regulars in the side. It’s very difficult to make changes after a long time but I think one thing is we’ll give some freedom to the players to play, to dribble to feint.”
Sadly, the freedom that he implemented was actually closer to incoherence, and the players seemed confused as to what they were supposed to be doing.
This went against Serrao’s second stated aim, which was to improve the relationship between players on the pitch.
“We are trying to improve our communication in the team,” he had told me at the start of March.
“The Japanese players receive this in a very good way. I think we can make a better team during the season.”
Gamba had finished outside of the top three just twice in the past ten seasons, and I wondered what target, if any, he was setting for his first in the dugout.
“To play well, to get the victory and be champions. If God permits it for us.”
Sadly for him there wasn’t any divine intervention during his remarkably short stint at Banpaku – well, not of the positive kind, anyway – although the prayers of Gamba’s fans were swiftly answered when he and his coaching team, including Wagner Lopes, were removed from their duties the day after their 2-1 league defeat at home to Jubilo Iwata.
Serrao had confessed to not knowing much about the J.League when we spoke, but insisted he and his management team were doing their research.
“It’s a long season, 34 games, and there are no easy teams to play.
“I think during the competition we will see which teams will be the strongest.”
The latter points are certainly true but, for Serrao, the first proved to be way off the mark – his season was just three league games, all of which were lost.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for him as he seems like a nice enough guy who was just out of his depth.
However, Gamba must be commended for acting so swiftly to prevent him and the club sinking any further.