China's gain will be Japan's gain - Okada

Updated: 2011-12-20 08:06

(China Daily)

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TOKYO - Former Japan coach Takeshi Okada says he moved to manage China's Hangzhou Greentown to develop the game in Asian soccer's sleeping giant, and in doing so help the Blue Samurai grow stronger.

Okada, who left Japan's national team after leading it to the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup, spoke of a "crisis" in Asian soccer and said unless the game in the region becomes more competitive, his home nation could suffer.

The 55-year-old has signed a one-year contract with Hangzhou, one of a flurry of big-name moves to the Chinese top flight in the past week after Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka and former Fulham and Monaco manager Jean Tigana were both snapped up by Shanghai Shenua.

Okada remains on the board of the Japan Football Association and said if he succeeds in China it would help raise the level of Asian soccer and further develop the Blue Samurai.

"I have been driven by a sense of crisis that, if Japan cannot have tough and high-level official matches in Asia, they would soon peak out and fail to win in the world," he said.

"The situation will considerably change if one or two countries get stronger. I thought China would be one of them."

Okada turned down offers from Japanese and other Asian clubs to move to a country where anti-Japanese feeling persists due to wartime atrocities committed by troops under the Rising Sun flag.

"I think for now that, if I cannot help the team win, I may come under tremendous criticism combined with that kind of anti-Japanese sentiment," Okada said in Tokyo last week.

Japan, the four-time Asian champion bolstered by a swelling number of Europe-based players, has already booked its place in Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But China, twice Asian Cup runner-up, is still struggling in its bid for its first World Cup appearance since 2002.

Corruption has also marred the game, and Okada's signing comes just a year after the Super League's nadir when a major match-fixing crackdown left senior officials facing jail, and saw sponsors and state television abandon the game.

Okada is confident he has the raw materials to develop the side - and maybe win round sceptical fans.

"Their individual skills are at considerable levels but they tend to rely on foreign players as in the J-League's early years," said Okada, who led the Yokohama Marinos to the J-League title in 2003 and 2004.

"They have rough edges but a lot of vitality."

Hangzhou, owned by billionaire real-estate tycoon Song Weiping, finished eighth in the 16-team Super League in the March-November season and Okada has set his ambitions high.

He said he wanted the team to win the Super League title, become the Asian champion, qualify for the Club World Cup and "beat Barcelona."

"Everybody laughs at this, But it is not impossible," he said. "When I said this to the players, they also laughed."

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 12/20/2011 page22)