Nadeshiko doing it the Takakura way
Tokyo: As a head coach, Japan’s Asako Takakura cuts an impressive figure on the sideline. Calm, composed and serene, Takakura issues only occasional instructions, knowing most of her work is done in preparation.
In some ways that methodical and measured approached is reflected in the way her sides play. Japan’s various national teams – Takakura has coached all three – demonstrate a uniform method based on technique and intelligence over physicality and brawn.
Appointed in 2016 following the lengthy and highly successful reign of Norio Sasaki, Takakura had big shoes to fill. But the former long-serving team midfielder relished the opportunity to continue the trademark Nadeshiko style – a method that delivered great success at junior international level.
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Victory at this year’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup - and with it qualification to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 - highlighted a strong year which resulted in inclusion as one of final three contenders for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach. Recognition that Takakura describes as “not not just an evaluation of myself, but of Nadeshiko Japan”. And a gold medal at the recent Asian Games has added even added more lustre to Takakura’s standing.
Takakura’s coaching bow on the world stage brought staggering success. Victory at the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup was achieved by a well-drilled Japan side clearly confident in the methodology overseen by their mentor. There followed a runners-up finish two years later in Jordan, and third-place at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Takakura’s charges could be considered unlucky not to achieve even greater heights at both those tournaments.
Notably, Takakura has been able to oversee the transition of several promising starlets into the senior team: Yuka Momiki, Yui Hasegawa and Hina Sugita to name just a few.
Has that previous experience helped young players make the step-up to the senior team? Takakura believes it has. “Since they know me well, I believe that they are not frightened to challenge anything within my team,” Takakura.
“I wouldn't say other senior players are frightened, but experience of spending longer with me for sure gives young players more confidence to challenge in a positive and correct way.”
To say Japan have made a leap over the past decade would be an understatement. Prior to winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the Nadeshiko had won just three of 16 matches at the showpiece event. Since then they have appeared in the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final, picked up an Olympic silver medal and broken their continental drought.
Next year, however, will mark a new era of sorts when, for the first time, Takakura leads a relatively new-look Japan side at the Women’s World Cup.
“I'd like to show the world the Nadeshiko way of football, and I strongly believe that's the shortcut to victory,” said the reigning AFC Women’s Coach of the Year. "We don't copy other teams' style.
“Good results only come to those who believe in it. I'm saying to the players: ‘For sure it will be difficult to be a World Cup champion, but that's our target’."
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