1st foreign manager for Shanghai women's football
Former Japanese women's national football team manager Asako Takakura has already spent a month with Shanghai SHRCB FC after being named the head coach of the Chinese Women's Super League side.
And she has set an ambitious goal for the team: winning each match in the 2023 CWSL season while aiming for the championship.
Takakura's confidence comes from her observation of the players over the past month, during which the club took part in the first phase of the 2023 Women's National Championship in Kunming, southwestern Yunnan Province, and managed to advance to the knockout round.
Shanghai's star players Xiao Yuyi and Tang Lina are also making a return to the domestic league this year after their overseas spells.
"The players are devoted in training, and we have been getting along well," Takakura told Shanghai Daily. "We have a lot of young players. The growth of young players and the improvement of the team's comprehensive ability are my major tasks this year."
Takakura had a remarkable career as a player, having been selected in the Best Eleven seven times during her spell with Japanese women's league side Yomiuri Beleza. She made her debut for the Japanese national team at the age of 16, subsequently taking part in the 1991 and 1995 World Cup, 1990 and 1994 Asian Games, and the 1996 Summer Olympics.
She played 79 games and scored 29 goals for Japan until 1999. Then, after years of successful coaching in Japan's national youth team system, Takakura was appointed as the manager of the senior national team in 2016. She was the first female to hold the post.
Takakura has won the AFC Women's Coach Of The Year Award six times. For Shanghai SHRCB FC, she holds a persuasive resume to take over the job from her predecessor Shui Qingxia, who has been appointed as the Chinese women's national team manager. Takakura is also the Shanghai team's first foreign head coach.
"I did have some hesitation due to pandemic-related concern when receiving the invitation from Shanghai last year," Takakura noted. "But I also got to know that Shanghai has a strong team with a glorious history. So eventually I decided to come here and give myself a challenge."
Before coming to Shanghai, Tatakura prepared herself for the new job by watching the team's match videos.
"There are still problems to be solved, including players' positioning on the field and their continuity in attack. But they are promising players with potential,"she said.
Football was a niche choice for young girls in Japan when Takakura started to pick up the sport.
"When I started playing football, there were hardly any professional or international leagues for the women's game," she pointed out. "I barely imagined myself becoming a coach, and now have got the chance to coach in Shanghai. The training facilities and backup supply here are of the world's best level."
This is not Takakura's first Shanghai trip. Some 20 years ago, she visited the city with friends as a tourist.
"I still remember having delicious xiaolongbao (steam pork dumplings), and watching old men practising Taiji during my last visit," she recalled. "Shanghai has changed so much in the past two decades. I really want to look around in my spare time."
The 2023 CWSL season kicks off this weekend. Shanghai SHRCB FC will play its home matches at Jinshan Stadium in suburban Jinshan District.