The Japan Football Association appointed Nadeshiko Japan’s first ever female manager on Wednesday, naming four-time Asian women’s coach of the year Asako Takakura as successor to Norio Sasaki.
Takakura will also be in charge of the under-20 national side, and the JFA has entrusted her to revive the former world champions with an eye on the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sasaki, who led Japan to two World Cup finals and an Olympic silver medal four years ago in London, stepped down last month after his team failed to qualify for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games.
Takakura’s first games in charge will be a pair of away friendlies against the reigning world champion United States on June 2 and 5 in Colorado and Cleveland, respectively.
“My name had already been mentioned by the media when I was offered the job, and I was thinking what a great opportunity it would be if it came my way,” said Takakura, 48. “It’s an honor and I’m fully aware this is no easy job, but I told them I wanted to take this on without hesitation.
“The Americans are No. 1 in the world rankings and you couldn’t ask for a better test than them. By playing them, I want to find out with my own eyes what we’re lacking.”
Takakura, a former midfielder who won 79 caps for Japan and appeared at the 1991, 1995 World Cups as well as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, comes with an impeccable resume.
Takakura led Japan to the title at the 2014 Under-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 Asian U-19 Championship. She also served on the FIFA technical study group at last year’s World Cup and the 2012 U-20 World Cup held in Japan.
With her qualifications, JFA President Kozo Tashima said choosing Takakura to follow in the footsteps of the hugely successful Sasaki was a relatively easy decision.
“It had to be her,” Tashima said. “Let me make it clear that we didn’t pick her because she is a woman. It could have been a foreigner or Japanese, male or female.
“She simply is the most qualified for the position. She had that kind of ability.”
The JFA is counting on Takakura’s vast experience of coaching at various levels — she has coached every age group from the under-13s up — to bring new players into an aging Nadeshiko team whose core has largely been kept intact since winning the 2011 World Cup in Germany.
Takakura said there is an array of young talent to be unearthed in Japan, but asked for patience as the torch is gradually passed.
Junko Imai, head of the women’s teams, promised the JFA will make better use of the international windows, scheduling more games for the Nadeshiko who did not fix a single friendly ahead of the Rio qualifiers.
“I’m very disappointed the Nadeshiko didn’t qualify for Rio, but it doesn’t take away from the success the team had under coach Sasaki,” Takakura said.
“I want to adopt a style that only Japanese can play. When Japan won the 2011 World Cup in Germany, that team took full advantage of their qualities. I’ve been involved in player development for a long time and I know there are a lot of good, young players.
“I want to make Nadeshiko strong again.”