Japanese coach Takeshi Okada can approach his likely new vocation of farming in a confident frame of mind after probably bowing out of football with his head held high following Japan’s impressive showing at the World Cup finals.
The bespectacled, undemonstrative 53-year-old could be forgiven also for cocking a snook at the sceptics, who ridiculed his target of a semi-final spot for a side that was on a four-game friendlies losing streak and finding goals hard to come by.
However, they came within a penalty shootout defeat by Paraguay in their Last 16 clash on Tuesday of getting closer to that dream – no shame there and backed up by group stage wins over Cameroon (1-0) and Denmark (3-1) while only losing 1-0 to The Netherlands.
Okada, though, was as humble after the Paraguay defeat as he has been throughout his second spell in charge of the national side – the former international having guided Japan through the 1998 finals where they lost all three matches.
“They have not come with the sole purpose of surprising you but they’ve come with the purpose of surprising you by winning,” Okada said after Yuichi Komano’s failed spot kick ended Japan’s dream of progressing.
“However to that end, I’m not satisfied because we’ve fallen short of that goal (against Paraguay).”
Whether he was happy or not at the Paraguay loss he earned unstinting praise from an unlikely media source, the Sankei Sports, which only six months ago published a poll that revealed 86 percent of those asked wanted him sacked and 80 percent responded that they didn’t think Japan would win one match at the finals.
However, on Wednesday the Sankei Sports struck an entirely different stance.
“Manager Okada has strongly impressed the world with an aggressive defence led by a battling spirit,” the Sankei Sports said.
Okada was typically philosophical about the sudden turnaround in the media’s estimation of him.
“As it has changed so much, it will change again,” he said. “Either I am praised or get a media-bashing, I won’t change.”
Okada got special credit for having changed his tactics from an all-round style of play, which had worked in Asian qualifying, to a defensive strategy with rising CSKA Moscow star midfielder Keisuke Honda boosting Japan’s feeble firepower as a lone striker.
“Many people criticised us before the tournament and I accept that,” said 24-year-old Honda, who scored two goals and created one at the finals.
“If not for them, I don’t know if we’d come this far.”
Okada, a Zen student who has often mixed his team talks with lectures on religion, philosophy and history, has repeatedly said he would leave football after the finals though, he has been suggested as a viable candidate for the top FA job.
He told a British football magazine that he would retire to become a “farmer” who reads books when it rains and toils on the land when the sun shines, a lifestyle idealised by intellectual recluses in Japan.
“I probably won’t do it any longer,” Okada said after the Paraguay defeat.
Okada – who could be replaced as Japan coach by German 1990 World Cup winning defender Guido Buchwald – warned that the relative success in South Africa doesn’t mean that Japan have established themselves permanently among the world’s elite.
“When you keep on piling bricks vertically, they will eventually crumble,” he said. “There are times when you have to lay them sideways.”