Monday, July 22, 2013

Football: Nostalgic return to Japan for Wenger

TOKYO: Arsenal's Japanese leg of?their pre-season Asian tour is a trip down memory lane for Arsene Wenger, as he faces former club Nagoya Grampus -- coached by one of his ex-players.

The Gunners boss will come up against Dragan Stojkovic, a former Yugoslavia captain, who was with the J-League side when Wenger managed them for 18 months before taking over at the north London club in 1996.

Monday's clash will be the Frenchman's first visit back to Nagoya Grampus since his successful time at the helm.?

Adding further intrigue is that Stojkovic has long been tipped by the British media to succeed Wenger when he calls time on his Arsenal career.

"I like to think that people I have worked with can become managers," Wenger told a joint press conference with his opponent ahead of the match at the Toyota Stadium outside Nagoya.

"First of all it maybe means that I've given them a little taste to do it and at least I've not disgusted them of doing the job."

Asked if he considered the Serb a potential successor, Wenger, 63, said: "Yes."

He was quick to add, however, that he is not yet ready to retire and it would be Arsenal's board that makes the decision.

To which Stojkovic, 48, quipped: "Wait 10 more years."

The Serb added that he was a huge admirer of the English Premier League giants and visits London almost every year to watch them train.

"Arsenal is a team that I love a lot," he said. "I love how they play, the style and spirit of the team."

Wenger guided Nagoya to win the national cup competition, the Emperor's Cup, in his first spring-autumn J-League season. He won the J-League manager of the year award in 1995.

In 1996, Nagoya Grampus finished runners-up in the league -- the team's best position until 2010, when Stojkovic led the club to their first J-League title.?

"For me, this was an unforgettable period as a player. I really enjoyed," said Stojkovic, who hung up his boots in 2001 after seven years at Nagoya and returned to manage the side in 2008.

"I gave my best, I gave my talent," said the Serb, nicknamed Piksi.

"He (Wenger) was the boss on the bench and I was the boss on the pitch, so it was a good combination."

Stojkovic added: "We have waited for 17 years to see him here again so it's a really special feeling for everyone here."

Although English Premier League clubs have flocked to the fast-growing and lucrative Asian market on pre-season tours in recent years, it is the first time in 45 years that an Arsenal first team will play a match in Japan.

In May 1968 the Gunners played four games during an end-of-season tour to the country, beating Japan's national team in three of the matches.?A planned tour of Japan in 2011 was cancelled after a massive earthquake and tsunami wrecked the country's northeast.

Arsenal have had a successful tour so far this pre-season, thrashing Indonesia Dream Team 7-0 and Vietnam's national side 7-1.

In Japan, Arsenal will play 2007 Asian champions Urawa Reds at Saitama on Friday as the finale to their Asian adventure.


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