Albirex new coach eyes another clean sweep
Despite the loss of key players, new coach Yoshinaga targets another clean sweep
He knows he has big shoes to fill.
But new Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga insists he can emulate the success achieved by his predecessor Naoki Naruo.
Under the guidance of Naruo, the White Swans swept every piece of silverware on offer last season, bagging the Great Eastern Community Shield, The New Paper League Cup, the RHB Singapore Cup, and the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title.
Yoshinaga, who arrived in Singapore last week, declared his intention to lead Albirex to another quadruple this season - and hopes to do it in style.
"Albirex won every title last year, so of course, we cannot go backwards," the 48-year-old told The New Paper in an interview.
"In addition, we will look to make a good impression with the type of football we play, so that fans will want to come and see us."
Yoshinaga arrives in the S.League with an impressive CV, having held first-team coaching roles at top-tier J-League clubs like Shimizu S-Pulse (2005 and 2006), where he helped mould a then 18-year-old Shinji Okazaki (now at Leicester), and Ventforet Kofu (2016).
He has also held various youth coaching positions with clubs in the top-two divisions of the J-League.
He acknowledges, however, that he will need time in succeeding Naruo - who has since returned to Japan and is understood to be mulling offers from several clubs there.
Albirex have lost the services of defenders Kento Fujihara (Nagaworld FC, Cambodia) and Atsushi Shirota (Hougang United) and creative midfielders Masaya Jitozono (Sabah FA, Malaysia) and Tatsuro Inui (Thai Honda Ladkrabang, Thailand).
Crucially, they also have to cope without last season's top-scorer Atsushi Kawata, who picked up the S.League's Player of the Year gong and has since returned to Albirex's parent club in Japan's top division.
However, the club have retained veteran goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, left back Naofumi Tanaka - who was nominated for the S.League's Young Player of the Year award - and midfielders Kento Nagasaki and Shuto Inaba.
Considering the circumstances, Yoshinaga admitted: "If I said there was no pressure, I'd be lying.
"But then again, there is pressure in every job.
"It's about how you manage it and turn it into something positive."
He revealed that he has "four or five" key players arriving in the coming weeks to beef up his squad.
To prepare himself for the new adventure, Yoshinaga watched videos of S.League matches to get an understanding of the playing styles and tactics of the other clubs.
He also gleaned some information from Naruo, an acquaintance whom he previously met at football conferences in Japan.
However, Yoshinaga said: "I only spoke to Naruo in general, and didn't ask too many questions in detail, because I did not want to have any pre-conceived ideas about what to expect.
"I wanted to come here with an open mind.
"Anyway, in terms of how we have to play, whether it is possession-based or attacking football, to me, the first objective is to win.
"The most important thing is to be flexible to adjust and adapt accordingly to any situation we may face, so that we can win as many matches as possible."