New Omiya Ardija coach Robert Verbeek is pinning the Mighty Squirrels’ J. League hopes on Daigo Kobayashi — and is keeping his fingers crossed the big clubs don’t come sniffing around the brilliant young midfielder.
The 24-year-old Kobayashi was sensational in his first season for Omiya in 2006 after arriving from Tokyo Verdy, scoring nine goals and almost single-handedly leading the Saitama side to a respectable 12th-place finish.
Kobayashi, who made his Japan national team debut against Trinidad & Tobago in August last year, carried his form through Omiya’s preseason training and Verbeek has been drooling over Omiya’s prized asset and sees him as the man to help cement the club’s place in J1.
“One player I am impressed with . . . I don’t want to give him too much . . . but everyone knows that Daigo is a very good player,” Verbeek said in a recent interview.
“His mentality is very good. He really wants to learn, he gives 100 percent, and he’s young.
“He can maybe be the difference for us in some games.”
Omiya narrowly lost its league opener 1-0 to Gamba Osaka on Saturday and Kobayashi was unable to turn the game, but two matches Verbeek will be hoping he is at his exquisite best are the derby duels against illustrious neighbor Urawa Reds, the first of which is in May.
Dutchman Verbeek, who has a one-year deal, understands the games’ significance for Omiya, after his own experiences playing in Holland.
“I know already how important (these games are),” said Verbeek. “It was the same thing in my city. You have Rotterdam and Feyenoord and Sparta. And I played for Sparta, the small club, so I have a lot of experience with it.
“I understand how important it is for the fans, for the club, from both sides.”
At the back of Verbeek’s mind, though, is the fear that Kobayashi and Co. will attract the attention of some of the league’s big boys — maybe even their dreaded neighbors — and the minnows of Omiya may not be able to do too much about it.
“I want to work with this group of players, but you never know in football,” said Verbeek.
“If somebody gets injured or other clubs want to take some players from us, you never know.”
Verbeek’s older brother Pim managed Omiya from 1998 to 2000 and the current South Korea national team coach has been giving some important advice on how to deal with the Omiya players in daily telephone briefings.
“In Holland you can be a little harder on the players (than here) and you can be more direct,” said Robert Verbeek.
“Here you must be a little more private and tell them what’s wrong in private, not in front of the rest of the team.”
KASHIWA (Kyodo) Kashiwa Reysol made a dream return to the top flight with a 4-0 demolition of Jubilo Iwata in the teams’ first game of the season in the J. League first-division on Sunday.
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