JDFA director Masao Kiba (r) talks with compatriot and Cambodia U16 national team coach Daisuke Yoshioka during last week’s U22 game between Cambodia and the Philippines at Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Masayori Ishikawa/Phnom Penh Post
Brains over brawn is what is needed to make a top player, according to former Japanese footballer Masao Kiba, who visited Cambodia last week to explore scouting potential in the Kingdom.
After a playing career that spanned 17 years, Kiba realises that often despite an inferior physicality, players from Asian nations can now compete at the highest level, thanks to their technical ability and quick thinking.
The 34-year-old featured as a defender for Gamba Osaka FC from 1993 to 2004, making 244 appearances for the J.League side with three seasons as captain.
Past colleagues during his time with the club include such luminaries as central midfielder Yasuhito Endo, defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and midfielder Junichi Inamoto.
After three years at three different Japanese lower-league teams, where he also took on coaching roles, Kiba joined Thai Division 1 League outfit Customs Department FC.
In 2010, he finally called time on his career on the pitch.
As a goodwill ambassador in Asia for the J.League, Kiba decided to create the Japan Dream Football Association (JDFA) last September in order to help teenagers in the region have a chance to become players in the prestigious Japanese top-tier league.
According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, the J.League is the leading domestic league competition in Asia for this early part of the 21st century, stepping ahead of South Korea’s K-League, the Saudi Professional League, the Iran Pro-League and the Chinese Super League.
“Bringing players from Asia, including Cambodian players, to play in the J.League is my dream, and I will try to achieve this,” Kiba told the Post. “But the players themselves have to have their own dreams and convince themselves they will achieve these dreams.”
The JDFA, which has taken its J Dream ProJect to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, will officially launch its activities in Cambodia this October. Kiba will spearhead the campaign as JDFA representative director, with other Japanese soccer experts expected to join.
The search for J.League candidates is set to take three years, starting with football clinics before building up to competitive events.
Kiba revealed the J Dream ProJect has received financial support from the Thai Group Lease Public Company and the Asian Partnership Fund.
“We get a full welcome from each football federation, but we need to have more sponsorship [by local companies] to secure continuing financing of the project,” he said.
The players generally targeted by the project are aged between 15 and 19.
The second step of the course, which transfers successful applicants to training sessions and trials with J.League clubs, will come into effect in about five years, according to Kiba.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ung Chamroeun at [email protected]