• Kyodo


New Japan Football Association vice president Takeshi Okada fired a warning shot on Friday, urging the Japanese soccer community to have the courage to change if it wants to retain its current status in the world game.

Japan’s two-time World Cup coach spoke for the first time as the JFA’s No. 2 man after being wooed by new president Kozo Tashima. Okada’s condition for taking the job was that he did not have to forfeit his duties as owner of FC Imabari in the Shikoku Soccer League, to which the JFA agreed.

Okada will only have to show up at JFA House twice a month for the executive committee and board of directors meetings.

“He told me he wanted to change Japanese football and that he needed my help to do it,” Okada said, referring to Tashima, his old friend from their playing days at Furukawa Denko in the Japan Soccer League.

“I ran it past some of the people at Imabari and they nudged me into accepting. I had no interest in taking the job if it meant having to abandon the club.

“I was told I only have to come here two days a month and the very next day, I get a call asking me on which days I’m available. I was like, ‘Give me a break.’ So I’ve just double checked with (JFA chief adviser Saburo Kawabuchi) to make absolutely sure that it’s only two days.”

With a wealth of experience in soccer, Okada will advise Tashima on virtually anything and everything the FIFA executive committee member comes to him about.

One thing Okada is certain about: the Japanese game needs a shot in the arm if it wants to continue to be relevant in the soccer family.

“The Japanese football community in general is starting to plateau, which is why we need to be innovative, develop a good new vision,” the former Yokohama F. Marinos manager said.

“Growth in Japanese football was rapid at one point. But it’s been more than 20 years since the J. League started and while what’s been built is terrific, I think the spirit which was initially there has started to wear off.

“No matter how good any organization is, it must be willing to change at some point. Be it in business or any other field, you cannot afford to not change in the times we live in. We need to get back to having the spirit we had at the start of the J. League.”

Okada, who coached Japan at the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, watches far more regional soccer now than J. League or national team games.

But of what he has seen, Okada has been impressed with Vahid Halilhodzic’s Japan ahead of the Asian final World Cup qualifiers, as well as with the progress made by the Rio de Janeiro-bound under-23 side led by Makoto Teguramori.

“I thought they were outstanding the other night,” Okada said of Tuesday’s 5-0 win over Syria. “There are a lot of players playing abroad now, and while they’re not improving at the rate they once were, there is steady growth.

“I haven’t seen all their games but (the Olympic team) is getting better. They beat Mexico on their recent tour, didn’t they? That’s a great result. I think they have a very good chance of winning a medal.”

Okada admitted becoming a team owner has allowed him to see the game in a different light.

“The president wants my opinion on various issues. I’ve experienced a kind of football that I hadn’t experienced before, and I’m in management now. There are a lot of things I notice about the game now that I hadn’t before.

“To be honest, when I was coaching the national team, I was never truly grateful about all those fans coming out. But having become president of Imabari and when you’re put in a position where you have to worry about whether you can get 2,000 for the season opener, you get it.

“I realize what football is really all about at the age of 59, which is pretty sad. But it’s better late than never, I suppose.”

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