Chairman plans to make Albirex a 'local' club
White Swans chairman Daisuke Korenaga tells David Lee he hopes to groom S'porean players for national team
You are only 39, but you have been Albirex Niigata Singapore chairman for almost a decade. How did you end up here?
KORENAGA: I had a football media business in Tokyo and we had dealings with Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool. I sold it after I was approached to become chairman of Albirex Niigata Singapore.
At first, it was very difficult because Albirex were not doing well on and off the pitch. Before I took over in 2008, we were making too much losses every year.
We were losing 40 million yen ($530,000) every year which our parent club in Japan had to pay.
It was a difficult situation for the parent club and myself. If they stopped funding, we would have been finished. That's why I decided we had to be independent.
After I took over, I had to cut costs, find sponsors, change the mindsets of our staff.
The first season was the most difficult, but we managed to break even.
Now we have a budget eight times of what it was in 2007, it's stable and we make a little profit each season.
BUILDING A DYNASTY: From winning the Community Shield (above) at the start of the season to being one win away from the S.League title, Albirex Niigata have their chairman Daisuke Korenaga to thank.TNP FILE PHOTO
But it's not just about the financial aspect. We have to create a reason for Albirex Niigata's existence in Singapore.
For residents in Yuhua, where we are based, we need to show exciting football matches and we have to behave like a professional football team.
For Albirex, we have to develop young players who can play for them in the J.League.
We want to engage the local Japanese community and be the bridge between Singapore and Japan.
We also want to help raise the level of football here. We exist for Singapore football and not just Japanese football. We have to show a good example.
Albirex are now just one win away from a first S.League title. How did the White Swans transform from a good team to a great team?
We are where we are by taking one step at a time with our Albirex family, the sponsors, supporters and residents of Yuhua.
It is all about the atmosphere and the stories.
If we have a strong story and atmosphere, Yuhua residents will want to watch us, schools want to join us, sponsors want to support us.
Then, we will get the attention of players in Japan. That's why the good players from Japan want to come and play for us.
We understand you are a very hands-on chairman who plays a big role in the make-up of the team. Can you tell us more?
I take all the players from Japan. I watch all their university matches, all their J.League matches.
My first consideration is that they must be young and have the potential to play for Albirex in the J.League.
Our average age is 23.3 even with (36-year-old goalkeeper Yosuke) Nozawa. Every year, it's the same, we want young players in their early 20s, and senior players like Nozawa who can teach the younger ones what it is all about.
Selecting the coaches is a different story. It is very difficult because you can't see on video whether he is a suitable coach for us.
I select them too, but I will discuss with our parent club because we have to share the style of play and philosophy.
Sometimes, I have to make the tough decisions to change the coaches because their performance could be better, or if the coaches want to go back to be with their families.
After Brunei DPMM FC won the league title last season and Etoile FC the first in 2010, Albirex look set to be the third foreign club to win the S.League. Is it good or bad for the league when foreign teams win the title?
Yes, good question. I have been thinking a lot about it. If we are bottom of the league, what do you think? Is that good?
Now we are top of the table. That's why Singaporeans are taking notice.
This is part of our role, to help raise the profile of our S.League.
Will Albirex continue to play in the S.League for the long term?
Yes, we will continue to stay in the S.League and I will also want to continue to oversee this project.
I have been here for almost 10 years now and my wife and two daughters are here with me.
I love Singapore and how well-run the country is, it is almost like a company. Things and decision-making can be too slow in Japan sometimes.
I get satisfaction from selecting players, seeing them do well and building this family. It's perfect, I love it. It is a dream job.
Can you share with us some of your future plans for Albirex?
My aim is to make Albirex a local club and I want to have Singaporean players in our team whom we can help groom for the national team.
We cannot do so now because of the regulations. That's why we have only Japanese players.
Changes take time and I don't think we will start having Singaporean players in our team overnight, but we will discuss with the S.League how we can achieve this.
I want to send more of our players to Japan and to other Singaporean clubs as we have done.
We can also contribute more to Yuhua. Now, we have the Yuhua Albirex Football Academy, but we want to increase the corporate social responsibility activities we do because we exist for Singapore.