- Japan's Ami Otaki recently completed the FIFA Master programme
- The striker spoke about her playing career in French football
- She hopes to play for her country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Every great accomplishment begins with a dream, and it was no different for Ami Otaki. She began kicking a ball around as a young girl in Japan and joined her first club at the age of six.
“When I was 14 years old, I travelled to the USA for the first time to play in a friendly,” she explained in an interview with FIFA.com. “I’ve wanted to be a professional footballer ever since. I tried to take as many opportunities as possible to play abroad and my dream eventually came true when I signed for Olympique Lyon at the age of 22.”
Now 28, Otaki is now asking herself what lies ahead, once she hangs up her boots for the last time. Only a lucky few find their way on to the touchline as a coach or establish a career as a television pundit. Having spent her entire working life as a professional footballer, the 2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League winner is not yet exactly sure where her strengths lie. “I was looking for an international master’s programme that specialises in sport after taking a break for the first time in 2015,” she recalled. “The FIFA Master is well known in Japan, thanks to [former Japan men’s captain] Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, who took part in the 13th edition of the programme.”
“I knew I wanted to work in the sport industry in the future, but had no idea what I could do or wanted to do. The content of the course provides the perfect broad palette of knowledge required to succeed in the industry,” Otaki explained. “The international environment the FIFA Master offers makes it important and special compared to other international sport master’s programmes. The time I spent with the 30 participants from 23 nations was an incredible experience. The sports industry network the FIFA Master offers also makes it very special. It is one of the most crucial elements on the path to success."
What is the FIFA Master?
• Master’s programme for promoting management training within the sport industry
*• *Developed to create fully trained managers for the increasingly complex world of sport
*• *The programme focuses on three important and connected aspects of sport: humanities, management, and law
*• *It is supported by FIFA and organised by the International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES)
Yet, the striker could not yet contemplate the possibility of retirement. Immediately after completing the FIFA Master programme in July 2017, she signed a contract with Paris FC Feminines and travelled to the French capital on the hunt for more goals [Editor's note: Otaki left Paris FC after the winter break].
When asked about the differences between France and Japan, Otaki said: "The biggest difference is that in France, I played first as an individual and then as a team player, whereas in Japan, I played for the team first and then for myself. In France, you are taught to never give up when you’re in a one-on-one situation, while most coaches in Japan prefer to use numbers to their advantage and attack as a group. This might be the reason why players struggle to adapt to Japanese football when returning from overseas."
Otaki is keen to prove that she still has something to offer. "I’m playing now with the aim of representing my country at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo,” she explained. “It won’t be easy, of course, but I want to show that nothing is impossible."
This summer, the Yokohama-born player will be eagerly watching events in the country in which she spent so many years, as the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup kicks off in France from 5 to 24 August. Although women’s football soared in popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun in the wake of their team’s triumph at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, those heady days are now a thing of the past. "That explosive popularity has not endured, and there is still so much to do,” Otaki explained. “Nevertheless, plenty of girls still grow up wanting to be footballers. I think that’s one of the World Cup-winning team’s greatest achievements."
Otaki on Japan’s youth development:
• "The national association is giving young players huge opportunities by opening training centres, in conjunction with local associations."
*• *"The quality of our younger generation has grown tremendously, thanks to the youth programme."
*• *"However, I do think that our youth development efforts should focus more on encouraging players to be strong, not just technically, but also physically and, most importantly, mentally as well."