This article was published in the Japan Times on January 15th.
Dome Corporation president Shuichi Yasuda has the vision, Satoshi Okura the know-how and former Dutch international and Rangers player Pieter Huistra the experience. The goal now is to combine their respective talents as they embark on the task of building a professional soccer club from scratch.
Yasuda announced the creation of the new team, Iwaki FC, earlier this week at the Dome Kickoff party at Ariake Coliseum, and he has grand ambitions. He wants the club to become a pillar in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture (among the areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011), and ultimately, years, maybe decades down the line, help change Japan’s sporting landscape.
“We would like to energize Japan through sports,” Yasuda said Wednesday. “Well, actually, reform it. When you look at America and European countries such as Germany and Britain, they lead their societies with sports. We’ve looked closely at what they do and we’ve always wanted our society to do the same. We must do it. We’ve talked about this project over the past year and it has materialized.”
Iwaki FC will begin play in the second division of the corporate league in Fukushima Prefecture. Yasuda hopes the club can reach the top level of the J. League within 10 years. The support from the ambitious Dome Corporation, at least, will be at a J. League level from the start.
The company’s presence in Japan has grown rapidly since becoming the distributor for U.S.-based Under Armour in 1998. The partnership has opened doors in many areas including MLB, NPB (with Under Armour now the official outfitter of the Yomiuri Giants) and with some of Under Armour’s formidable stable of athletes — Dome Corp. hosted NBA star Stephen Curry at an event this past summer.
A stadium for the club is being built in Iwaki. Nearby will be a Dome Athlete House, a state-of-the-art training facility (for athletes from all sports) the company says is one of a very few of its kind in Japan.
Yasuda, who has a football background, tapped Okura to serve as the club’s president. Okura spent part of his career as a striker for Kashiwa Reysol and Jubilo Iwata in the J. League in the early 90’s, and studied sports marketing in Barcelona after retiring. He’s been an executive with J. League club Shonan Bellmare since 2004.
While there are no players — the team has a combine scheduled later this month to get the process started — Huistra has already been brought on as manager. Okura initially contacted the former Ajax assistant manager in September, and the Dutchman came away intrigued.
“I have to be honest, when I went back (home), I kept thinking about it and the idea caught me,” Huistra told The Japan Times. “What can you do? What will happen if you’re completely new, with completely nothing there? What kind of things do you have to think about? How do you start, how do you get the players? All kinds of questions. It got me thinking. When I came back in October, and was invited by the Dome company to come over, we talked more extensively about a new club. Then it was easy for me to say yes, to commit to the project.”
Okura and Huistra seem to understand the process won’t be a swift one, and both spoke of wanting to establish roots in the community early. They hope to develop players at a young age and combat the tendency in Japan to focus only on developing fundamentals and skills at the expense of physicality.
“In terms of development, it’s important to look at colleges and high schools, since they are places where significant development takes place,” Okura said. “So we would like to work on this project by getting the whole of Iwaki involved.
“We would like to eventually get promoted to J1, but we are not going to rush. We’ll focus on bringing together children in the area because our team has to be accepted by the town first.”
Huistra is excited about being involved on the ground floor and watching how everything plays out.
“I think I’m one of the few guys in football who played at a high level who also worked a long time in youth development,” Huistra said. “I was a youth coach at different age groups, I was a technical coordinator in the youth section, I was a reserve team coach, I was a head coach, I was in several committees in Dutch football to think about the future of Dutch football. So I’ve got experience in that. This was a great opportunity to combine all those different things in this project. For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime possibility, and I took it.”
On the photograph: Dome Corporation president Shuichi Yasuda (center), Iwaki FC president Satoshi Okura (left) and myself during a news conference on January 13th 2016 in Tokyo.