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Saturday, March 8, 2008

J. LEAGUE 2008


Nagoya Grampus

Staff writer

Last season: 11th

If England's Newcastle United wrote the definition of the underachieving sleeping giant, then Nagoya is a keen disciple.

Dragan Stojkovic, arguably the best player in the J. League's history — and certainly Nagoya's — returns to the club as coach, seven years after bringing the curtain down on a glittering seven-year stint with the eternal bridesmaids of Japanese soccer.

The move will undoubtedly be popular with fans, but great players do not always make great coaches, and Stojkovic has already fallen foul of J. League bureaucracy with his appointment held up due to a lack of a recognized coaching license.

Now that he has finally settled in, more problems lie ahead.

Nagoya's brilliant start to last season papered over the cracks of the atrocious run to follow, and had it not been for those early points the club would have found itself in real trouble at the business end of the season.

Star midfielder Keisuke Honda has not helped matters by following outgoing coach Sef Vergoosen to the Netherlands, and Stojkovic will have to use all his experience to lift a nondescript group of players to a higher level.

Brazilian Magnum is a good buy, however, and while strikers Frode Johnsen and Keiji Tamada remain, there is always a threat of goals.

Goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki will keep things tight at the back, but it will take more than a big name on the bench to turn Grampus into title contenders.

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