Jubilo Iwata might be back among the J. League elite, but manager Hiroshi Nanami is not expecting instant miracles.
Three-time champions Jubilo booked their return to the first division after a two-year absence last season, scoring in injury time to beat Oita Trinita 2-1 on the final day and clinch the second automatic promotion place on goal difference ahead of Avispa Fukuoka.
The result restored one of the J. League’s original powerhouse clubs to what fans consider to be its rightful place, and with Kashiwa Reysol and Gamba Osaka both having gone straight from J2 to the first-division title in recent years, expectations are high in Shizuoka.
Nanami, however, is of a different opinion. The former star player-turned-manager is keeping a deliberate lid on grand talk ahead of Saturday’s season-opener at home to Nagoya Grampus, preferring instead to target survival as the club’s top priority.
“Our first goal is to stay in J1,” Nanami told The Japan Times. “Rather than thinking about achieving something huge over the whole year, we need to play with a sense of reality. I think we can survive, but that’s the minimum requirement. First I want to get 40 points and then we can start thinking of higher ambitions.
“All over the world, it’s very rare for a team to be promoted and go straight on to win the first-division title. In the 23 years of the J. League it has happened twice, so people expect it to happen again. But we are being realistic.”
Nanami certainly has the squad to make a decent go of it this year, with midfielder Kota Ueda shaping the bullets for one-time England international Jay Bothroyd to fire. Bothroyd scored 20 goals to finish as J2’s top scorer last season, and Ueda believes the former Cardiff City striker should have no problem producing the same form against top-flight defenses.
“Jay has a lot of individual quality and he can decide games,” said Ueda, who returned to the club from Fagiano Okayama last season. “It’s important that we provide the chances for him to score, and if we can do that then he can win games for us.
“We are very aware that if we don’t raise our level then it will be difficult to win, but if we work as hard as we did over the whole of last year, I’m confident we can get results. For sure there will be good times and bad times, but you need to stay calm throughout and make sure you always do things the right way.”
Jubilo’s promotion last season also marked a personal triumph for Nanami, who took over in September 2014 to begin his career in management. The 43-year-old was one of the finest players in Jubilo’s history with more than 300 league appearances to his name, but he is just as happy to serve the club from the other side of the touchline.
“Whether I’m a player or a manager, I want to do the right thing to help the club and help the players,” he said.
“At the end of last season, we felt like we had really achieved something rather than just having a nice feeling. We felt relieved, but at the same time we were aware that playing in J1 would be much more difficult.”
Jubilo’s dramatic promotion-clinching win over Oita certainly gave Nanami a happier ending than in his first season in charge, which finished with a stunning elimination at the hands of Montedio Yamagata in the promotion playoff semifinals.
Jubilo were all set to claim their place in the final until Montedio goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi came up for an injury-time corner, and headed home a remarkable goal that went viral around the world.
“At that moment, our club became an embarrassment worldwide,” said Nanami. “I couldn’t believe that something like that could happen. There were still two or three minutes of the game left, but I couldn’t think straight or say anything useful to my players.
“In the final game last year in J2, we conceded a last-minute goal to make it 1-1 but my mind was very clear and I was able to decide my tactics calmly. There is something happening every second when you are a manager, but what happened the previous year didn’t happen again. The fact that we ended up getting the win was huge.”