‘No regrets’ as Ange Postecoglou swaps World Cup for J. League challenge with Marinos

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

New Yokohama F. Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou has “no regrets” about quitting Australia’s national team just months before the World Cup and is looking forward to testing his mettle in the J. League instead.

“People in Australia have struggled with it, but it’s just the way I am,” Postecoglou told The Japan Times of his shock decision to resign as Socceroos manager in November, one week after leading them to a place at Russia 2018. “It’s just me as a person and my journey in life. When I feel the time’s right, I feel the time’s right.

“No regrets. I had a fantastic four years. It was obviously a tough decision but it was something that I’d thought about for a very long time. When the World Cup is on there will be a little part of me that has a little bit of angst towards not being there, but I’m certainly hoping that they will do well there and I’ve got a real belief that they can.”

Australia has been drawn in a first-round group with France, Denmark and Peru at this summer’s World Cup, but that is of no concern to the 52-year-old Postecoglou. Instead his focus is now on Marinos ahead of this weekend’s J. League season kickoff, having accepted an offer to succeed outgoing French manager Erick Mombaerts one week after leaving the Australia job.

Postecoglou is aiming to guide Yokohama to its first J. League title since 2004, and has taken over a team that finished fifth last season and lost the Emperor’s Cup final to Cerezo Osaka on New Year’s Day.

“I did know the team well because we had (Marinos defender) Milos Degenek on the (Australian) national team playing for Yokohama,” said Postecoglou, who led his native Australia to the 2015 Asian Cup title on home soil during his four years in charge of the Socceroos. “So I used to watch Marinos every week anyway because he was playing. I knew the team very well and I knew what to expect.

“Whenever you go into a new position there are always some challenges there. But we’ve changed things in the way we want to train and the way we want to play, and so far the players and the staff have reacted very positively to it. So from my perspective I’m pleased with where we’re at.”

Marinos begin the new J. League season away to Cerezo on Sunday, but will have to make do without influential forwards Manabu Saito and Quenten Martinus, who have left for Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Reds, respectively. New arrivals at the club have been limited, but Postecoglou is happy to work with the players he has.

“There hasn’t been a huge turnover in the squad, which can be a positive because it’s a fairly settled squad,” he said. “But it has meant we’ve had to change the mindset a little bit. So far we haven’t really had any resistance. When you come in as a new coach everyone is keen to impress. The true test will come when the season starts.”

Postecoglou was appointed Australia manager in 2013 on the back of his success in the domestic A-League, where he forged a reputation as a progressive, attack-minded coach. Mombaerts fashioned Marinos into a well-organized but unspectacular unit during his three years at the club, and Postecoglou accepts it may take time to fully implement his ideas.

“I think there will be a distinct difference from the way the team played and that’s our challenge now,” he said. “The players were used to playing a certain way and our challenge is to get them to play a little bit differently.

“We’re working hard at the moment on the physical condition of the players and also the tempo which we want to play. We want to be an aggressive, attacking team. To do that you’ve got to be fit, so we’ve concentrated on that. That’s the foundation.”

Seven different teams have won the J. League since Marinos captured the third and most recent of their championships, and the club has claimed only one trophy — the 2013 Emperor’s Cup — in the past 13 years. Having faced Japanese teams in the Asian Champions League during his A-League days, Postecoglou knows there can be no quick fix.

“It’s a very strong league,” he said. “I’ve had experience playing against J. League teams in the ACL and coaching against the national team. I think it’s the strongest league competition in Asia and it looks like it’s improving and growing every year. All the teams are fairly strong and it will be a very competitive season, so I’m looking forward to it.

“I guess every coach will start the season ambitious to be successful and I’m no different. I want to be successful. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I coach.”