The founder of the J-League speaks honestly about what is lacking in the soccer world today | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The founder of the J-League speaks honestly about what is lacking in the soccer world today

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the birth of the J-League. A solo interview with Saburo Kawabuchi, the founder of the J-League

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20-year-old Kubo Takehide made his first appearance in the second half of the final World Cup qualifier against China on the 27th. Can he become a central figure in the Japanese soccer world?

While the world was in turmoil due to the Covid-19 disaster and there was a lot of gloomy news, one of the few big news from Japan was the success of Shohei Ohtani, a two-way player for the Angels in the US Major League Baseball.

At the same time, Japan missed out on a medal at the Tokyo Olympics and the Japanese national soccer team failed to live up to the expectations of its fans in the final qualifying round of the World Cup, and while some people are saying that the fever has cooled down, Saburo Kawabuchi, 85, has high hopes for Japan, saying, “There is no guarantee that a player like Shohei Otani will not emerge from the world of soccer. The reason why he is so confident about the emergence of such a player. He also revealed the reason why he is confident about the emergence of such a player.

I am confident that the J-League will succeed.

I was confident that the J-League would succeed. I was confident that the J-League would be a success,” he said. “How could the Japanese not love soccer, the most popular sport in the world? The organizational skills required in soccer, such as dexterity with the feet, the importance of mutual understanding, and how to demonstrate individual strength for the team, are suited to the Japanese. This has been the most important factor for me in the J-League.

The popularity of soccer peaked in 1968, when the team won the bronze medal at the Mexico Olympics, but has since declined. However, the club has developed by promoting a change in its surroundings while introducing a concept that was unprecedented at the time: “to conduct community-based activities as a professional sports club. The idea was to encourage people to fall in love not only with soccer, but with sports as a whole. A good example of this is the promotion of “turfing” of elementary school grounds so that children can run around barefoot, and the number of such schools has now exceeded 2,000 nationwide. Naturally, there have been frictions, both big and small, but he has been able to overcome them because of his genuine desire, almost like a conviction, that “there is no reason why the Japanese should not love soccer.

Since 1993, the J-League has been able to continue to grow, despite a few hiccups along the way, because of the presence of domestic players who give fans and supporters a reason to live. As Kawabuchi puts it.

It was 10 years with Hide and 10 years with Honda.

Hidetoshi Nakata, 44, was first called up to the national team at the age of 21, and without him, Japan’s first appearance at the World Cup in 1998 would not have been possible. Keisuke Honda (35), who is still active, has played in three consecutive World Cups and scored a goal in every tournament. He also wore the number 10 at AC Milan, a prestigious Italian club.

Hidetoshi Nakata was the ace of Japan’s national team until the 2006 World Cup in Germany (Photo: Afro)

A once-in-a-century talent. That’s Shohei Ohtani.

But last year, in the United States, the home of baseball, Otani continued to make history as both a pitcher and a hitter.

I think Shohei Otani is a once-in-a-century talent for baseball. It’s wonderful. I think Shohei Otani is a once-in-a-century talent for baseball. That’s what I think.”

While praising him honestly, Kawabuchi continued.

Anyway, he is full of love for baseball. I’m curious to know what kind of parents he grew up with. But when I look at him, I don’t feel that he was raised by anyone. It’s more like he grew up on his own. That’s what I’m talking about. I think it’s all about how the people around you can provide a good environment and guide you so that you can become more ambitious and want to grow. That’s what it’s all about.

Keisuke Honda (left) right after scoring a goal at the 2014 World Cup, who was in Japan’s national team until the 2018 World Cup, but no star has emerged since Honda’s absence (Photo: Afro)

If the J-League lacks that kind of environment, it’s not because there are always youth teams in the J-League that aspire to become professional soccer players, and the best young players can leave the J-League and go overseas. The J-League already has an environment where players can develop on their own.

The story goes back a little, but in junior high school, Kawabuchi was a baseball boy who boasted of his quick feet and clever hitting. In junior high school, Kawabuchi was a baseball player who boasted of his speed and skill, and even won the All-Osaka Tournament as “No. 2, Second Kawabuchi. He recalls, “When I was young, most of the people with high athletic ability came to the baseball club. According to the results of a questionnaire published by a major life insurance company, soccer has been surpassing baseball in recent years in the ranking of occupations that elementary school boys want to become. More and more children with high motor skills tend to choose soccer first.

