The sterling efforts of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s Member Associations in nurturing the Continent’s future were honoured on Tuesday afternoon at the AFC Special Elite Youth Football Awards 2023.
Held at the InterContinental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur during the opening of the 4th AFC Youth Conference, the ceremony crowned Japanese coaches Yoshiro Moriyama and Tomomi Miyamoto as Youth Coach of the Year (Male) and Youth Coach of the Year (Female) respectively.
The Japan Football Association (JFA) swept the other three awards as the JFA Academy Fukushima won in both the Boys and Girls categories for Youth Academy of the Year, while the Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Football Premier League was named Youth League of the Year.
The second edition of the awards, which were first held in 2019, were presented by the AFC Deputy General Secretary, Competitions and Football, Shin Man Gil and Chairperson of the AFC Professional Football Task Force, Park Ji-sung.
Addressing the participants in his opening remarks, the AFC Deputy General Secretary, Competitions and Football said: “The AFC understands the importance of youth development, for our youth signifies the future of our game here in Asia, and as part of our Vision and Mission, we are firmly committed to enabling and supporting all our Member Associations in their youth development initiatives.
“The AFC Special Elite Youth Football Awards is a landmark initiative that aims to not just recognise Member Associations, but also spur all of us on as we strive to continually raise the standards of football in Asia.
“A big congratulations to all the winners of this edition and I am certain that we will continue to work together to ensure that the future of our youth in Asia is a bright and brilliant one.”
JFA coach Noriyuki Kawamata receiving the awards on behalf of Yoshiro Moriyama and Tomomi Miyamoto
Youth Coach of the Year (Male): Yoshiro Moriyama
The first coach to win back to back titles in the AFC U17 Asian Cup™, Moriyama has established himself as one of the Continent’s best in youth development.
Capped seven times for Japan, the former defender’s playing career spanned nine years before he hung up his boots in 1999 and embarked on his coaching trajectory the very next year.
Moriyama said: “I do not take all the credit for this award, it is the result of the cooperation and understanding of many people, including my fellow coaches in Japan, school officials, and the parents of the players. Needless to say, I would also like to thank every player for their great effort.”
Moriyama spent 12 years at the youth setup of former club Sanfrecce Hiroshima before the JFA hired him to lead Japan’s age-group teams, starting with the U15s and also encompassing stints with the U16s and U17s.
The triumph at the AFC U17 Asian Cup™ Thailand 2023 followed on the back of success at the AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018, and the 56-year-old is currently leading a Japan side at a FIFA U-17 World Cup for a third time during this year’s edition in Indonesia.
He added: “I am really proud of having won two consecutive titles at the AFC U17 Asian Cup for the first time in history but more than that, I am most proud that the players I coached are now playing in the higher categories and that they continue to love football.
“My motivation is to see players become more passionate about football, and to see them enjoy and grow through games and training, and to support them as they turn frustration into strength and growth.
“I believe it is important to always keep challenging and always keep striving, and I say the same thing to my players.”
Youth Coach of the Year (Female): Tomomi Miyamoto
Four years after they lifted the trophy for the first time, Japan thrilled worldwide audiences again at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup when they returned to Costa Rica for the 2022 edition.
While they fell just short of retaining the crown after succumbing to Spain in the Final, the Young Nadeshiko nonetheless showcased impressive performances – with assistant coach Tomomi Miyamoto playing a key role behind the scenes.
A firm proponent of teamwork, she expressed her gratitude to her players and backroom staff upon winning the award and said: “The joy of winning when each individual team member has shown his or her strength is unparalleled.”
The 44-year-old had overseen the progress of the majority of the team, starting from her time as assistant to the U16s in 2017 that was followed by the same role with the U17s (2018) and U19s (2019) before moving up to the U20s in 2020.
With 77 caps and 13 goals under her belt as well as experience playing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, AFC Women’s Asian Cup™, Olympic Games and Asian Games, Miyamoto had plenty of wisdom to impart to the proteges looking to follow in her footsteps.
Her coaching abilities led to her being included in the Nadeshiko setup as assistant coach since 2021, where Miyamoto helped guide them to the Semi-finals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022™, second place at the 2023 SheBelieves Cup and the EAFF E-1 Football Championship 2022 trophy.
She is confident that Japanese football is full of potential, noting: “In order to become top class at the senior level, each player needs to further improve in all aspects: technical, tactical, and physical. I believe that Japan has the greatest ability to unite as a team, which could be seen as the best in the world. Collecting top class individuals into a team will be vital for becoming the world’s top team again.”
