YOKOHAMA – New Yokohama F. Marinos manager Erick Mombaerts says his players have exceeded expectations after one week on the job, and is determined to make a swift start to the 2015 J. League season.
Frenchman Mombaerts started work in Yokohama this week after City Football Group (CFG), the owner of Premier League champions Manchester City which bought a 20 percent stake in Marinos last May, helped the club recruit a successor to Yasuhiro Higuchi at the end of last season.
The 59-year-old Mombaerts was chosen from a list of around 20 names drawn up by CFG, and comes to the job with a wealth of experience from stints in charge of France’s Under-21s and club sides including Toulouse, Paris Saint-Germain and Le Havre.
Mombaerts inherits a squad that came agonizingly close to winning the J. League title in 2013 but finished a disappointing seventh last season, but the new man has been impressed by what he has found so far in Yokohama.
“We are going away for a camp next week so this week has been about preparing for that, and we have trained very well,” Mombaerts said at the club’s training ground before leaving for a camp in Okinawa. “I’m very satisfied with the quality of the players. They have also done well in physical tests, and I have been surprised at how good their attitude is.
“Before I came here I watched a lot of videos of Marinos matches, and from that I could see that there was a lot of quality and potential in the team. My first week working with the players has confirmed that, and I have been even more impressed by what I have found.”
Marinos conceded a league-lowest 29 goals last season, but the team’s title challenge was undermined by a toothless attack that scored only 37 goals.
Playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura struggled to replicate the form that saw him named 2013 J. League player of the year and helped the club win the Emperor’s Cup, but Mombaerts expects the 36-year-old former Celtic star to remain a central figure.
“It’s not a big problem,” Mombaerts said of a leg injury that has hampered Nakamura in training this week. “We have a camp next week and that will be important. The priority is for Nakamura to be in good physical condition for that, so he has been training on a different program this week.
“My expectations are not for one player, but rather for the team as a whole. In that context, Nakamura is a player with great experience and I hope he can use that experience to help the team.”
Marinos begin the season at home to Kawasaki Frontale on March 7, as the J. League returns to the two-stage system it abandoned in 2004 in a bid to boost flagging interest.
Mombaerts believes the change in format could have an impact on the destination of the title, and is determined not to be left behind.
“With a two-stage season, the first stage will be very short, and so you have to make sure you are ready,” he said. “You have to be ready to pick up points right from the start.”
Mombaerts intends to familiarize himself with his players further over the coming week, with one eye on assigning the captain’s armband that Nakamura wore last season.
“I haven’t decided on a captain yet, and that is something I will do during the camp in Okinawa,” he said. “I want a captain and a vice captain, and the captain will be someone who can have a positive influence on the team.
“I want someone with experience who can influence the team in terms of technique and tactics, and also with the mental side of the game.”