Sagan Tosu won the hearts of every football fan during the ABN AMRO Future Cup. Their compelling and attacking style of football has even come to be known as ‘tiki-taka Tosu time’. The Japanese team finished the tournament in 7th place, but their win against finalist Ajax U17s (3-0) can never be taken away. Former captain and current keeper’s trainer Takuya Muro explains how the partnership between Sagan Tosu and Ajax has helped the Japanese team refine their attacking style of play.
During the tournament, Muro was a part of the Sagan Tosu U17s technical staff. The former keeper for the Japanese team enjoys an important status in the club. He was the team’s captain for 7 years. As of 2015, Muro has been working as the keeper’s trainer for the Japanese club’s youth teams.
Ajax and Sagan Tosu entered a partnership in January 2018. Since that time, the Japanese coaches have been receiving help from the Netherlands. Muro: “A consultant from the Ajax Coaching Academy comes to Japan three times per year. The first session was about who we are and what the possibilities are within our organization. What could we improve in terms of our philosophy? After that, we went through the youth organization, step by step.”
The Japanese players have also taken steps forward tactically. “Hard work is an important value in Japanese culture. We play via a 1-4-4-2 system and always apply full pressure. That’s a typical Japanese style of play. But afterwards? What are we going to do with the ball? Since we’ve been working with Ajax, we’ve been improving in that respect, specifically when it comes to individual tasks with ball possession.”
As a part of the partnership, the team’s first ever participation in the ABN AMRO Future Cup was natural. “When we arrived here at the Toekomst, I noticed one thing immediately: Ajax is playing at the Champions League level, but the players just walk around among the youth players. I find that very special. With us, there is a much bigger separation between the youth academy’s complex and the first team.”
Impressive win against Ajax
After having worked with Ajax for one year, the Future Cup was seen as a nice test for the Sagan Tosu U17s. After a 1-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, the Japanese team prepared for the duel against tournament favourite Ajax U17s. Their tactical plan had already been carefully worked out prior to that…
We had analyzed the game between the Ajax U17s and Juventus based on what we had learned from the Ajax coaches. So we knew exactly how to apply pressure. It was important for us to give 200% against Ajax. We wanted to show the staff and the spectators what we could do. The players were alert. I told the guys: ‘If you lose to Ajax, there’s no way you can return to Japan’. A result like this is great”, said a joking Muro.
‘Again next year!’
Despite this convincing win, the team didn’t qualify for the semi-finals due to losses against Tottenham Hotspur (3-0) and Juventus (3-0). “Playing dominant football on the attack and defending, those are our strengths. But we had 6 goals against in our 2 lost games. We came up short in terms of defense and explosivity.”
“But we’ve seen that the Ajax philosophy works. We will take that back to Japan. Will Sagan Tosu players ever make it to Ajax’s first team? 1 or 2 talents have the potential to reach this. But, in Amsterdam, we’ve shown what we can do. We’re very happy with that. We want to come back next year!”