The sudden dismissal of Javier Aguirre leaves Japan without a manager just months before World Cup qualifying. It’s an unfamiliar situation for a team which, for the most part, has seen its coaches serve out four-year terms since 1998.
The timing puts the JFA in a tricky situation: with only friendly matches awaiting the Samurai Blue in March, they can afford to face Tunisia and Uzbekistan with a caretaker manager as they wait for potential top candidates to become available at the end of the European club season. Yet such a waiting game poses risks, leaving a potential new manager with little time to prepare for World Cup qualifiers schedule on June 11 and 16.
While the JFA have already ruled out local coaches who are currently on contract with J-League clubs and media have latched on to rumours of big names such as Luiz Scolari and Cesare Prandelli, there is one proven option capable of achieving success for Japan beginning now: former Nagoya Grampus legend and champion-winning manager Dragan ‘Pixy’ Stojkovic.
Why choose Pixy over other available (or potentially available) candidates? Here are five reasons:
After Japan’s demoralising quarter final finish in the Asian Cup, a caretaker standing in the technical area in March will do little to project an image of confidence to players and supporters. Stojkovic could be on a plane to Tokyo tomorrow and would be ready to field a solid squad next month. Allowing him these extra three months to settle into the role would give the 49-year-old time to prepare for World Cup qualifiers, and he will also have the benefit of August’s East Asian Cup to familiarise himself with J-League talent.
With eight years of playing experience and another six as a manager in the J-League, there are few foreigners with as much knowledge of Japanese football as Pixy holds. His honours speak for themselves: the 1995 league MVP was a three-time Best XI selection, and as coach he captured the 2010 title in record time. Stojkovic is loved and respected by players, fans, and officials – a key factor as the Samurai Blue hope to regain the trust of a public betrayed by their “Best Eight” showing Down Under. With well over a decade spent in Japan, he won’t have any trouble adjusting to the country or its culture.
While he has never coached a national team, Stojkovic was active in four countries as a player and is well-versed in the perils of Asia after three AFC Champions League campaigns. He has competed in the World Cup and UEFA Champions League, and served as a FIFA analyst at the 2011 Club World Cup. As a globally-respected figure with a strong command of English, Pixy’s media-friendly personality will add a boost to Japan’s image overseas.
The hard-nosed playmaker never shied away from a collision, a quality seemingly lost in technically-strong but chance-averse Japan. Stojkovic is a player’s coach who’s respected across the J-League. The man who managed Marcus Tulio Tanaka, widely considered to be Japan’s best-ever center back, surely knows a thing or two about killer edge that the national team has lacked.
Even a year after his departure, ‘Pixy’ is still memorialized in flags and banners bearing his name behind the goal at every Nagoya Grampus game. The presence of a manager players have known since they were kids will give them confidence, and he’s already achieved a level of cult stardom overseas thanks to this sideline volley in the 2009 season.
His smiling confidence after the match, when he described the red card offence as “a beautiful goal,” is exactly what Japan needs after poor results in their last three international tournaments and the black mark that has been the Aguirre affair.