Monday 05 December 2022, 11:00

Japanese and Croatian youth development connected by FIFA Forward

If you wanted to travel from Zagreb to Tokyo, it would take you 16 hours by plane, or, according to Google Maps, 99 days by foot. Neighbours they may not be, but there is one thing that connects both countries ahead of their Round 16 fixture at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ today: youth development, supported by the FIFA Forward programme. “We support FIFA's efforts in growing the game globally, and we will continue to invest FIFA Forward funds in development project such as the Vlatko Marković Tournament,” said the President of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) Marijan Kustić. Held in the Croatian towns of Sveti Martin na Muri, Ludbreg, Čakovec and Varaždin during the second week of May, a U15 youth tournament was attended by eight U-15 national teams and financially supported by the FIFA Forward Programme. Via FIFA Forward 1.0 and 2.0, FIFA has supported four editions of the tournament with a cumulative investment of USD $748,000. The Croatian Football Federation also contributed with USD $108,000 of their own funds.

“Such tournaments are a real treasure; they are the final ‘icing on the cake’ at the end of the season. In such tournaments, young players gain valuable experience and become acquainted with different mentalities and football philosophies, which is very important in their football development,” added Croatian U-15 head coach Sergej Milivojevic. “It brings a competitive charge and prepares these young men for more serious football. For a young player, these are their first appearances for the national team where they get to learn everything about being part of the team’s culture.” Apart from the players, holding such youth tournaments are equally important for coaches. That is why Milivojevic wanted to highlight the collaboration of FIFA and its Forward Programme and what this means for the overall progress of talent in Croatia. “FIFA has recognised the importance of investing in the development of young footballers. When the world's leading football organisation is behind such a competition, it increases the value. I can say only say the best things about the FIFA Forward programme. This is the right path,” he added.

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, prior to Qatar 2022. 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.

2022 Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Premier League, Japan

“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."

Discover more

Find out about FIFA Forward's background and proposition.

The core principles

Find out more about the FIFA Forward core principles.

Programme history

Explore the history of the FIFA Forward Programme since the first edition in 2016.