Former J. League legends Zico and Guido Buchwald both urged young Japanese players to avoid making sudden leaps to big European clubs, suggesting that smaller moves could be better for their long-term development.
The two discussed the state of Japanese soccer on Thursday at a Tokyo news conference announcing their appointments as the league’s new global ambassadors, along with former Brazil head coach Dunga and former South Korea head coach Hong Myung-bo.
“I’m a bit worried about (the recent trend of young Japanese players joining big European clubs),” said Buchwald, who played for Urawa Reds from 1994-97. “They need to play in games and get experience. Sometimes it’s better to start at a smaller club and move on to a big club. They need to think about whether the club will help them grow.”
Buchwald’s comments may have been an indirect reference to Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old midfielder who recently left FC Tokyo for Real Madrid.
Kubo isn’t the only one with lofty aspirations to play for a top European club. Earlier this year, Vegalta Sendai defensive midfielder Ko Itakura joined Manchester City and was subsequently loaned to Groningen, while Takuma Asano has spent three seasons on loan in Germany since signing with Arsenal in 2016.
Midfielder Takashi Usami’s 2011 loan from Gamba Osaka to Bayern Munich yielded little success, while winger Ryo Miyaichi — who signed with Arsenal in 2011 out of high school — struggled with injuries on loan at various clubs and now plays for Germany’s St. Pauli.
“We have the same problem in Brazil,” noted Zico, who became a legend in his time at Kashima Antlers and currently serves as the club’s technical director. “Minors with no experience playing in Brazil are moving to Europe.
“They’re not playing for top teams … they’re not able to play and struggle to adjust, and then they’re neglected at their clubs. Young players need to get experience playing in their own country and then move to Europe.”
Buchwald suggested that more players should emulate the example of former Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, who spent six seasons at Urawa before joining Wolfsburg in early 2008.
“(Hasebe) didn’t start with a famous team, gained experience, and now he’s respected by top-level players across Europe,” said Buchwald, who managed the 2006 Reds squad to the club’s first-ever J. League title. “I hope he can pass that experience to younger players.”
The pair both praised Samurai Blue head coach Hajime Moriyasu for his squad’s recent performance at the Copa America, with Zico singling out Shoya Nakajima, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Koji Miyoshi.
But the Brazilian also had words of warning for Japan, recalling issues he faced as the country’s head coach between 2002-06.
“Japan didn’t have as much time to train or the ability to pick the best players, but to get such good results in such a short time is a very good surprise,” said Zico. “However, you have to finish your chances. This has been a problem since I was head coach (of Japan).”
“You need high-quality attackers,” Zico elaborated. “(In my squad were) Seiichiro Maki, Atsushi Yanagisawa and Naohiro Takahara. In training they always scored, but in games they couldn’t score.
“I don’t know if it was a mental thing or a pressure thing, but you have to keep training to overcome this problem. It’s a major issue that will take time to solve.
“Japan created a lot of chances at the Copa but couldn’t score. It was the same at the World Cup. Without fixing that problem, Japan will struggle to get good results at the Olympics.”
As global ambassadors, Zico and Buchwald will participate in the promotion of the J. League in their native countries. The launch of the program comes after the recent announcement of the league’s global streaming partnership with Rakuten.