The former sporting division of Toyota turned a new leaf in the mid-90s, helping to form the J-League and finding success through a Serbian footballing legend.
Few teams in Japan have tied their name to one single individual, but for Grampus that player is Dragan ‘Pixy’ Stojkovic, who joined the team in 1994 under future Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The Yugoslavian/Serbian legend was named league MVP in 1995 and let the club to two Emperor’s Cups in 1995 and 1999.
Despite often being labeled as a “big club” and boasting a brand new stadium, Grampus failed to win any title after Stojkovic’s retirement in 2001 and frequently experienced issues with players leaving the club discontentedly.
Though they have never been relegated, Grampus for most of the first decade of the 21st century were in the doldrums, until Stojkovic made a triumphant return in 2008 as a manager. Pixy brought Grampus their first J.League championship in 2010, a victory followed by a Xerox Supercup title the following spring.
The charismatic presence of the Serbian,who left Grampus at the end of 2013, can be crystallized in a 2009 episode against Yokohama F. Marinos. Following a decision to halt play that the manager disagreed with, the cleared ball flew toward the Grampus bench. Stojkovic, wearing business shoes, smoothly kicked it back with a volley. The shot flew over the pitch and sailed into the Marinos goal, resulting in approval from the crowd and a red card from the referee - just like his playing days!
Since 1999 the Grampus goal has been defended by Seigo Narazaki, who at 37 is one of the J1’s oldest active players. The 2010 league MVP also earned 77 caps for the national team between 1998 and 2010.
Unlike many clubs, Grampus has continued to invest heavily in European players, including Norway international Frode Johnsen. The 1.88-meter striker opened his time at Grampus with a double at JEF Chiba in July 2006, and in 2008 he helped steer the club to their first AFC Champions League appearance.
The club’s most well-known alumnus may be Keisuke Honda, who debuted for Grampus in a J.League Cup match while still a high school student. He played in Nagoya from 2005 to 2007 before sealing a move to Dutch side VVV Venlo.
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