Paulinho hoping to change history for JEF

No-one expected JEF United to be hanging around for long in J2 when they were relegated in 2009, but six years down the line they are still scrapping to return to the top flight. Captain Paulinho is convinced that 2015 will be their year… (Also available in English here / 日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, September 26th, 2015

The leaves are changing, the rustic beers are on the shelves, and JEF United are scrapping for a place in the J2 Play-offs – make no mistake about it, it’s autumn in Japan.

Chiba have been relentlessly consistent over their five seasons in the second division, always there or thereabouts in the race for promotion, but always somehow contriving to find a way not to return to J1.

Last year, for instance, Takashi Sekizuka’s side were 7th after 33 games, two points outside of the play-off places with a win, a loss, and a draw from their last three games. This year after 33 games the side are 7th, two points outside of the play-off places with a win, a loss, and a draw from their last three games.

Indeed, despite boasting facilities, staff, and a supporter base worthy of J1 JEF have never dominated the second tier in the manner in which they should, and have always been in the also-ran positions as the season enters its sprint finish.

In 2013 they sat 5th with nine games to go, the year before – the first year the play-offs were introduced – they occupied 4th, while their first two seasons in J2 – when there were no play-offs and the top three earned automatic promotion – they were 5th after 33 matches.

For each of the past three seasons, however, by hook or by crook the club has secured a play-off berth – although the heartbreak suffered in the post-season fixtures – exiting at the hands of the side ultimately promoted on all three occasions, twice in the final – probably means some supporters wish they’d missed out entirely and are petrified of what may happen if they finish 3rd-6th again this year.

Captain Paulinho insists a similar fear is forbidden amongst he and his teammates, though, and is demanding no nervousness this time around.

“It’s not acceptable if there is any sense of that,” he said after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over his former side, Tochigi SC.

“We are here to change that history. From the time I decided to become a JEF player that’s what I’ve been thinking, I’ve had the feeling of changing JEF’s history. I’m sure you know as well, you’ve seen a lot of Japanese football, that JEF is not a club that should be in J2.”

The 26-year-old refused to be drawn on what, if anything, was different about the 2015 vintage to ensure safe passage back to the top flight, but made it clear that self-belief was vital.

JEF 2-0 Tochigi - Wednesday 23rd September, 2015

“I’ve been asked that question on other occasions, but it’s difficult for me to answer,” he said.

“If I were to speak about things at JEF before I came here it would be unfair to the people who were working at the club then. I can’t comment about JEF in the time before I came here, but I can comment about things from now on and this year, so I can say for sure that everyone here has the target of earning promotion to J1 and is working hard to achieve that aim.

“It’s very important to have confidence. In today’s game we were able to get our confidence back and I think that will enable us to fight well from here on in. J2 is a very difficult league and it is vital to have confidence if you want to be successful.

“Until now, too, even when we haven’t produced the results it hasn’t necessarily been because we played badly, but perhaps our confidence has been knocked a little. Today we’ve been able to gain confidence and that will help us going forward.”

They will certainly have their spirit tested in their next game, as they travel to Saitama to take on league-leaders Omiya Ardija – who despite sitting 13 points clear in the automatic promotion places have themselves been through a bit of a sticky patch of late, going four games without a win before Wednesday’s last-gasp 1-0 triumph away to another side hustling for a play-off spot, Tokyo Verdy.

Of course, in the play-offs momentum and spirit can often overcome raw ability, and Paulinho is aware that as well as picking up points from their remaining games JEF need to be doing so in style if they want to ultimately triumph.

“The result and the performance are both important,” he said. “If we can play well and get the win then we will build confidence. We have nine games left, we have to become one and fight together. Whether we make it to the play-offs or not will depend on how well we are able to do that.

And the captain is unwavering when asked if he believes his team has what it takes to make a return to the first division.

“Absolutely. We have a coach with experience and great players. I think we have everything we need in order to earn promotion.”

Of course, that has also been the case for the past half-a-decade. Whether this year’s team has what it takes to succeed where previous squads have failed will become clear over the next two months.

Of course, that has also been the case for the past half-a-decade. Whether this year’s team has what it takes to succeed where previous squads have failed will become clear over the next two months.


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