"I can now focus entirely on HSV"

After his extended world cup break, Gotoku Sakai returned to training at HSV today and made a good impression both on the pitch and at the press conference. 

Cheerful, recuperated and impressively fit: HSV defender Gotoku Sakai has returned from his holiday and is raring to go. Instead of completing the obligatory performance tests, the 27-year-old took straight to the training pitch to join in his team’s session. The Japan international has digested his country’s disappointing Last 16 exit at the World Cup well, he told us, and confirmed in Tuesday’s press conference that he has indeed resigned from international football; a decision he made after the tournament.

Gotoku Sakai on…

... the World Cup in Russia: We had high expectations of the tournament and wanted to beat Belgium to get to the quarters. Unfortunately, Belgium showed in their last attack how much quality they have (Japan led 2-0 against Belgium and lost 3-2 in the last second). We were all gutted after the game, but we still returned home with our heads held high. To receive so much recognition worldwide for our fair play obviously makes us very happy. It’s part of our culture: Things like leaving the dressing room behind clean, and our fans tidying up their section of the stadium. 

... his resignation from the ‘Samurai Blue’ after the tournament: I did a lot of thinking after the World Cup. I’ve been with the national team for six years now and haven’t been given many chances in the starting XI over the past four years especially, so I decided to open up my place to younger players, which means among other things that I can now focus entirely on HSV. I’m saving time and energy on the long flights back and psychologically I can give everything to HSV and help the club achieve its targets. I have a huge amount of respect for the national team, but my decision is final.

... his noticeably high fitness level upon returning to training: I did a lot of individual training in Japan so that I could come fit. Firstly, I completed the training plan that our athletics coach had given us – that involved a lot of long runs, where I had to work on my power and coordination especially. As well as that, I had my own fitness coach who really got me up to scratch at the end of my holiday. Nevertheless, I was able to spend a lot of time with my family, so it worked out really well.

... his role in the team: Despite giving up my captaincy, not a lot will change for me here. I want to lead the younger players just like I have done in recent years. I think Aaron will be a very good captain, because he’s very experienced. My aim is for the team to pull together: Everyone needs to be a captain on the pitch, then we can achieve something as a team.

... his targets at HSV: I had been looking forward to playing here again whilst on holiday. I need to improve my athleticism and improve on the ball, but there is still time for that. I will be in talks with the coaches to make sure I am at 100% by our first home game against Holstein Kiel. We all want to work together to reach our targets.