The coming J. League season will be a voyage into the unknown for Machida Zelvia, but the newly promoted second-division side couldn’t wish for a more experienced hand on the tiller than manager Osvaldo Ardiles.
Machida lost 2-0 to Ehime FC on Sunday to begin its first campaign as a J. League club, joining J2 after meeting membership requirements and finishing third in the Japan Football League last season.
On the sidelines is Ardiles, the genial Argentine who won the World Cup as a player in 1978 and whose coaching resume includes stints at Shimizu S-Pulse, Yokohama F. Marinos and Tokyo Verdy. Ardiles has lost none of the easy charm that made him such a cult hero in England during his 10 years at Tottenham Hotspur, and the 59-year-old is hoping to sprinkle a little of that stardust on Zelvia.
“Our new team is the Cinderella of J2,” he said. “The club is progressing very strongly coming through the divisions, and we are now in J2 and our first objective is to consolidate ourselves in J2. Eventually our objective is to be in the first division, but it is going to be very difficult in J2 and it is also going to be a wonderful adventure.
“The players don’t really know what to expect and I don’t really know exactly what to expect. Maybe after a few games I can tell you, but we are full of energy and full of confidence, so we will see.”
Machida’s homely stadium is a far cry from some of the venues Ardiles has visited in his long career, but the club’s professional attitude has already left a positive impression.
“The most important thing is that everyone is behind me and everyone is working extremely hard,” he said. “I have been here for 40 days and I haven’t had even the slightest little problem — nothing at all. Everyone is trying to make my life very easy and everyone is working to be better. This is my job, to make them better.”
The J. League is embarking on its 20th season this year, and given his history it is perhaps fitting that Ardiles should return to join in the celebrations. The Argentine won trophies at every Japanese club he managed between 1996 and 2005, and the experience still resonates today.
“I was very lucky because I won things with Shimizu, I won things with Marinos, and with Verdy as well we won the Emperor’s Cup,” he said. “All of them are wonderful memories and this is why I always come back to Japan. It wouldn’t be fair to pick one team or one city over the other. The three were wonderful experiences, and I imagine this is going to be another one.”
Players as well as clubs have benefitted from Ardiles’ tuition, and the manager is pleased to have played a part in Japan’s soccer development over the past two decades.
“I am very, very proud,” he said. “For example with Japan playing in the World Cup, I have seen so many of ‘my’ players. With modesty I believe I have contributed to many players, like Shunsuke Nakamura, like many players. It makes me feel very proud because I have done something to help them.”
But the J. League is not Ardiles’ only alma mater. Tottenham will always be the club most readily associated with the former midfielder, and with current manager Harry Redknapp seemingly destined to become the next England manager, Ardiles accepts change is inevitable.
“He is the only one, really, that could be manager of England right now,” he said. “He is the man for the job, by far. In fact I can’t see anyone else who could be in the frame with him. So he is going to be the England manager.
“We are very proud of anything that gives the manager to the national team — not only England but anywhere in the world. It will be a problem for Tottenham, but they will cross that bridge when it comes. I imagine it will happen in the summer so we will have to find someone else to replace Harry.”