Along with Robert Prosinečki, Siniŝa Mihajlović and Dejan Savićević, Dragan Stojković was an integral member of that immensely gifted generation of Yugoslavian footballers which graced the European game during the late eighties and early nineties. A key part of the dominant Red Star Belgrade side of the same period, Stojković is now carving out a successful coaching career on the other side of the world.
Having retired (perhaps prematurely) in 2001 after seven years at Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the Serb returned to the east in 2008 to coach the club which he sees as a ‘second home’. Famous for once employing the services of Gary Lineker and Arsène Wenger, the history of Nagoya’s primary football team had been one of relative mediocrity since the foundation of the J. League in 1992.
However, Stojković’s appointment led to a significant upturn in the club’s fortunes, the former Yugoslav international taking to management with remarkable ease. A third-place finish in his first season marked a huge improvement on the mid-table finishes that the club had been mired in for much of the last decade, simultaneously making the Mizuho Athletic Stadium a far more attractive prospect for some of the league’s more gifted players.
In 2009 Stojković took advantage of his team’s improving status to import some foreign talents; Australian centre-forward Josh Kennedy arrived from Karlsruher in Germany, with Montenegrin playmaker Igor Burzanović departing Red Star to add extra attacking quality to a team that was beginning to find its feet.
While much was expected from Grampus in 2009, the club ended up taking something of a backward step domestically, struggling for consistency and finishing the season only ninth despite an impressive run to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League. Recognising his team’s deficiencies, Stojković again looked to the transfer market in the off-season and, in the shape of Japanese international centre-half Tulio Tanaka, made arguably the most important signing of his tenure thus far.
With Tulio a calming presence at the heart of the defence and Seigo Narazaki, the team’s 34 year-old goalkeeper, in the form of his life, Grampus looked a far stronger unit throughout the 2010 campaign. With a stable and patient boardroom supporting him, Stojković was given all the time and backing required to succeed, his mature and balanced team finally fulfilling its potential to win the recently concluded J. League season by the handsome margin of ten points.
The first league title in the history of the Nagoya club secured, Stojković will surely be hopeful of building upon last season’s triumphs with further successes in both domestic and continental competition. If he is able to achieve such lofty goals, then don’t rule the Red Star legend out of the running for some of Europe’s top jobs in the years to come.