This year, the J-League is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and it has come a long a way from two decades ago. From importing aging football heroes, Englishman Gary Lineker and Brazilian Zico for instance, to exporting quality homegrown players like Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo. According to Tom Byer, a former professional footballer and current youth development coach in Japan, this success is thanks to the development of players at the grass-roots level.
“The reason things are so good in Japan right now is that there is massive investment in youth soccer,” said Byer, an American who has lived in the country for the past 20 years. “If you look at the countries that are doing well now, they are not just doing well at the top end but at the grass-roots level as well.” This came from one who saw something in a young Kagawa at a youth clinic all those years ago. He also emphasized that Japan Football Association’s annual budget of $168 million, an amount Byer considers as one of the largest in the world, has greatly benefitted the country’s football.
True enough, such an amount has not gone to waste. In 2011, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country, the country’s national women’s team, Nadeshiko Japan, took home the Women’s World Cup after beating the United States 3-1 during a penalty shootout. On the men’s side, Japan advanced from the group stages in the 2010 World Cup, but lost to Paraguay in the knockout stage. But this is very promising for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Perhaps other countries in Asia would do well to follow Japan in promoting football in the grassroots level to attain the same level of game it currently has.