This year some key arrivals have moved FC Gifu – more used to struggling at the foot of J2 – into the limelight…
FC Gifu is not a club accustomed to success on the pitch or media attention, but fans are expecting big things this year and at last week’s J.League ‘Kick Off Conference’ its booth was the most crowded of all the J2 sides.
Former Japan star Ruy Ramos is the principal cause of all the excitement, and the charismatic 57-year-old has gotten straight down to work after being appointed as coach for the 2014 season.
“That’s thanks to me, of course,” he joked upon being told that his new team’s opening game of the season is expected to be a sell-out. “If I wasn’t here [Yoshikatsu] Kawaguchi and the rest wouldn’t come.”
His tongue was placed firmly in his cheek upon delivering that line, but he is not wrong. There is an element of Jose Mourinho-lite to Ramos, and his self-confidence ensures everyone in the room is hanging onto every word when he speaks.
“Everyone in the media has all sorts of ideas about the image of Gifu and I want to change that,” he told assembled reporters at the league’s pre-season meet-and-greet. “In order to do that it has to change from the players. That’s why I signed Kawaguchi and [Alessandro] Santos.
“I don’t know how professional the players have been until now,” he said of the side who finished 21st last season, conceding a league-worst 80 goals in the process. “I won’t allow players to smile when we lose. We have to take more pride in playing for Gifu.”
Veteran Kawaguchi — who along with fellow former national teamer Santos arrived at the club soon after Ramos, adding to the interest around Gifu — has quickly bought into his coach’s enthusiasm.
“We have confidence,” he told The Japan News at last week’s event. “He’s interesting and knows everything about Japanese football. He gives us great advice so my teammates have confidence and are getting better.”
The fixture list has also been kind to Gifu and they start with a pair of home games against J.League debutants Kamatamare Sanuki and perennial strugglers Kataller Toyama.
“We have to win the first and second games,” the 38-year-old, who has travelled to four World Cups, including the most recent in South Africa in 2010, said. “We have to win our home games.
“If possible, if the players’ condition is good, then we can make the play-offs. That is our target.”
Ramos was hesitant to make any similarly bold on-field targets, instead focusing on raising the stock of a side which has never finished higher than 12th in its six years in J2.
“My aim is for the local people to be able to expect things of this team,” he said. “If possible I want to go higher up the table.
“I want to build it a bit at a time. I want to compete next year. First of all this year I want to take things one game at a time. I want to increase the number of supporters too.”
The former Verdy Kawasaki star is doing his best to try and keep expectations under control, but after six years out of the professional game he couldn’t completely contain his natural enthusiasm.
“For us to go up is difficult,” he began. “But if you talk about Jubilo, Kyoto, or JEF, who have to battle for the title, that’s difficult too.
“Nothing is impossible. There’s no option but to go for it. There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s difficult for every team; for Real Madrid and Oita, too. For us as well. But nothing is impossible.”