As a result, individual players have become much better. The new players who have emerged in Japan’s Moriyasu Japan team for the final Asian qualifying round for the World Cup in Qatar are also potential stars.

In the past, Kaoru Mitoma’s speed and Kubo’s skill would have made him a superstar. However, the level of Japanese players is improving, but the level of the world is even higher. Teams and fans are no longer satisfied with just good ball-handling. From now on, not only speed, but also dribbling, passing, and shooting abilities must all be excellent. (I’d like to develop players like Shohei Otani, but now may be the time to be patient and wait for them to come out.

When Kazu (Miura) went to Italy’s Serie A in 1994 at the height of the J-League’s popularity, “I was all for it, and I didn’t think for a minute that the J-League would lose its popularity without its superstars.

Photo: Kaoru Watanabe

If there is a problem, it is the attitude of the J. League clubs that send players overseas.

There are times when I wonder if it’s OK to let players move overseas for free! There are times when I wonder if it is right to send players overseas for free. I don’t think it’s the players for the clubs, but the clubs for the players. We need to put in place a system where players can get a proper transfer fee when they move overseas.

In fact, this past January, three players who are expected to become mainstays of the Japanese national team, FW Dainen Maeda (24), MF Reo Hatate (24), and Yosuke Ideguchi (25), transferred to Scottish league powerhouse Celtic. This is a prestigious club where Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama FC), who played for the Japanese national team, was once a member. The move was made possible by Australian coach Postecoglou (56), who was in charge of J1 Yokohama until the middle of last season, and advised the team to “bring in” Japanese players. The low transfer fees for the three players were the talk of the town, and there were reports of an “unbelievable bargain sale. Kawabuchi continued: “I’m going overseas, so I’ll sign a single-year contract.

I guess they don’t have confidence in J clubs. I think J clubs are not confident, and I wonder if they are not being lenient with the players they acquire. I think it would be good if they would take a stance of ‘we won’t sign a contract unless it is for multiple years’ when signing a contract. I don’t think it’s okay to let the assets you’ve worked so hard to develop be taken away for free. Overseas clubs are always shifting the timing of their main players’ contracts. We can’t just sit back and let them drag us away like that.

What should the J-League do?

What steps should the J-League take in order to become an entity that can compete with European clubs, the home of soccer, in a friendly rivalry in the future, instead of being a “cutting field” for them?

The J-League is now considering the construction of a stadium owned by the J-League as a future plan. The J-League has begun to consider the construction of a stadium owned by the J-League as a future plan, which has been discussed many times since Kawabuchi was chairman, but has only recently begun to be implemented in earnest. In professional baseball, Nippon Ham, where Otani was a member, will complete a new stadium next spring at a total cost of 60 billion yen. It will be the world’s first ballpark equipped with natural hot springs, sauna facilities and accommodation facilities.

I think the J-League has entered the ‘second stage’ where it will be able to make a profit from the stadium. When I first became chairman, the seats in stadiums were wooden benches. When I first became chairman, the seats in the stadium were made of wooden benches, and I wondered if I could charge fans and supporters more than the price of a movie theater.

When I first became chairman, the seats at the stadium were wooden benches. I want a stadium like that. The stadium of River Plate, an Argentine powerhouse in South America, had a kindergarten and an elementary school.

In addition to the conceptual idea, a candidate site has also been named. Yoyogi Park is said to be one of the candidate sites.

When I started the J-League, there were people who said, ‘What the hell is Kawabuchi talking about? It may have sounded like a fairy tale. But as time went by, it took shape. ‘Look at that. It’s just like I said!

His tone of voice makes you feel that he is 85 years old. Kawabuchi sometimes tweets on Twitter, “I think I’m about 65 years old,” he says with a laugh. Kawabuchi will continue to talk about soccer, and by extension, the sport itself, from time to time so that it can take root in Japanese culture.

At the Japan Soccer Museum in the Japan Football Association. Mr. Kawabuchi, who has led the world of soccer for the past 30 years, maintains his passionate gaze on the world of soccer (photo by Kaoru Watanabe).
  • Photo by Kaoru Watanabe

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