The Japan Football Association on Friday confirmed Futoshi Ikeda as Nadeshiko Japan’s new head coach, placing their trust in him to take the standout results he’s achieved at the underage level and apply them to a senior team that has struggled against international peers in recent years.
Ikeda will inherit a Nadeshiko team far removed from its famed triumph at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, where Norio Sasaki’s squad shocked the United States in a penalty shootout to become world champions.
“Japan became No. 1 in the world in 2011, and I want to build a team that can reclaim that position,” Ikeda said. “We have to raise our standard, aim to become the best in the world and become a team that everyone supports.”
The 50-year-old spent 20 years as a youth and top-team coach with Urawa Reds — where he also played as a defender during the first four seasons of the J. League — and with Avispa Fukuoka before being named head coach of Japan’s U-19 women’s team in 2017.
Ikeda guided that side to victory at the 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship before winning the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup in France — Japan’s first-ever title in that age category.
“There were a lot of officials there from around the soccer world who praised Japan’s play in that tournament,” JFA President Kozo Tashima told a news conference on Friday. “It wasn’t just that Japan won, but the way in which they played.
“I thought it was the kind of soccer we need to play in order to succeed internationally, on both the men’s and women’s sides.”
While a five-year rebuilding project under former head coach Asako Takakura saw many young players earn their senior debuts, it failed to produce a team capable of competing in a rapidly evolving global landscape for women’s soccer. Japan crashed out of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in the round of 16 and was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Games by eventual runner-up Sweden.
“There were times when the team was able to play the kind soccer Takakura was aiming for, and times when it wasn’t,” JFA Women’s Committee Chair Junko Imai said. “We don’t think we’re on the wrong track, but we do recognize a need to improve on what Japan’s strengths are.
“(In Takakura’s successor) we wanted someone who believes in Japan’s potential and can get the best out of the team, can use young players, and not only improve the national team but contribute to the overall growth of women’s soccer in Japan.”
Ikeda’s appointment comes at a crucial juncture after last month’s launch of the WE League, the country’s first professional women’s competition. While a growing number of Nadeshiko stars have moved overseas in recent years, the team’s new boss stressed that he would be looking not at players’ locations but rather their ability to produce on the pitch and contribute to a strong squad.
“With the launch of the WE League, the players have an environment in which they’re able to focus on the game, and I think we’re going to see players improve because of that,” Ikeda said.
“It isn’t a question of giving preference to players who are performing well overseas. It’s about looking at their performance, what they can do on the team, what impact they can bring to Nadeshiko Japan.
“I think we have to look at all of our players the same way, whether they’re overseas, in the WE League or in the (amateur first-division) Nadeshiko League.”
Ikeda’s first games in charge will come during November’s international match week. He will also hold domestic training camps in October and December ahead of January’s Women’s Asian Cup in India, which will serve as the continent’s qualifying tournament for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Imai described Ikeda’s appointment as a “three-year project,” with the anticipation that he will be in charge of the team through the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“It’s through the work of everyone who’s contributed to Nadeshiko Japan and carved out a path for women’s soccer that we’ve gotten to where we are,” Ikeda said.
“Nadeshiko Japan has to take a step forward in order to connect those efforts to the future, and I am ready to do my best in order to take on such an important responsibility.”
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