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Serrao debacle leaves Gamba searching for stability


Staff Writer

There was always a danger that Gamba Osaka would need time to adapt to life without former manager Akira Nishino, but no one expected things to turn out quite so badly.

After cutting ties with Nishino over the offseason following a decade at the helm, Gamba’s start to the new season could not have been worse. Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Jubilo Iwata means the club has lost its opening five J. League and Asian Champions League fixtures, prompting president Kikuo Kanamori on Monday to pull the plug on the short reign of Nishino’s successor, Jose Carlos Serrao.

Serrao, a Brazilian journeyman with little on his resume to write home about, was not even supposed to be there to begin with. Gamba initially sounded out naturalized former national team striker Wagner Lopes for the position, only to find that his lack of necessary coaching credentials meant he could only be hired as an assistant.

With Serrao and Lopes now gone, the club has turned to Masanobu Matsunami, a former Gamba player for 13 seasons and an assistant coach with the first team since 2010. Matsunami may well turn out to be a worthy heir to Nishino, but the events of the past few months have hardly enhanced Gamba’s reputation.

Given his trophy haul of one J. League championship, two Emperor’s Cups, one Nabisco Cup and one ACL title, it is surely legitimate to question why the club did not offer Nishino an extension in the first place.

Gamba’s wooing of the inexperienced Lopes always looked risky after the stability of the previous regime, while Serrao’s recruitment had echoes of former JEF United Chiba manager Josip Kuze, who lasted marginally longer before biting the bullet two months into the 2008 season.

If the aim was to stop the rot before the situation got out of hand, however, perhaps Gamba deserve credit for recognizing their mistakes and taking decisive action.

Only time will tell if it makes a difference.

Sagan Tosu finally clinched promotion to the first division last season after 13 years of trying, but the Kyushu club did not have to wait long for a win once it got there.

Kota Mizunuma’s 77th-minute goal was enough to sink Yokohama F. Marinos in Sagan’s third top-flight game on Saturday, and manager Yoon Jong Hwan was left in no doubt what made the difference.

“The most important thing today was the players’ desire,” he said. “First of all our players are aware of what they can and can’t do, and that’s precisely why they know they have to run harder and fight harder than the opposition. Everyone knows that they have to fight for each other and help each other out, and that’s what gets results.”

Olympic team manager Takashi Sekizuka will certainly be looking forward to this summer’s London Games, but his counterpart at Cerezo Osaka might not be so keen.

Sergio Soares selected three of Sekizuka’s Under-23 lineup — Hiroshi Kiyotake, Takahiro Ogihara and Hotaru Yamaguchi — for Cerezo’s 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday, as well as goalscorer and South Korean Olympic team member Kim Bo Kyung.

With the J. League scheduled to play right through the July 26-Aug. 11 tournament in the U.K., however, the Brazilian had better have a Plan B.

“I told Yamaguchi to mark (Frontale’s) Renato today, and Ogihara to move forward whenever he got the chance,” Soares said. “Ogihara should have done that more than he actually managed, but he has a lot potential. I have great expectations of him.”

Quotable: “It’s not like we are going to reach the end of the season in December without having scored a single goal.”

Kashima Antlers manager Jorginho keeps the faith despite his team’s record of played three, lost three — and no goals scored — after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.