2011 Asian World Cup: The Success of Asian Youth Development

Howdy everybody,
A couple of months ago, I published an article about Tom Byer, a youth coach in Japan. Tom is doing a fantastic job with his coaching clinics, and is actively participating to the growth of football in Asia. Recently, the New York Times praised his work, and the Asian World Cup outlines his performances! Let me share the NYT article with you guys:

South Korea and Japan Lord Over Soccer in Asia

It should have been the final. The 2011 Asian Cup semifinal between South Korea and Japan had everything. There was great play, controversy, last-minute drama and a feeling that these two traditional continental powers are once again setting the standards in Asia for others to follow.

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Despite that exodus, Japan’s J-League and Korea’s K-League can tap into their talent reserves to keep improving standards at home. The two leagues have been home to the Asian Champions League trophy since 2006. While traditional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be, at best, standing still, South Korea and Japan are showing how it is done.

“Along with Japan, Korea is the yardstick which, in Asia, everybody else is judged by,” said India’s well-traveled coach, Bob Houghton”. The J- and K-leagues came out of nothing and exported players. Their teams have been international successfully and have been qualifying for World Cups. What Korea has done football-wise is similar to what they have done economically.”

Houghton pointed to the fact that South Korea and Japan have long used the Asian Games as a tournament to develop youth players, while rivals sent senior squads. “In 1998, when I was with China, Iran sent a full team and won it, but if you now look at what has happened to Korea and Japan and then look at what has happened to Iran, then you can think that maybe, they were foresightful.”

South Korea has been more successful at the World Cup, and its clubs have outperformed J-league counterparts in Asian club competitions, but Japan is leading the way when it comes to grass-roots development, as the K-League deputy general manager Kwon Sung-jin said. “We still have some way to go at the grass-roots level and are behind Japan in this respect,” said Kwon. “We are working hard on this, and you can see the number of good young players coming through to the K-league and then the national team and overseas. We used to try and survive on the world stage with our fighting spirit, but now we have the technical skills, too.”

Japan’s success in this less glamorous side of soccer has not come overnight. Tom Byer, who played in Japan before the J-League was formed in 1993, is the founder of the largest chain of soccer schools for children in the country and says that a long-term approach at the grass-roots level is paying dividends.

“The overall level of Japanese soccer has been getting better each year,” Byer said. “I think you can see this by how many good players are on the bench at the Asian Cup. Japan used to rely on a handful of players but not anymore.”

“It’s been nearly a 20-year project to get to where they are now,” he said. “The Japan Football Association has put a very big emphasis on youth development for many years. The game in Japan is very strong at the grass roots, and that cannot help but develop good technical players.”

They are in demand. When Park Ji-sung first went to Europe at the end of 2002, Asian players were scarce. Now, as well as the Manchester United star, you can find Japanese and Koreans at big clubs in Europe’s top leagues.

Increasingly, they are moving to the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga directly, without “acclimatizing” in countries like the Netherlands, as Keisuke Honda and Park did. Shinji Kagawa has been a revelation for Borussia Dortmund since joining the German club from Cerezo Osaka in the summer and has helped the team to the top of the Bundesliga standings.

Byer is confident that there is much more to come. “Shinji Kagawa was only around 10 when he attended one of my sessions,” he said. “I singled him out as the best player and gave him a prize, but there were many talented boys. There are many other Shinji Kagawas in Japan.”

Kagawa actually had a quiet game against Korea, but the team’s Italian coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, was delighted with the result.

“It was a very tight match,” the former A.C. Milan and Juventus coach said after the game. “Looking at the first half, we were better than them, especially with our attacking and combination play. In the second half, Korea were better than us, especially because they pushed us with their physical ability. Credit to the Koreans; they are a strong team, and winning against such a fantastic team makes me even more happy.”

[…]

And though South Korea lost, the team still found plenty to build on this tournament. The Taeguk Warriors’ coach, Cho Kwang-rae, turned to youth in this tournament, with new faces like Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won already the subject of transfer rumors involving European suitors.

“I will never stop looking at future generations; the future is bright for future soccer development,” Cho said.
[Source: The New York Times]

Grassroots and youth development has become a major component in football, but also in football marketing. Discovering and “shaping” talented football players is the path to sport success. Also, major brands tap into this segment as it is a smart way to grow kids with a brand and to secure his “marketing” potential from a very early age. Nike The Chance is a strong illustration!

Karl Lusbec

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