There were ructions at Yokohama F.Marinos in the off-season as club legend Shunsuke Nakamura departed in acrimonious circumstances, but coach Erick Mombaerts is unruffled heading into a new era for the Nissan Stadium club…
Yokohama F.Marinos manager Erick Mombaerts insists it will be business as usual at Nissan Stadium this year, despite the headline-grabbing departure of captain Shunsuke Nakamura.
The 38-year-old Nakamura left his boyhood club for Jubilo Iwata over the offseason, with rumors swirling of discontent behind the scenes and an uneasy relationship between coach and player.
Former France U-21 coach Mombaerts is unfazed by the upheaval though, and remains firmly focused on the task at hand in his third year at the helm.
“Whether Shunsuke was here or not, the aim would be to improve on last year, to show a better performance than last season,” the 61-year-old said.
“Our style is based upon speedy play with good combinations, and the objective is to fine-tune that. That isn’t dependent upon which players have left or come in, but is always the target.
“The players who are able to play that style are the ones who will appear in the games. If Shunsuke was still here, that would be the aim, and it doesn’t change because he’s not.”
The ongoing shift to a younger, more dynamic Marinos is epitomized by the team’s new captain, Manabu Saito.
“He’s a very important player at this club and I hope he will take on the extra responsibility this season,” Mombaerts said of his decision to select the livewire forward as Nakamura’s successor.
“He’s a national team player and gives everything he has in every single game, so I’m sure he can lead the team.”
Saito, who will also assume Nakamura’s No. 10 shirt, was chosen ahead of more experienced members of the squad, but knows he has their full backing.
“Many people are supporting me — Bomber [Yuji Nakazawa], Machi [Kosuke Nakamachi], Yuzo [Kurihara] — and so along with their help I will try to add something of myself,” the 26-year-old said.
“It’s not the case of wondering what will happen now that I’m captain, but instead to just work at improving the team. I think for that to happen it is important there are many voices being heard.
“There’s been a turnover of players and of course a legend has left, but Marinos will keep going.”
Cayman Togashi is another player who represents the emerging generation of talent at Marinos, and echoed the sentiments of both his coach and new captain.
“We want to continue with the things we were doing last year while also adding some new elements and trying to get some cohesion between the two,” the 23-year-old striker said.
“Of course, now we don’t have an absolute star player in the same mold as Shunsuke, but I feel that unconsciously the team is in the situation of feeling, ‘right, let’s get things done by ourselves.’
“Manabu has been made captain, but it’s not just up to him, and I think we are now in a position whereby all of us have to take responsibility.”
Nakamura played 338 times during two stints with his boyhood club — punctuated by a successful spell in Europe — but only appeared in just over half of his team’s league games in the two seasons since Mombaerts took charge.
In that time the club finished seventh and 10th in the overall table, and Mombaerts is looking to lift the team up a notch this campaign.
“Coaches all over the world say they want to win the league, that the target is to become champions, but that is easy to say,” he explained.
“What is actually important is to improve the performance of the team from last year to make the team better than before. That comes from working hard every day — not just words, but actually putting it into practice — and the results correspond with that.
“I want to raise the level of the team and have us move up the table and compete with the top sides. It is not words but playing quality that leads to results.”