Wednesday 23 November 2022, 01:00

Youth development picks up pace in Japan through FIFA funding support

With an ever-increasing number of high-quality players featuring in Europe’s top leagues over the past two decades, Japan’s football production line is clearly operating efficiently. That output has helped Japan develop a credible reputation at the FIFA World Cup™, with three knockout-stage qualifications in the past five editions to their credit. Four years ago in Russia, Japan became the first Asian side to defeat South American opposition at a World Cup and then pushed Belgium’s golden generation to the brink. Success, however, has not happened by accident. An ongoing and reliable source of emerging talent is largely down to their long-term youth programmes, including the FIFA Forward-supported Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Premier League. World football’s governing body has also provided support to similar youth leagues at U-12 and U-15 level, as well as the Empress's Cup JFA Japan Women's Football Championship. “It's about raising the entire level of the Japanese U-18 Premier League, so that it can compete at the same level as leagues in, for example, Germany and England at U-18 level,” said JFA Youth Development Director Masanaga Kageyama. “We want to match them and even surpass them to be recognised internationally. The standard of Japanese football has gone up. This is all thanks to the contributions made by the FIFA Forward."

The sheer volume of top-level players produced in the U-18 league is remarkable. Last year alone, 25 players were signed by J League sides and 32 players selected into national youth teams. The league features nine high school sides and 15 J League youth teams. Among the former is the hugely successful Aomori Yamada High School, a team which has produced a catalogue of professional players, notably including Japan and Leganes midfielder Gaku Shibasaki. "Our players are developing [individually] as people and as a team,” said coach Go Kuroda. “Through football we give education and develop the person. This is the objective we are trying to reach."