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Sunday, 24 February 2008

Grampus Prognosis for 2008

This year (2008) sees former Grampus idol Dragan "Pixie" Stojkovic take over as manager. While this is the Serbian play-maker's first experience as a club manager, he spent seven years in Nagoya as a player and will have a commitment to, and knowledge of the players that should stand him in good stead. Whether this personal commitment will prove the downfall of the notoriously temperamental Stojkovic remains to be seen. Fortunately, his choice of coaching staff augers well. In addition to former Red Star Belgrade youth coach Bosko Djurovski, he also has the services of former Grampus goalie Dido Havenaar to call upon. Havenaar has Japanese nationality and coaching experience with the national team, so along with the manager's own smattering of Japanese, there should not be any of the communication problems that can trip up other foreign management teams. While it is likely to take a few months for the new regime to impose its own style on the team, it will have an unprecedented determination and fierce will to succeed.

Now, how will the playing staff fare this year? This is much harder to predict. Having lost the team's most talented player, Keisuke Honda, to VVV Venlo of the Dutch Eredivisie during the January transfer window, the team may struggle to create goal-scoring chances. New signings such as Magnum from Kawasaki Frontale and Grampus U-18 graduate Sho Hanai could prove vital in providing some creativity, certainly if the team is to do better than a mid-table position this year. Magnun is a talented player with experience in Japan, but is likely to need a few months to fully settle into the team. Hanai is young and inexperienced, and although undoubtedly a talented youngster, he is unlikely to make the instant impact that Honda did in 2005. Elsewhere in midfield, Keiji Yoshimura and Naoshi Nakamura will need to raise their game and prove that they can be influential on a consistent basis, rather than just once in a blue moon. I will also be hoping to see other promising youngsters, such as Keiji Watanabe and Jun Aoyama get a good run in the first team.

Defensively, the situation looks more promising. Maya Yoshida, an 18-year old rookie last year, showed great promise and should grow in confidence and stature as the season progresses. Provided new recruit from Red Star Belgrade, Milos Bajalica, adapts to life in Japan quickly, he along with Masayuki Omori, Takashi Miki and Atsushi Yoneyama should be able to protect goalies Narazaki and stand-ins Hirono or Hasegawa. Although Hyogo-native Takahiro Masukawa is one of my favourite players, and his height and strength should be great assets in the defence, he seems to lack the composure required to be a reliable presence.

Up front, Norwegian international Frode Johnsen looks set to lead the attack again this year. He has already established a good combination with speedsters Keiji Tamada and Keita Sugimoto, and a lot will depend on these players further developing their understanding this year. Unless they improve dramatically this season, it is hard to see sophomore forwards Maki and Niikawa challenging for a place in the starting line-up this year. Even the sparky Masaki Fukai, signed from the Kashima Antlers, may find it difficult to break into the team at first. He is an exciting player, but one who has never quite managed to live up to expectations.

So, all-in-all. it should be fascinating to see how the Stojkovic -led Grampus develop in 2008, but is hard to see them challenging for a title unless he really does prove to be a new Arsene Wenger.