Posts Tagged ‘Akira Nishino

04
Apr
12

So long Serrao

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.

03
Dec
11

J.League title race goes to the wire

Today the 2011 J.League season comes to a close with three teams still in with a chance of becoming champions.

One of Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka will be celebrating this evening, and my preview explaining all the permutations can be found here.

09
Jan
11

Ienaga gets his chance

The number of Japanese players earning themselves moves to Europe is steadily on the rise so for last week’s Soccer Magazine column I focused on the chances of one of them, Akihiro Ienaga, making the grade at Mallorca in Spain. 

Twelve months after getting relegated from J1 with Oita Trinita, Akihiro Ienaga has completed a remarkable turnaround and, having secured a move to R.C.D Mallorca, will look to become the first Japanese player to really make his mark in Spain’s Primera Liga.

I have a sneaking suspicion he may just do it, although I am certainly not alone in that opinion.

Since 2008 he has helped Oita to a Nabisco Cup triumph and been instrumental in Cerezo Osaka’s spectacular surge into the AFC Champions League, but there was always the fear that he would never fulfil his full potential.

While Ienaga’s talent has never been in doubt, his attitude has sometimes held him back and as the likes of Keisuke Honda – with whom he played for Gamba Osaka junior youth – began to earn reputations for themselves on the pitch, Ienaga found himself out on loan in each of the last three seasons – largely because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Akira Nishino.

It looked as if a move abroad may be the best solution for him to really make the step up, and last January I visited Plymouth Argyle in England, where Ienaga had spent some time on trial.

Chief Operating Officer of the club, Tony Campbell, remarked on the player’s standout ability amongst the various Japanese players who had visited the club, and suggested that his mentality was perhaps more suited to a European style of play.

“When Ienaga came over he said he really enjoyed training in England because it was different. On one of our training sessions we turned the goals round, so they had to get the ball in behind and score. He’d never done it, but he loved it, because it was different.”

Endo Yasuhito is also a big Ienaga fan, and back in August selected him as his favourite current J.League player.

“Now I like Ienaga, he is a great player with huge potential. I feel he could make it into the national team and also abroad as well.”

Ienaga will now have the opportunity to prove his former teammate right, and at the same time will have the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of previous Japanese players who have tried and failed in Spain.

Shunsuke Nakamura is the most recent to have come up short in the country during his period at Espanyol, where he struggled to adapt with the Spanish style after too long in the inferior SPL. Before him went the likes of Shoji Jo and Yoshito Okubo who were also given chances in the country – the latter interestingly also at Mallorca – but failed to make the grade.

Ienaga is perhaps a different breed of player to his predecessors though, and his openness to new ideas will certainly stand him in good stead in La Liga. His former coach at Oita, Ranko Popovic, is delighted that ‘Aki’ has received this opportunity, referring to the progress he has made since he started working with him two seasons ago.

“Aki had some difficulties at the start with changing some things and I was very strict with him. He learned though and he is a very good player.”

Popovic recalls one instance in particular that underlined the player’s ability.

“I played him volante in one game and he had never played there before. People said I was crazy to force him into this position but he was the Man of the Match.

“I saw big potential in him and now we are seeing the fruits of that. I told him at Oita, ‘You must be the best. I don’t want you in the middle, if you are in the middle you don’t exist to me. You must be the best.’”

Such harsh treatment can go one of two ways, with the player either choosing to rise to the task or give up entirely. Ienaga’s quality is shown in the fact that he did the former, and his decision to take on this latest challenge in Spain could see him grow even more in the next few years.

01
Sep
10

Is the grass always greener?

As the JFA conducted their search for a new coach overseas, I wondered if they were wasting a lot of time and energy when there were a number of outstanding candidates already in Japan.

These musings turned into an article for the website of the English football magazine When Saturday Comes which you can read here:

http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/5730/38/

27
Aug
10

Interview with Nishino Akira

Last week I interviewed Gamba Osaka coach Nishino Akira as part of the AFC’s Asian Coaches Year.

He spoke frankly about the underestimation of Asian coaches, his many successes and his thoughts on the next Japan coach, and you can read the full feature here:

English: http://www.the-afc.com/en/features-and-interviews/30160-nishino-roots-for-home-grown-coaches

日本語:http://www.the-afc.com/jp/features-and-interviews/30160-nishino-roots-for-home-grown-coaches




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