Saitama – Urawa Reds and manager Mihailo Petrovic will be under immense pressure from the fans to win a title this season.
And that’s exactly the way Wataru Endo wants it.
“It’s nice to be in a position where people get on you for not winning trophies,” Endo said Sunday at Saitama Stadium.
Endo was unveiled as Urawa’s latest high-priced signing after captaining Japan to qualification for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics at last month’s Asian Under-23 Championship with a dramatic victory over South Korea in the final.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said. “I feel like I’m finally part of the club. The atmosphere at Saitama Stadium is incredible. Of all the teams I’ve played against, I’d say they’re the strongest.
“I can’t wait to join up with the other guys. We have plenty of options in attack.”
Reds outbid five other clubs to secure the services of former Shonan Bellmare man Endo, the most sought-after player in the J. League this winter. The Saitama giants tried to lure him away from Shonan last year, but Endo, citing a lack of confidence due to top-flight inexperience, chose to stay put.
Urawa made sure it won the Endo sweepstakes this offseason, following another trophy-less campaign in 2015 that saw it finish third in the league despite collecting 72 points — the same tally Reds had when they captured their first and only championship in 2006 under Guido Buchwald.
After a season in J1 and leading Japan through the Olympic qualifiers, Endo, who can play on the right side of defense as well as in central midfield, feels far more comfortable about his game, to a point where the defensive specialist hopes he can help end Urawa’s dry spell.
Endo will need the added confidence in a busy year featuring the Summer Games in Rio and World Cup final qualifiers from September.
“A year ago, I hadn’t played a full season in J1,” said Endo, who has won five caps for the senior national side. “But after getting something under my belt, I was ready to take the next step and I felt this is where I could improve most.
“I like to think one of the reasons I’m here is because I can cover several positions. I’m going to play with one purpose and that is to help the club win a title. I expect to have very little time off this year — if any.”
For Endo, one of the allures of signing with Reds was the Asian Champions League, a competition alien to him in his six years at Bellmare. In this year’s tournament, Urawa has been drawn with defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the first round.
“It will be very tough without question. Not just the matches themselves, but the travel, the tight fixtures, etc. I’m expecting it to be a lot more difficult than I’m imagining.
“(Guangzhou) are a strong side, there’s no doubt about that. But it doesn’t make them unbeatable. One thing I learned through the Olympic qualifying is that you have to persevere and when you persevere, it opens up opportunities.”