Norio Sasaki said Friday he is proud of his endeavor with Nadeshiko Japan after his tenure as head coach of the women’s national came to an end.
“I’ve worked together with the players aiming to win on the world stage, and managed to get results to a decent extent,” Sasaki told a press conference. “I’d like to treasure those (results) and knuckle down toward the next stage.”
The 57-year-old said he was leaving the post after Nadeshiko failed to qualify for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics this month as they finished third in the final qualifying round in Osaka.
Sasaki, who became head coach of Nadeshiko Japan in December 2007, led the squad to the Women’s World Cup title in 2011, and followed it up with runners-up finishes in the 2012 London Olympics and 2015 World Cup in Canada.
“The thought about missing out on the qualification became more poignant day by day this past week. I’ll pass the baton to the next manager and will keep cheering them on from somewhere out of the spotlight,” he said.
Sasaki said he did not have to act differently in managing the women’s team while thanking his family for the support throughout.
“Each player’s spirit was high,” he said, “and it wasn’t so different for me from coaching men’s teams.”
He added: “My wife was petrified in the stadium when we won the 2011 World Cup. They (family members) were that nervous and used so much energy supporting me and I’d like to thank them for it.”
Sasaki will be remembered for his cheerful character, and said he was glad to finish on a winning note against North Korea despite his team’s fate being decided by then.
“That’s my personality, but the smiles from the players were more wonderful,” he admitted. “I was saved a little to be able to see the slight smiles on the players’ faces at the last game.”
Sasaki bowed out after winning 80 of 125 games in charge and left farewell messages to the players with whom he fought his way through, while promising to continue his association with Nadeshiko in the future.
“I might have looked a bit unreliable, but they followed me all the way through,” he said. “I hope they keep striving to reach the world stage.
“(The future) is a blank at the moment. Either way, I’d like to contribute to the world of women’s soccer in Japan.”
Sasaki is coveted by men’s J. League first-division side Omiya Ardija, formerly known as NTT Kanto and the only club he played for.
He hung up his boots in 1999 when he was 33, but stayed at the club in various roles before joining Nadeshiko’s coaching staff in 2006. He became the first coach of an Asian women’s team to win the FIFA World Women’s Coach of the Year award, for 2011, after guiding Nadeshiko to the World Cup title.