When dynasties undergo a transformation process, two things can happen. They can either make enough of a chance in hopes that they become great again, or they completely lose their identity and their time at the top can be gone forever.
For Nadeshiko, they think they just made the hire that can bring them back to the Promise Land.
The Japanese Women's National Team hired Asako Takakura as their new head coach. In doing so, Japan hired their first ever female head coach. The team has been around since 1981.
Takakura takes over for Norio Sasaki, who was let go earlier this year after the team failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. This is off the heels of a successful 2015 World Cup, where Nadeshiko made it to the championship game, but were blown out by the Unted States. The team had been struggling ever since, as retirements, injuries, and in fighting kept the team from coming close to their potential.
Still, Takakura steps into the footsteps of the greatest coach in Japanese history. Under Sasaki, Nadeshiko won the 2011 World Cup, the silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, and were the runners up at the 2015 World Cup. All three championship games came against the United States, Japan's greatest rival at the time. They also won the AFC Women's Asia Cup in 2014 and were crowned the Queen of Asia for the first time ever.
Things changed after the World Cup, however, as the team went 1-4-1 against Asian opponents in the course of the next six games, including an embarrassing 4-2 loss to North Korea.
The moment Sasaki was let go, media attention quickly went to Takakura as the favorite to take over the job. Not only was she an up and coming coach who had tons of success with the U-17 team, but she was also a former player, having first competed for Nadeshiko in 1983. She was a member of the team when it made it's Olympic debut in 1996. The time seemed right for Japan to hire their first female coach, especially someone so accomplished and ready to lead the team.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Takakura said in regards to being the first female coach. "I feel like I have always been in the role of experiencing the first-time events."
Building Towards Tokyo
Japan did not qualify for Rio, but that does not mean the Olympics isn't on Takakura's mind. With the Games coming to Tokyo in four years time, the pressure is on Takakura and the rest of the coaching staff to build the national team into a contender. Anything less than a gold medal in front of their home crowd will be seen as a disappointment.
Luckily, Takakura has a direct line with the up and coming players. In addition to her success as the U-17 manager, she has been the manager of the U-20 team for the past few years, and remains at the post even after her promotion. She will lead the team into the U-20 World Cup in November. The hope is that several of the players stand out enough to make the team in four year's time.
“I want to create a new, strong Nadeshiko Japan by putting players who have built up their resumes together with young players,” Takakura said.
Japan will have to begin bringing in younger players almost immediately. Japan's average age at the Asian Qualifier was 27.1, far older than any other Asian team. This comes after the retirement of Hall of Fame player Homare Sawa, who was the captain of Nadeshiko since 2011.
The challenges for Nadeshiko begin immediately, as they host rivals United States in a series of friendlies in June.