Sef Vergoosen is enjoying his second season with J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight.
How did you end up in Japan?
It was very strange. In 2005, I was in the United Arab Emirates coaching Abui Dhabi team Al-Jazeera. Two years ago in the Netherlands there was the Under-20 World Championship and somebody called me from Japan to ask me if I was going to watch the game between Japan and the Netherlands. I said ‘yes’ and he asked to meet me.
I met him and at that time he was the club manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight but we didn’t really speak about the club. Some months later, I was back in Abu Dhabi and he called me to say that he was in Dubai and he came to see one of our games. After the game we spoke and he asked me if I was interested in going to Grampus Eight because the club was looking for a new coach.
This was in 2005?
Yes. I was very interested. Ten years ago I was here for four weeks lecturing and a friend of mine Jan Versleijen was the coach of JEF United. From that period, I was impressed with Japanese football, the culture, the people, the organization and so when they asked me if I was interested I said ‘Yes’.
There was only one problem and that was the fact that my contract with Al-Jazeera finished in June 2006. I talked to the club – this was September, October 2005 and they let me finish in December and in January 2006 I started here at Nagoya.
Why did they choose you?
I asked later. Years ago I lectured 15 Japanese coaches in Maastricht and he was one of them. I didn’t remember him but he followed my career. He said the most important reason was that everywhere I had gone as a coach, I had built up the club and had built up the team and that was important for Nagoya.
Now it’s your second season with the club. Are expectations higher this season?
The club is very realistic and has made a plan for three years. Some people do say that Nagoya should finish in the top five but in 2004 and 2005 the club struggled to stay in the J1 league.
Last season we made some big steps in the second half of the season and moved from 15th to seventh.
We have been a little unlucky this season. Our best defender Marek Spilar is injured for ten months. He was the best defender last season in Japan. Our goalkeepers is one of the best here in Japan and he missed five games.
We were also a little unlucky in the transfer period. We were hopeful that we would take a player from JEF United. He would have been very important to our team but he went to Urawa Reds and I can understand that.
Our squad is not stronger than last year but it is more stable. Without our defender and our goalkeeper for five games we are now sixth and I think that is the best possible position for us.
You said that the club has realistic expectations but what are they?
The task this season is to finish in the same position, maybe a little bit higher, perhaps between eighth and fourth and to continue to improve the football we play.
Is there money available for you to do this?
I think so as there was money available for a very important player that became available in the winter. We only spend money if we are sure we can buy a player with the specific qualities that we need, who can bring this team to a higher level.
There is nobody like that available at the moment in Japan. There are always foreign players but we can do nothing at the moment, we have to wait until the summer maybe.
Was the important player Yuki Abe?
We made the same offer for him as Urawa but Urawa Reds are the champions and the top club. I can understand that. I come from Holland. If a player can go to Utrecht or he can go to Ajax then his choice is very simple.
Is it possible for Nagoya to compete with teams like Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds?
No. This season Urawa, Gamba, Kawasaki and Shimizu are the best teams and are a level above. If we can finish just below them then in my opinion, it will have been a good season.
You play in two stadiums. Is that a disadvantage?
Yes. Normally we play in Mizuno stadium in Nagoya but sometimes we play in a very beautiful stadium in Toyota City. It is one of the best stadiums here in Japan. However we can only play there if Mizuno stadium is not available, if there are other events or if we are expecting more than the 26,000 people that Mizuno can hold. For example, in the last game against Urawa Reds we played in the Toyota Stadium in front of 38,000.
Everybody prefers to play at Toyota, it is an excellent stadium.
Is South Korean midfielder Kim Jung-woo one of your important players?
Absolutely. He is physically strong. He knows where to go in defence and he knows when and where to go deep. He is very strong mentally and has some excellent qualities.
His endurance and stamina is unbelievably high, sometimes he runs too much. His is so professional off the pitch and is very quiet off the pitch. He is an absolute winner. I am so happy with him. He has so many qualities that he gives to our team.
What can he improve?
His heading and finishing are not his strongest point. With his qualities he is often arriving in the penalty box and if he was better at finishing he would have around 10-15 goals a season. However, he has scored three times already this season.
What are the differences between Korean and Japanese players?
The biggest difference is that Korean players are stronger mentally. Sometimes when games aren’t going so well, the Korean players start to fight – they give a little more. Sometimes Japanese players wonder what to do but the Koreans always step forward and are ready to fight.
Kim is not an automatic choice for the national team. Do you think he should go to the Asian Cup?
Absolutely. If you see what he is doing and what he has done from the start of the season until now then I think he will join the group.
Do you talk to the South Korean national team coach Pim Verbeek?
Yes. Sometimes he comes to Japan to watch our games. He calls me also and asks me about Kim’s situation. I am always very honest. However, my answers are almost always positive. He is doing very well.
What are your thoughts on Cho Jae-jin at Shimizu?
He is a high quality player. He is a very good striker.
Would you be interested in buying him if it was possible?
If it was possible I would love to (laughs) but now we have Frode Johnsen from Norway and is a similar type of player. When he leaves and if Cho could come to Nagoya then I would be very happy.
Johnsen is not an out-and-out goalscorer but he is important for the team. He is the kind of striker that can maybe make between 12-15 goals a season. He is not Brazilian but he is always in a good position but is physically strong and has a good mentality.
There is another Dutchman in the J-League, Robert Verbeek who is coaching Omiya Ardija. Have you had a chance to talk to him?
I called him some weeks ago and we have played against each other this season and in a pre-season friendly.
It has been a tough start for him.
Yes but Omiya have been playing well. They need a striker; if they have one player capable of scoring goals then they would be much stronger.
Why are there so many Dutch coaches around the world?
I don’t know (laughs). I didn’t ask to come here, they asked me. Maybe people like the Dutch way of football, I don’t know.
There is a strong Dutch connection with Korean football. Would you be interested in coaching in Korea in the future?
I am 59 years old now. If I was a few years younger then maybe. I am very happy here at the moment and I don’t think about the future too much, just year-to-year.
In terms of organization, the J-League is perhaps the best in Asia. Is there any way to improve it?
For the future of Japan, youth football is very important. The situation is very different in Holland where players come form amateur clubs, in Japan they come from university teams.
The most important thing is whether the players receive high-level coaching at university. In the clubs we get players here in Japan who are 21 or 22, when these players arrive at a professional club, they still have a lot of things to learn. But it is already too late.
I told Nagoya that in Holland it is too late for players at 19 to be making the step to a professional club. If we have them at 14 and 15 then it is possible but most of the time they start at eight. We spend four or five years with these guys and by the time they are 19, they must be ready for professional football.
In Japan it is too late. I know it is a different culture. In Holland parents will take a chance with their kids but in Japan, parents tell their kids that they have to study first. If they are going to study, they need high-level coaches at university. That is the most important thing for Japanese football.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile
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