“How is it possible for the Japanese to train in Serbia? This is a unique story.”
NBCNEWS – The Japanese national team is fighting to qualify for the 2022 World Cup representing Asia. But, in other parts of the world, the Japanese managed to bring Serbia to appear in Qatar next year. He is Katsuhito Kinoshi. He’s the assistant to Dragan Stojkovic, who is in charge of physically handling the White Eagles.
For the second edition in a row after 2018, Serbia will appear in the World Cup. They qualified after dramatically and surprisingly, beating Portugal 2-1 at the Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Monday (14/11/2021) early morning WIB.
The question is, what is the key to Serbia’s success? First, the material world-class players in the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham), Luka Jovic (Real Madrid), Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina), Dusan Tadic (Ajax Amsterdam), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Filip Kostic (Eintracht). Frankfurt), Marko Grujic (FC Porto), to Predrag Rajkovic (Reims).
Second, Stojkovic’s existence as coach since March 3, 2021. If you remember, Stojkovic was one of the stars of the Yugoslav era. He was successful with Red Star Belgrade winning the Yugoslavia competition. Then, won the 1992/1993 Champions League trophy with Marseille.
In addition to top-notch players and coaches, the secret to Serbia’s success is excellent physique. In the midst of a hectic schedule of players in the Blue Continent’s top competition, Serbia has a squad that can play consistently for 90 minutes. The proof, the goal of qualifying for Qatar was born at the last minute!
Of course the physical condition of the Serbian players deserves two thumbs up. The reason is, it is not easy for the national team coach to have fit players when the leagues are still rolling. So, when it comes to fitness, The White Eagles’ physical trainer deserves praise.
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Uniquely, the Serbian physical trainer is not a local person. Nor from neighboring European countries with great football cultures such as England, Italy, Germany, France or Spain. Serbia’s physical trainer actually comes from Japan.
Kinoshi worked for the Serbian Football Association (FAS) at the same time Stojkovoc was appointed head coach. The 54-year-old man introduced several innovations. The method is simple, though it uses technology, with results that keep players consistent throughout the game.
To many, Kinoshi’s presence in Serbia was a shock. The reason, this is not uncommon, there are Asians working in European football. Generally, teams from Asia have coaches from Europe.
However, for those who have followed football for a long time, it will not be difficult to get Serbia’s relationship with Kinoshi. “I met Mr Stojkovic when I was his enemy. Our team tried to beat him and his team. But it was difficult,” Kinoshi said in an interview with Serbian media Nova.rs.
“In my country, there is no one who does not know Stojkovic. As a player. As a coach. Everyone (football fans) knows. He is a special person. As a player, coach and individual. Until now I have worked with him for 10 years,” added Kinoshi.
Stojkovic’s introduction to Japanese football occurred in 1994 during the early days of the J.League. As a marquee player, he joined Arsene Wenger’s Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Not just a year or two. Stojkovic played for Nagoya until his retirement in 2001. In fact, after hanging up his boots and having a UEFA Pro coaching license, the man born on March 3, 1965 returned to Nagoya to become a coach in 2008. And this is where Kinoshi started working with Stojkovic.
At that time, Kinoshi worked as a fitness coach for Yokohama FC. Later, Stojkovic returned to Japan to coach Nagoya and needed a local assistant coach. The club then contacted Kinoshi and asked if they were willing to help Stojkovic or not.
“They (Nagoya) contacted me. They were looking for a (local) coach who could speak English well. In Japan, it was not easy. They offered me and told me about Stojkovic. Of course I couldn’t say no,” said Kinoshi.
“I don’t know why he (Stojkovic) chose me. But, I don’t want to know the reason. I just want to work by playing, helping him, and making him proud. Apparently, it lasted until now,” said Kinoshi.
In Nagoya, Kinoshi helped Stojkovic complete 278 games. Then, when Stojkovi was replaced by Bosko Gjurovski and Akira Nishino, Kinoshi remained at the Toyota-owned club.
Subsequently, on 24 August 2015, Stojkovic was appointed as coach of Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F. Two days later, Kinoshi was announced as one of Stojkovic’s assistants. After 141 games, Stojkovic was replaced by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, then Dejan Govedarica. But, Kinoshi stayed there.
When Stojkovic was appointed Serbia coach in March 2021, Kinoshi was again contacted. He was surprised when Stojkovic contacted him. Kinoshi is even more surprised to have to work in a country far from Japan.
“He called me and asked me if I wanted to live in Serbia? I said it was a far away country with a different culture to ours in Asia. But it didn’t take me long to agree. That’s when I said I accepted the challenge of working in Serbia. , said Kinoshi.
“Initially, it was not young to live here (Serbia). People here are more expressive. They use head to toe to express their opinion. Very passionate. Of course it’s different with us in Japan or China. But, it’s not a big problem for me now,” said Kinoshi.
Successfully overcoming non-technical factors, Kinoshi finally succeeded in helping Stojkovic reach an automatic ticket to the World Cup. This is not easy because in the group there is Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo. There are also Irish dark horses, who play relying on physicality.
But, Serbia can go through well. They held Portugal to a draw in Belgrade in the first meeting on 27 March 2021 after previously beating Ireland 3-2. It was Stojkovic’s first two matches in qualifying. Then, a 1-1 draw with Ireland in the second match and a 2-1 win in Lisbon really made Serbia fly to the seventh sky.
By looking at Japan’s struggle in qualifying for the Asian zone, it could be that Kinoshi will be the only representative of Sakura in the 2022 World Cup.