Naruo is Coach of the Year
Naruo is Coach of the Year after a stunning return to S.League
He was the mastermind who guided Albirex Niigata to an unprecedented clean sweep of all silverware on the table this year.
After leading the White Swans to victory in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, RHB Singapore Cup, The New Paper League Cup and Community Shield, it was hardly a surprise when Naoki Naruo was named 2016 Coach of the Year at the S.League Awards Night at Marina Bay Sands yesterday.
The 42-year-old saw off competition from Brunei DPMM's Steve Kean and K Balagumaran, who will part ways with Hougang United.
Although the individual honour was fitting reward after a brilliant first year back in Singapore - following his previous spell in charge of the White Swans in 2009 - Naruo was quick to share the credit with everyone involved.
"Of course, I'm very happy to receive this award," he said.
"This award may be given to me, but it is the result of everyone's hard work at Albirex.
"Because of this, it continues to give me motivation to keep doing everything I can to continue to be the best coach I can be."
With the award, Naruo has essentially won everything he could get his hands on this year.
He said: "The four titles are obviously more important because, without them, I don't think I would have won this award tonight.
"So, for me, the team success is clearly more important."
Albirex finished only seventh out of 12 teams when he was last at the helm of the Japanese outfit seven years ago, and Naruo exceeded all expectations after being named as the successor to Tatsuyuki Okuyama at the start of the 2016 campaign.
Albirex were the joint-highest scoring team this year after netting 50 goals in 24 games, along with Tampines Rovers and Home United, and the White Swans also owned the best defensive record, conceding just 24 goals.
Naruo had previously explained how he had only been a fledgling coach all those years ago, but returned with far greater experience after a spell back in Japan with Grulla Morioka, who have been in the J3 League since 2014.
When asked how he has changed as a tactician, the Iwate native replied: "The main thing that has changed is that, this year, I was able to get the players to play at 100 per cent of their ability.
"I had the belief that, if we were able to achieve that, we would be able to play and win against any opponent."
Given how he has steered Albirex to a historic sweep, it is understandable that the club are keen to extend his stay at Jurong East Stadium.
Nonetheless, Naruo kept his cards close to his chest when asked if he would be around again in 2017.
"As of now, I cannot say anything," he answered, with a wry smile.
"You will find out soon enough."
The main thing that has changed is that, this year, I was able to get the players to play at 100 per cent of their ability. I had the belief that, if we were able to achieve that, we would be able to play and win against any opponent.
— Coach of the Year Naoki Naruo