New Vegalta Sendai manager Graham Arnold admits to being overwhelmed by the job so far, but the Australian is quietly confident of finding his feet over the coming J. League season.
Former Australia boss Arnold was the surprise choice to replace Makoto Teguramori after Vegalta’s long-serving manager left to take over Japan’s Olympic team at the end of last season, with Arnold needing little persuasion to quit A-League side Central Coast Mariners for a new challenge overseas.
But although a two-year stint as a player with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the late 1990s may have lessened Arnold’s culture shock upon his arrival in Sendai, getting to grips with management in a foreign country is taking a little longer.
“It’s been challenging,” Arnold told The Japan Times ahead of Saturday’s season opener at home to Albirex Niigata. “I’ve had to try to get to know 40 people. People said to me that to understand the Japanese mentality with two or three people is quite difficult, let alone 40 at once.
“It’s been a challenge but I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I think the good thing is that I’m adaptable. It’s not my way or the highway. I’m not trying to make them Australians — I’ve got to become Japanese.”
Arnold takes over a club that limped home in 13th place last season after finishing as runnerup the year before, and the 50-year-old believes his side needs to get back to basics.
“If we get our structures right and be consistent then I think we can do well,” he said. “I don’t want to put a place on that, but I’d like to see the players turn up every week mentally strong and play consistent football. If we do that, the results will take care of themselves.”
The departure of goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi to champions Sanfrecce is a blow, but a sturdy defense that conceded only 38 goals last season gives Arnold a foundation to build on. Teguramori established Vegalta as a solid first-division club during his six seasons in charge, and striker Atsushi Yanagisawa believes the new man can carry on the good work.
“There’s not a huge difference between them,” Yanagisawa said of his current and previous managers. “They both place emphasis on defense. He (Arnold) wants us to be the team that concedes the fewest goals in the league so he’s working on that, and if we can achieve that then we can do well.
“First of all he’s trying to understand what Japanese players are all about. We’re all still feeling each other out, but from what I have seen I think he will be a good fit in Japan.”
Arnold was one of three candidates under consideration to take over as Socceroos manager following the dismissal of Holger Osieck last October, only for the Australian federation to award the job to Melbourne Victory’s Ange Postecoglou. Arnold had a spell in charge of his national team once before from 2006-07, but an unexpected offer from Vegalta softened the blow of missing out on a second bite at the cherry.
“I got a phone call that a club in Japan were looking for a new manager and it happened within three days,” he said. “It happened very quickly but I’m very happy to be here.
“I felt that I had done pretty much all I could do back in Australia. I needed a new challenge, and I think I’ve taken on a massive challenge with one of the smaller clubs. But I’ve always been a fighter and I’ve always liked working in adversity, in a different culture and testing myself.”
According to one former teammate, just seeing Arnold in the dugout will be a culture shock in itself.
“We played together in 1997, and I’m really looking forward to playing his Vegalta Sendai team,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu. “I didn’t think we would both become managers. He was a striker and a very attacking player, so I would imagine that any team of his would be in much the same mold.”