Picking up from Piksi

Following Dragan Stojkovic as manager of Nagoya Grampus is no easy task, but Akira Nishino is far from intimidated… (日本語版はこちらです:http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/03/13/post30471/)

Football Channel,  March 14th, 2014

Last weekend I was at NACK5 Stadium to see two sides under new head coaches do battle. While Omiya Ardija having a new boss is far from unusual – they’ve had six men in the dugout since I arrived in Japan five years ago – Dragan Stojkovic not being on the bench for Nagoya Grampus will take some getting used to.

In Akira Nishino the club have chosen an experienced and successful man to take the reigns though. Grampus looked far from their best in the 2-1 win over Ardija, but the fact they were able to bring on the likes of Taishi Taguchi, Kensuke Nagai, and Naoshi Nakamura demonstrates the quality and potential of the squad, and Nishino is undoubtedly in the process of building his own team, as opposed to merely inheriting Piksi’s.

“Things are a lot different,” Josh Kennedy told me after Saturday’s match. “Our training structure is obviously a lot different to what it was under Piksi. I think we’re still trying to find where all the players fit in with [Nishino] and vice versa. I think a few more weeks and we might find our best formation and the way we want to play.”

Another difference the Australian noted is the intricate way in which Nishino organizes things – as well as the amount of time the players spend working on them.

“I think the whole approach to everything is maybe a little more professional – things are a little more structured,” the 31-year-old said. “We’ve got our specific fitness coach now, we’ve got our goalkeeper coach, and we’ve got a little bit more structure in place. Not that we didn’t approach things professionally before.

“Most days are two hours, apart from maybe Friday. But most of them are pushing two hours – I’m clocking in a few overtime hours! So that’s a big change. With Piksi we trained maybe an hour, hour-and-fifteen minutes, max. Piksi, the way he played he was a bit free and open and didn’t really get bothered by too much, so I think his approach was obviously a lot different to a normal Japanese coach.”

Kennedy is enjoying working under Nishino though, and thinks his new manager is aware that patience is needed to properly mould the team in his image.

“The transition’s been good. [He knows] the team’s had a lot of years under Piksi and that it’s not going to be easy to turn that around in four or five weeks.”

Nagoya Grampus fans ahead of their Round 2 match against Omiya Ardija. March 8th, 2014

Nishino agrees but is not intimidated by stepping into Stojkovic’s shoes.

“If you say that then I have to be aware of it,” he said when I asked him last month at the J.League’s Kick Off Conference if he felt any pressure at taking over from the Serbian. “But I’ve come in along with 11 new players, so that’s a third of the squad has changed. I don’t really feel a level of difficulty in taking over from Piksi but everyone around is saying it.”

While not letting the success of his predecessor daunt him – let’s not forget that Nishino won every domestic title and the ACL with Gamba Osaka – he knows that he can’t try to implement a new culture at the club overnight though.

“Things that are normal now weren’t before,” he explained. “Of course the previous coach was here for six years and, to a degree, things are ingrained so in many ways it’s difficult to change things and I have to have that in mind as I go. You can’t force things that are difficult to change.”

One thing which is already markedly different, however, is Grampus’s starting line-up – in particular the defence, with only Tulio remaining from last season’s back four and now responsible for leading Ryota Tanabe, Shun Obu, and Yuki Honda.

“Many young players have come in to the squad and lots of the regular class from last year have been released so we have to deal with that switchover,” Nishino told me. “While I also expect results I have to think about developing those players at the same time.”

Kennedy is also aware that results may take a while to come consistently as the new players bed in, and admitted that hopes of battling at the top of the table as they did a few years back may not be on the agenda just yet.

“I think that’s a big ask,” he said. “Everyone would love to say we’re going to be up there and challenge for the title but realistically there’s three guys at the back who’ve come in; Ryota [Tanabe] is not normally a right back, he’s normally an attacker, and the other two guys are pretty much fresh – one’s out of University and one’s played five or six games.

“So it’s a big ask for them to step in. We lost four good players, I thought – starting players – so time will tell. Like I said, it will be a big ask to be up there in the end.”

That may be the case but given Nishino’s track record and the players at his disposal it would take a brave man to bet against them challenging for silverware again soon.


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