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Saturday, March 4, 2006

Autuori set for Kashima title tilt


Staff writer

Paulo Autuori needed a lot of convincing to leave Sao Paulo for the J. League.

Kashima Antlers gave the FIFA Club World Champion-winning coach more than a million reasons to do so.

After initially turning down the chance to replace Toninho Cerezo at the helm of last season's third-place finisher, Autuori changed his mind after receiving "an offer he couldn't refuse."

But there were no Vito Corleone-style negotiations on Kashima's part. A cool million dollar plus salary was enough to do the trick.

It wasn't just haggles over the contract that delayed Autuori's arrival. The 49-year-old coach was concerned about potential communication problems with staff and players, and it was two Kashima old boys -- and fellow Brazilians -- who put his mind at rest.

"I have talked with (Toninho) Cerezo and Zico. Zico played here and has been part of the board and he knows a lot more about the club than me. He has given me a lot of information.

"When I arrived here I could see, I could feel, that a lot of people speak Portuguese. My staff has been very helpful with the language. They capture the meaning of what I want to say so quickly and it makes my job a lot easier."

Autuori is now settled into the job and ready to lead four-time champion Kashima's challenge for the title, which it last won in 2001. He has inherited a solid squad from coach Cerezo and one that had every chance to win the championship last season.

The loss of Takayuki Suzuki to Red Star Belgrade has been canceled out by the arrival of Atsushi Yanagisawa on loan from Italian League club Messina, but it is the improving fortunes of international midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara that may have the biggest effect on Kashima's title chances.

In Autuori, the Kashima players will be working with one of the world's most successful coaches of 2005.

After an unhappy spell in charge of the Peru national team, Autuori joined Sao Paulo in April 2005 and led the Brazilians to the Liberdatores Cup in July before steering them to their third "world club title" in December, beating European champion Liverpool 1-0 in the final.

This type of success is nothing new for Autuori. He won the Brazilian championship with Botafogo in 1995 and the Liberdatores Cup -- which is the South American equivalent of the Champions League -- for the first time with Cruzeiro two years later.

Which puts his recent achievements on par with the likes of Chelsea's Jose Mourinho and Liverpool's Rafa Benitez.

And like those two, success early in his coaching career means he is wise beyond his years.

"As you can see, I am a young coach, I am not yet 50, but I am already old. I have worked a lot. I was in Portugal for 11 years, I also coached university teams and the Peru national team. I have great imagination and training theories, European, South American, Brazilian."

A refreshing change between Brazil and Japan for Autuori is the length of the preseason, especially for someone intent on instilling a tactical awareness among the Kashima players on par with his former Sao Paulo charges.

"For a Brazilian coach it is a great honor that you have a long time, like a month, to prepare the team. In Brazil you just have sometimes a few weeks or sometimes days to prepare the team. I expect that I can prepare the team well and we'll be ready for the start of the season.

"We have to consider all the systems and we still have a way to go, but I hope to get things working here," he said.

There's no doubt that Autuori is looking forward to the challenge.

"For me there is a new vision of soccer in Japan and a new culture. I not only have to grow as a coach, but also as a person."



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