By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - In a sport often focussed on results over performance, Ange Postecoglou will look to remain true to his purist values when Yokohama F Marinos kick off the defence of their J-League title on Sunday.
With a possession-based game influenced by the stylings of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, the former Australia coach guided Marinos to their first league title in 15 years last season.
It was a success that saw the 54-year-old lauded in Japan and beyond as he built on his already healthy reputation for delivering stylish football that produces titles.
Having won the A-League in his native Australia with Brisbane Roar before guiding his homeland to the Asian Cup crown in 2015, Postecoglou's talent has never been in doubt.
But translating that success to Asia's most high-profile league has taken the appreciation of his talents to another level.
"When I first came to the club it was about playing football that people enjoyed watching, that the players enjoyed playing and was successful," Postecoglou said after his side dismantled Sydney FC in the Asian Champions League this week.
"They've been told: I'm a side back and I have to stay here, or I'm a number 10 and I have to stay here, or I'm a goalkeeper and I have to stay in the box.
"But we're just showing them to forget that. We'll play our game, and our game is get the ball, get into space, stay together as a team.
"And you see now that the players are now almost coaching themselves on the field. You see them talking to each other and saying where they should go.
"But we still have to improve."
Postecoglou's tactical vision has its grounding in the methods espoused by Cruyff when he coached Barcelona in the early 1990s, as the Dutchman sought to build on the Total Football ethos first by compatriot Rinus Michels in the 1970s.
It is an approach that has earned Postecoglou comparisons with Guardiola, Cruyff's most prominent disciple, and the successful implementation of his philosophy has drawn favourable glances from elsewhere.
"Total Football is when you have the ball and everyone is involved, and the extension of that for me is that when you don't have the ball and everyone is involved as well," he said.
"Some teams press aggressively but don't have the ball much and play direct, and other teams have the ball but don't press. We try to do both, which is not easy.
"We're trying to play our game and the key to it is it looks simple. And if it looks simple it means that it's probably very complicated."
Simple or not, Postecoglou's approach has won titles and plaudits in most places he has worked. And while last year's J-League crown is the latest trophy won by the Australian, he says his principal desire is to set tongues wagging.
"My vision is I want to play football everyone talks about, and I keep saying to the players: 'It's not about winning, it's not about being first,'" he said."Let's play football that everyone talks about. With that hopefully we will have success as well."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)