Yoshinaga: The media will decide our hero for us

They have lost S.League 2016 Player of the Year Atsushi Kawata, but newly-installed Albirex Niigata (S) head coach ‎Kazuaki Yoshinaga remains confident that his side can challenge for all four trophies this season… 

In 2016, Albirex Niigata (S) were bailed out on a couple of occasions by Kawata, as the striker scored a grand total of 20 goals to help the White Swans to an unprecedented quadruple.

Kawata was eventually named the league’s Player of the Year and he secured a move back to parent club Albirex Niigata in the J.League 1.

The striker’s departure left a big gap in offence and with plenty of youngsters joining Albirex from universities in Japan, the White Swans will have their work cut out for them to adequately fill his shoe.

But Albirex Niigata (S) head coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, who is a new arrival himself after predecessor Naoki Naruo left the club, believes his team contained some individuals who could fill Kawata’s shoes.

“I did not watch Kawata play last year, but I have trained the players who joined this year so I am confident they can do well,” Yoshinaga told FourFourTwo.

“As the head coach I shouldn’t name who I think will stand out because I want the team to play as one.

“But when the situation comes and a hero arise, you will know who he is.

“Who is the hero of the team will be decided by the media and fans, not me. For me, my focus is just on the team.”

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Yoshinaga is confident his side can live up to expectations

Like all previous Albirex Niigata (S) coaches, Yoshinaga will have to work with inexperienced youngsters and guide them through their first professional season.

Being competitive has never been an issue for previous squads, but the bar has risen this time around after last year’s team managed to snap up all the trophies up for grabs.

Yoshinaga admitted he will certainly feel the heat, especially since he has been tasked by his chairman to replicate the 2016 squad’s success.

Yet, at the same time, Yoshinaga is looking forward to the challenge he faced.

We have quite a number of new players playing in the league for the first time. But we have set a high target for the team and the players are working very hard to achieve the target so I think we are prepared for the season.

- Yoshinaga

“We have quite a number of new players playing in the league for the first time,” Yoshinaga shared. “But we have set a high target for the team and the players are working very hard to achieve the target so I think we are prepared for the season.

“There are a lot of new players so my job is to make them able to face to such challenges so that our football will be attractive for the fans.”

While Yoshinaga is aiming to meet his chairman’s expectations, the 48-year-old also stressed that the pursuit of glory should not distract the White Swans from their main objective: to attract more fans and increase football’s popularity.

“For me, I want to take one game at a time and for the players to play good football so that our fans will come and enjoy the game,” he added.

“From there, if we can gain one more fan, that is already considered a success for the club that we are able to retain and get more fan.”

Photos: Albirex Niigata (S)