Kuala Lumpur: Yokohama F Marinos coach Ange Postecoglou is itching to return to competitive action as the countdown to the J.League’s resumption from its enforced coronavirus break ticks ever closer.
The J.League will make its long-awaited return on July 4 having shut down due to the pandemic in late February, meaning Marinos had only played one game in defence of the title they won so impressively last year under the Australian coach.
Marinos lost their J.League opener to Gamba Osaka having also tasted defeat against Vissel Kobe in a penalty shootout in the Super Cup in the season’s curtain raiser, but the 54-year-old is delighted to be making a return to competitive action having seen leagues resume elsewhere.
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“It’s been six months where football has been a secondary concern with what’s been going on around the world,” Postecoglou told the-AFC.com. “For all of us it’s been a period of time where we’ve really had to face some challenges as a society and, inevitably, it’s been impacting on our own little world and football’s been part of that.
“We’re starting off again and it’s been great to see the Korean league and the Bundesliga and others starting already and you can see the relief that football’s being played again. I’m grateful that we’ve got a start date now because that gives players focus.”
Like many leagues around the world, the J.League will make its return without spectators while a full 34-game domestic season will be squeezed into a campaign shortened by four months.
That guarantees a gruelling period ahead for players and coaching staff alike, although Postecoglou does not expect his charges to complain about the challenges that lie ahead in the coming months.
“People underestimate the effect something like this has on sportsmen, whether it’s football or other sports, because all sportsmen and women know that they’ve only got a limited amount of time in the game and you inevitably face injury and other things in your career,” he said. “So to take six months away from you it can be hard to deal with mentally."
“I can see now players can’t wait to get started and play games. Obviously we’ll have a busy schedule, but I don’t think anybody will complain about it from a playing perspective because they’re just so keen to get back to what they love again. Playing behind closed doors will be something a little different, but hopefully it’s not too long before people can come to the stadiums.
“If nothing else this will reignite what’s really important - the things you’re really passionate about - because sometimes with things like sport and football, which is such a passionate game, you can lose track of why you love it so much. That joy of being in a stadium and playing the game, whether you win, lose or draw. Just that experience. We’ll all appreciate it once it’s all back up and running.”
In addition to their defence of the J.League title, Marinos are also featuring in the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2014. Postecoglou’s side have already played twice in the group phase, defeating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Sydney FC in their opening Group H games.
The competition, which was halted in early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holds particular significance for Postecoglou as he attempts to reverse the club’s disappointing long-term record in the continental competition.
“I think there’s been progress and that’s the exciting thing about the AFC Champions League because the challenge is to see if we can play the football we play in the J.League against different types of teams from different nations and in different conditions,” he said.
“We went to Korea Republic and played against Jeonbuk, who have got a fantastic pedigree in the AFC Champions League and in the Korean league, and it was really exciting for us and that lifted the players up."
“The AFC Champions League has been really encouraging for us and the way we’ve developed and we’re really looking forward to the rest of the tournament. Obviously it’s at a pause at the moment but we were really keen to see how far we could go.
“We won the J.League last year and I’m really hoping we can find a way to get the tournament up and running again so we can face the challenge of playing against teams with different styles. Marinos have gone a few years without being in the AFC Champions League and we’ve never made it out of the group stage and this would be a great opportunity to do that.”
For a man who has won titles in almost every job he has held, including lifting the AFC Asian Cup trophy with his native Australia in 2015, victory in the AFC Champions League is high on his list of priorities for the rest of the year.
“I want to win everything I'm in,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast. I really like my team to play a particular kind of football and then success comes from that and the AFC Champions League is going to let us see how that stacks up against the other teams in the region. Can we do it away from home, in different countries and in different conditions? That’s the challenge."
“You want to win everything. I’ve had success in my career because everything I’ve been in I want to make sure the teams I coach are successful.
"The AFC Champions League is no different. It’s a chance for us to showcase what we do and show that the way we play our football can be successful in a different environment. And when everything gets up and running that’s what I’ll endeavour to do.”
Photos: AFC, AFP
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