By Andrew Warshaw
April 29 – Asako Takakura has been appointed the first ever female coach of Japan’s senior women’s national team, hailed as an important breakthrough in promoting gender equality and the skills of women coaches globally.
The four-time Asian women’s coach of the year succeeds Norio Sasaki and has been entrusted with the task of reviving the hopes of the 2011 world champions ahead of the 2019 tournament in France.
Sasaki led Japan to two World Cup finals and an Olympic silver medal four years ago in London but fell on his sword last month after his side surprisingly failed to qualify for this summer’s Rio Games, with China and Australia to represent Asia.
Takakura’s first matches in charge will be a pair of away friendlies against reigning world champions United States on June 2 and 5 in Colorado and Cleveland, respectively.
“My name had already been mentioned by the media when I was offered the job, and I was thinking what a great opportunity it would be if it came my way,” said Takakura. “I’m fully aware this is no easy job, but I told them I wanted to take this on without hesitation. The Americans are No. 1 in the world rankings. By playing them, I want to find out with my own eyes what we’re lacking.”
Takakura, a former midfielder who won 79 caps for Japan and appeared at the 1991 and 1995 World Cups as well as the 1996 Olympics, has been an integral part of the Japanese coaching infrastructure for years, having coached every age group from under-13 upwards. She led Japan to the 2014 Under-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 Asian U-19 Championship and also served on the FIFA technical study group at last year’s World Cup.
Japanese Football Association President Kozo Tashima said choosing Takakura to follow in the footsteps of Sasaki was the natural decision. “Let me make it clear that we didn’t pick her because she is a woman,” he said. “It could have been a foreigner or Japanese, male or female. She simply is the most qualified for the position. She had that kind of ability.”
Nevertheless, women coaches are rarely given an opportunity at senior national level and Moya Dodd, head of FIFA’s Women’s Football Task Force and a member of the new Council that replaces FIFA’s executive committee, said the appointment of Takakura should not be under-estimated.
“The women’s football community will be heartened to see Asako entrusted with one of the world’s leading national teams,” said Dodd.
“While women are still in the minority in the women’s football coaching ranks at world level, they are disproportionately successful. Since 2000, all but one of the major world titles in women’s football – that is, FIFA Women’s World Cups and Olympic gold medals – have been won by female-coached teams.”
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