NIIGATA – New Albirex Niigata manager Wagner Lopes is embracing the opportunity to manage a team in Japan after letting one slip by in 2012 for not having a license to manage in the J. League.
“I was waiting for a chance like this. I want to show what I’ve learned in Brazil,” the Brazilian-born former forward, who obtained Japanese citizenship in 1997 before playing at the 1998 World Cup in France, told a press conference on Monday.
Having racked up goals for clubs including Bellmare Hiratsuka (now Shonan Bellmare) and Nagoya Grampus during his career, the 48-year-old began his managerial career in Brazil before he was given an assistant coach role at Gamba Osaka in 2012.
But the spell lasted just five games after Gamba opened the campaign with five straight defeats under Brazilian manager Jose Carlos Serrao. Gamba had hoped to hire Lopes as their next manager only to find he had no right to manage in the league.
Lopes went on to spend another five years in Brazil before a club from Japan finally came back knocking. And he has a substantial job on hand too — reconstructing a Niigata defense that has shipped a league-worst 25 goals in 11 games.
“I want to get back the strong defense this team used to have,” said Lopes, who managed Parana Clube most recently. “We’ll be playing each game with care.”
Niigata dropped down to the foot of the table on Sunday after a 6-1 capitulation at home to leaders Urawa Reds, and so far has just five points.
Lopes’ first game in charge will be at home on Saturday against promoted Consadole Sapporo, who sit just above the relegation zone in 15th, seven points above Niigata.