J. League has turned 25 years-old in 2018 and many players are actually tied to the championship. It might be because J. League represented a low point in their careers or maybe they’ve actually grown into Japanese football, creating their own space and boosting their profile through a stint in the land of the Rising Sun.
“When We Were J. Leaguers” is a new column of J. League Regista, where we’ll try to recollect with former J. League players their memories about Japan, their careers and the moment they spent in the championship. Behind the decision of coming to Japan there are wishes, ambitions and goals which we can’t imagine: talking about their stories is a way understand them better, in a more complete context.
After the first guest we had for this column, it’s to move from Italy to Croatia. Eastern Europe-based players have been around for a long time, finding a nice environment in Japan to pursue their goals and enjoy their careers. Stipe Plazibat wasn’t an exception in this case, because he faced a brief, but remarkable stint in Japan, navigating the tough, but enthusiastic waters of J2 League.
The current striker for Lion City Sailors FC (formerly known as Home United FC) is now in Singapore to go on with his career, but never forgot how much Japan influenced his way of seeing life on and off the pitch. Enjoy with this chat with him!
1) You grew up professionally in your country, Croatia, where you played for three different teams, before then switching to Rabotnički, in Macedonia. After that, you took the leap and moved to Japan. Which was the main reason to do so?
Honestly, I was tired of people who promised me this and that, but after all they don’t deliver anything at all. Therefore, I decided I wanted to go far away from this kind of people in the business: after a few months, I found myself moving to far East Asia.
2) You ended up in Gifu, where you enjoyed a nice stint, especially when you first arrived at their club. How was the jump from Europe to Japan for you on the pitch?
Even though football is really different, I found it very suitable for myself: in the end, the transition wasn’t so hard as someone might imagine.
3) In Gifu, you had a prolific first season, but then the acquisitions of other offensive players – on the top of my head, I remember Namba and Nazarit – pushed you towards the decision of leaving. Did you feel it was time to leave at that point?
I think I’m a player capable of playing in any position of the midfield; I can as well play as a striker. Surely, I don’t feel egocentric or selfish to feel the need to play in a certain position: as long as I’m able to help the team, I’ll be happy.
To answer your question, in the end, the problem wasn’t about the players who joined the squad, but the new head coach (author’s note: Ruy Ramos became the new manager in 2014, subbing in for Keiju Karashima). That’s all I have to say about this matter. If I had another coach back then, I would have probably stayed in Gifu and I would still be there, since I liked the city and I especially loved the local supporters.
4) You moved to V-Varen, who back then were relatively new for the J2 scenario. How do you compare that experience – and living in a different city, like Nagasaki – to the one you had in Gifu?
Those were two different experiences. Gifu is much closer to the bigger cities and it was much easier to maintain a certal social life. Football-wise, though, I had a great coach there – Mr. Takuya Takagi –, from whom I learnt a lot. So I have to say I’m deeply happy to have live such an experience.
5) We’ve talked a lot about the pitch, but I wonder how much the Japanese experience influenced your life off the pitch. How it was to adapt to a completely different culture? Did you enjoy the new cultural environment?
I have to admit it was really hard in the start, but later I started to understand Japanese culture way better than in the beginning. Therefore, I accepted some very good habits of this culture, which are still helping me later in life, even when I left the country. Work ethic and punctuality is unbelievable compared to other countries, out of this world.
6) The last question is always the same for this column and the people we interview: would you recommend to a young player or to one of your compatriots the experience of moving to Japan for football?
I guess it all depends on the ambitions you bare for your career, but I would recommend this experience to all the players who are ready to learn and accept something new. If you are not ready for that, to embrace something unknown, it’s better not to do it.
From my point of view, there was a problem, facing life in Japan for two years being completely alone: I missed that social component in my life and that’s why I left Japan in the end. But all in all, it was a very good and positive experience.
I want to thank Mr. Plazibat for the time he gave to JLR and we all hope he’ll keep thriving in Asian football like he has done it in the last years. Who knows if his desired return to Gifu will ever happen? We know some fans there would be deeply happy about it. See you next for another episode of this column!