Offering a gateway to a career in the world's top football leagues, the Japan Dream Football Association (JDFA) is aiming to produce the first player from Southeast Asia to break into Japan's top flight, the J-League.
The J-League may not be high on the list for local kids harbouring hopes of becoming professional players, but it has proved a good breeding ground, judging by the growing numbers of Japanese footballers plying their trade in Europe.
By taking this roundabout route via Japan, says the JDFA’s Masao Kiba, young talents from the region can gain valuable experience in Asia’s top league, using it as a stepping stone to the stellar heights of the Spanish La Liga or English Premier League.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Inter Milan left-back Yuto Nagatomo, JDFA representative director Kiba – a former Gamba Osaka player himself – has come up with a project to pave the way to Japan for young regional talents.
In Thailand, the JDFA has joined with Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University for its J Dream project to help develop local talents and push them to play in the J League. Under a 10-year programme dubbed Go to J League by J Dream Project, the JDFA will conduct a football clinic hosted by Kiba, to search for the brightest young Thai talents, who will then be handed an opportunity to play in Japan.
The first clinic is due to be held at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University’s Salaya campus on January 8, with 100 school students from Bangkok and neighbouring provinces attending.
The 37-year-old Kiba, who ended his playing career with Thai club Custom FC two years ago, says young Thai players have the potential to succeed in the J League.
“I learnt from two years here that Thai players, especially the youngsters, are very good technically. I think if these players were able to train in a better environment, they would develop into top-class footballers,” said Kiba.
With the project approved by both the Japan Football Association and J-League, Kiba promised it would not be too long before we see the first Thai rubbing shoulders with international players in the J-League.
“What these kids need is the opportunity to receive proper training. Young Thai players are just as good as their Japanese counterparts at the same age. I see no reason why Thais cannot play in the J-League.
“Anyone can have the dream of playing in the top leagues. If they believe they can do that, we’ll try to help them achieve it. We want to make those dreams come true together,” said Kiba, who developed a strong affection for Thai football during his brief stay in the country.