Caltex Socceroos great inspiring Langerak's Japanese journey
Mitch Langerak might have anticipated a partial release in pressure upon leaving the cauldron of European football in January but, in Japan, he has lofty expectations to meet.
The eight-cap Caltex Socceroo has spent the past eight months establishing himself as Nagoya Grampus' undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, a difficult enough task without having to emulate a famous countryman.
He is, after all, the first Australian to represent the club since Josh Kennedy, the adored Golden Generation member who built a reputation to match his stature across five and a half seasons in the J.League.
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Kennedy netted 64 competitive goals for Nagoya including 17 in their last title triumph in 2010.
"They love him there. He's a big star," Langerak told socceroos.com.au.
"He came to visit a few months ago and the fans went crazy for him.
"There were so many Australian flags, people still cheering his name.
"He had a very successful time at Nagoya Grampus. He did a lot of good things.
"In Japan they really, really love him and they know his qualities as a footballer.
"If I can do half as well as he has in Nagoya then I'll be very happy."
Langerak has been made to feel more at home by the presence of several other Australians in what is widely regarded as Asia's strongest competition, although the Emerald-born 30-year-old admits it has been a "massive change" from his more recent spells in Germany and Spain.
Nailing down a starting XI spot has helped with acclimatisation.
So long an understudy at Borussia Dortmund, Langerak has started every one of Nagoya's 24 league fixtures to date, including an ongoing seven-game winning run that has steered the club clear of danger.
"It's been a big culture shock, but good for me personally and professionally," he said.
"I'm enjoying living there, I'm enjoying playing there. The league is very strong.
"I think you could ask a lot of the boys who have played in Japan just how strong it actually is.
"It's a challenge every week playing against really good players and really good opponents.
"I think Australians are doing quite well all over the world and in Japan the clubs hold the players in high regard. Mitch Duke [at Shimizu S-Pulse] and Milos [Degenek] when he was there in Yokohama made good names for themselves.
"I've enjoyed it so far and I'm hoping I can build on my form and build on the way the club is going."
His efforts have not gone unnoticed by national team boss Graham Arnold, who recalled the ex-Melbourne Victory man for this week's training camp in Turkey.
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Langerak, part of the triumphant AFC Asian Cup squad in 2015, still has some way to go to reach Kennedy's 36 caps for the Caltex Socceroos, but his enthusiasm for the new era is clear.
"I think it's exciting for all the boys involved," he said.
"Personally it's always an honour and a privilege whenever I get the call to join the team.
"I'm very happy to be here. I'm feeling good, feeling fresh."
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