AFC Youth Panel member Masanaga Kageyama receiving the award on behalf of JFA Academy Fukushima (Boys)
Youth Academy of the Year (Boys): JFA Academy Fukushima (Boys)
The JFA Academy Fukushima (Boys) aims to be a model for youth development in Japan and offers a full range of both on-and off-the-pitch activities. It is responsible for disseminating a great deal of information, including data obtained from players and training sessions to the rest of the country.
Established in 2006, the Academy’s role is to develop leaders not only for the footballing world, but also in society. Equipped with a comprehensive suite of facilities to care for players full time in all aspects, 163 graduates have emerged as of 2022 and 48 of those have gone on to forge professional careers, with representation at Japan’s age-group and senior national teams.
“We understand from the AFC Elite Youth Scheme that there are many great academies in Asia, and we have great respect for all clubs,” an Academy representative said.
“Many J.League clubs have also started to have their own academies, and the domestic game environment has become more mature. In response to these changes in the environment, the JFA Academy has continued its activities by adopting the most appropriate methods in accordance with the times, taking into consideration the unique values that the Academy is able to provide and what would be beneficial to the Japanese football.
“Receiving this award is an opportunity for us to go back to the basics. We will strive to improve the quality of our academy so that we can continue to be the benchmark academy in Asia.”
JFA coach Ayako Takematsu receiving the award on behalf of JFA Academy Fukushima (Girls)
Youth Academy of the Year (Girls): JFA Academy Fukushima (Girls)
As with its Boys counterpart, the JFA Academy Fukushima (Girls) is run by the JFA and is the first women’s club academy in Asia to be awarded the highest three-star rating in the AFC Elite Youth Scheme.
The annual recruitment process takes into consideration players from all over the country, thanks to training centres that are present in 47 prefectures across nine regions (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Hokushinetsu, Kanto, Tokai, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu). With over 100 applications received every year, the final intake is whittled down to six or seven players.
Numerous players have represented Japan across all levels of the national team, including five each at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023, AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022™, FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022 and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2022.
An Academy representative said: “It is a great honour to receive this award and a great encouragement to our staff and to the players.
“The Japan Football Association states that the ideal player to be nurtured in the developmental age is ‘a player who has his own individuality and can make the most of it for the team in various situations’. We at the JFA Academy Fukushima believe that we must contribute to the revitalisation of the professional league by producing many such players from our academy.”
AFC Youth Panel member Masanaga Kageyama receiving the award on behalf of Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Football Premier League
Youth League of the Year: Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Football Premier League
The top tier of the U18 league system in Japanese men’s football since its inception in 2011, the Prince Takamado Trophy JFA U-18 Football Premier League is contested on a year-round basis.
The latest edition in 2023 comprised two groups – East and West – of 12 each, split geographically, with the winners to contest the final in December. At the other end, the bottom two teams are relegated to the second-tier Prince League, from which the top four are promoted via a play-off system.
A League representative said: “We are very honoured to receive this prestigious award, which recognises the efforts of our predecessors who have contributed to establishing the league culture in Japan, as well as the coaches who are currently organising and running the leagues in their respective regions.
“On the other hand, we are aware that the level of youth leagues in Japan has not yet reached the ones in Europe. In order to catch up and eventually surpass them, and to continue to be a benchmark for youth development in Asia, we will strive to develop the leagues in Japan.”
Previously held in a tournament format, the current league format was adopted in order to create a “Match-Training-Match cycle” that allows players to better develop and strengthen their skills throughout the year.
The only tournament in Japan that brings together high school and J League club teams, there is an almost even composition currently – 13 and 11 respectively. This unique format has fostered nation-wide player development through friendly rivalries between the clubs and high schools and led to many Japan national team players emerging from the league.
The representative added: “We think that there are two key factors to the success of the league. The first factor is the development of players, teams, and coaches through high-quality competition The second aspect is to further its status of the league by these developments of players and coaches.”
Initiatives include the Elite Coaches’ Forum, which is held before the start of every season and once more at its midpoint, where the aims of the league are emphasised and its previous season reviewed, including with video analysis.
Furthermore, intensive promotional activities have been executed, such as a tie-up with the popular Japanese boys’ soccer manga Aoashi. That was used as the key visual for the league, while weekly announcements and feature articles about the league appeared in the magazine in which Aoashi is serialised. As Japanese manga is one of the world’s outstanding cultures, the collaboration has successfully increased interest and awareness.