HONG KONG (Reuters) - Twenty years after Philippe Troussier was tasked with moulding Japan’s footballing future, Hajime Moriyasu takes the reins of Asian’s most successful national set-up aiming to continue the country’s continental dominance.
Like Troussier before him, Moriyasu has been asked to lead both Japan’s Olympic and senior teams as the country builds towards the next World Cup, the first time a coach has been asked to double-up since the Frenchman’s departure at the end of the 2002 finals.
But while Moriyasu sets out along a path comparable to the one followed by Troussier two decades ago, the similarities between the pair are few.
Troussier arrived in Japan with an endorsement from Arsene Wenger and a reputation forged in African football.
Known as ‘The White Witch Doctor’ during a successful stint in Ivory Coast, he landed in Tokyo with a reputation for being bombastic and possessing little knowledge of the Japanese game, country or culture.
Moriyasu, by contrast, is an understated, uncontroversial character who has built his entire coaching career on home soil.
The task he has been given, though, is similar to that taken on by Troussier: to oversee a generational shift and build towards the next World Cup using the Olympic squad as the foundation for a new period of success for Japanese football.
Japan’s run to the knockout phase of the World Cup finals in Russia marked the end of the road for a number of country’s most illustrious players, with captain Makoto Hasebe and star Keisuke Honda among those calling time on their careers.
That leaves Moriyasu with the task of finding a new blend for the national side along the road to Qatar 2022.
“The passing of the torch will have to happen at some point,” he said recently.
“And while I’m in charge of the full national side and the Olympic team, we need to start bridging the gap between the Olympic team and the age groups below them.
“We have to merge one generation with the next.”
Much of Moriyasu’s initial focus will be on preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and he will lead the country at this month’s Asian Games in Jakarta before overseeing the senior side’s preparations for the Asian Cup in January next year.
The 49-year-old’s track record as a player and coach suggest that, despite his low-key approach, he has the credentials to succeed.
A former midfielder who spent the majority of his club career with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Moriyasu was part of the Japan squad that won the country’s first-ever Asian Cup title in 1992.
He took over as Sanfrecce head coach in 2012 and back-to-back league title wins in his first two seasons were followed by a third domestic crown in 2015.
His Hiroshima stint came to an end midway through 2017 when, with the club flirting with relegation, he resigned, only to be appointed Japan’s under-23 coach in October before also landing the senior role last month.
The situation he finds himself in is similar to that encountered by Troussier who took Japan to the final of the 1999 U-20 World Cup, the quarter-finals of the 2000 Olympic Games and won the Asian Cup before securing a place in the knockout rounds of the World Cup for the first time in the nation’s history in 2002.
The Frenchman’s tenure helped lay the foundations for sustained success and now Moriyasu is being asked to pull off a similar feat for the next generation of Japanese football.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Amlan Chakraborty