By Chris Harris

Arsène Wenger has paid tribute to Nagoya Grampus Eight as his former club look to sew up the J-League title on Friday.

The Arsenal manager spent 18 months in Japan before joining the Gunners in 1996, lifting the Emperor’s Cup and taking his team from the bottom three to a runners-up finish in the J-League.

Grampus Eight can go one better with a favourable result at bottom club Shonan Bellmare and Wenger, a former J-League Manager of the Year, could not be happier for the club and its manager, Dragan Stojkovic.

“He [Stojkovic] was my former player and he came here many times to England when he became manager of Nagoya,” said Wenger.

“I am still in touch with Nagoya over their decisions. I am personally very happy, very proud because we started the work at Nagoya. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them because it’s a fantastic achievement for them.”

Wenger left Grampus Eight for the Highbury hotseat in September 1996 but he still made a major impact during his brief stint in Japan. So what was the highlight for the well-travelled Frenchman?

“The transformation of the club,” replied Wenger.

“When I arrived they called Nagoya the burden of the J-League. In the first season we finished second in the League and won the Cup, the Super Cup as well.

“The happiness of people who love football [was also a highlight]. We were sold out in every single game. That is not the case anymore now I’ve heard but at that time the enthusiasm of the people around the team was fantastic.”

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19 Nov 2010