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Japanese Football Evolves Under Foreign Guidance

November 25, 1998

Philippe Troussier working with the Japanese nationals. (Jiji Press)

French coach Philippe Troussier has been hired to lead the Japanese national team's drive toward the football World Cup finals in 2002. Troussier is the third foreign head coach, following the Netherlands' Marius Johan Ooft (1992-93) and Brazil's Paulo Roberto Falcao (1994). Many are hoping to see the national side improve even more under Troussier and perform well in the 2002 tournament, to be hosted by Japan and the Republic of Korea.

A History of Foreign Involvement
Foreigners have long played a significant role in the development of Japanese football. Dettmar Cramer, a German, was instrumental in helping establish a strong amateur football program that enabled Japan to take the bronze medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. In 1965 he proposed the formation of the Japan Soccer League (JSL), and his influence has had a lasting impact upon Japanese football ever since.

In 1993 pro football made its debut in Japan with the birth of the J. League. But at the time, there were few experienced Japanese coaches to assume the mantle of leadership, and a host of foreign coaches were brought in to lead the way. As the J. League entered its sixth season in 1998, 11 of its 18 teams were headed by foreign coaches. The head coaches and assistants hail from many different countries: Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Morocco, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia.

In the JSL era, most coaches were players who retired from active competition and coached on the side while working for the companies sponsoring their teams. When the J. League kicked off, however, some team owners hoping to raise the level of play looked abroad for coaches with the experience and knowledge to teach the fundamentals, techniques, and strategies of top-flight competition. Many of their teams saw marked improvement under foreign coaches, racking up strong records in league play. The Kashima Antlers, for instance, with playing--and later coaching--help from Brazilian legend Zico, grew into one of the strongest sides in the J. League.

Foreign Coaches Not Always a Plus
But the influx of foreign coaches has not been without its downside. Noting the early success of some foreign-led teams, many clubs eagerly jumped on the bandwagon, only to find that coaches from overseas did not always guarantee world-class performance. Other teams eagerly sought big-name foreign coaches, giving no thought to the style of football their teams were capable of or were aiming to develop. This led to the quick departure of many coaches after winning records failed to materialize right away.

Recently, there has been a shift toward hiring Japanese coaches over foreigners, who require considerable extraneous costs. But many Japanese coaches still lack international experience. The nurturing of skilled leadership is not an overnight process. Many argue that Japanese football is still in the developmental stage where foreign guidance is essential. But whatever their opinion, many agree that the most important thing for the Japanese national team is the presence of an experienced coach with a long-range perspective geared toward the 2002 World Cup.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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