Shinya Tsubokura is the academy director and head of coaching at J-League 1 club Gamba Osaka (Japan). He has been developing youth players for more than 20 years. During this interview, we talked about his personal situation during the covid-19 period and his vision on how his club should move on from now.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Currently I’m working in a Japanese club called Gamba Osaka as Academy Director and Head of Coaching. In this role my job is to improve the training methodology, to evaluate our youth trainers and to be the bridge between the Academy and the technical department of the Gamba Osaka first team. As Head of coaching I am required to develop our youth players according to the club’s playing philosophy.
Please tell us a bit more about the philosophy of the Gamba Osaka academy.
At the core of our philoshophy there are three elements: Firstly, we want to develop players between the age of 18 and 21 who regularly start in the first team’s games and have the potential to play for a European club that participates in the Champions League. Second, we want to produce at least three international players to participate in World Cups (U17/U20/A team). Last but not least we want to develop players who want to improve themselves and contribute to the value of Gamba Osaka’s club emblem.
Where does the club recruit its players?
We recruit everywhere. Some players come from the Osaka and Kansai area, others come from the Okinawa, Fukuoka, and Ibaraki area. I believe that Gamba Osaka has the facilities and brand recognition to attract all sort of players from different backgrounds.
Which age categories are you focusing on?
We have a group of elite players between 10 and 12 years old, an U-15 team with players from secondary school and an U-18 team with players from high school. Elite players usually play in their own school team and once a week they train in the Gamba Osaka academy. All of them were recruited via a selection test.
What are the characteristics of a typical Gamba Osaka player?
We aim to play attacking football with lots of technique and creativity. Gamba Osaka has produced several great attackers such as Takashi Usami, Ritsu Doan (PSV), Keito Nakamura (Twente) and Ryotaro Meshino (Hearts). These players were individually able to take control of the game but they also showed their strength as team players. This is what characterizes a Gamba Osaka player.
How have you been able to manage your teams during the Covid-19 period?
First of all, I made sure to keep in touch with them: Every Tuesday and Friday each trainer called each player of his team. The main purpose of these calls were to keep the players physically in shape and to provide mental care by having simple conversations about their daily life. For players who had to take high school and university entrance exams we organized video conferences where both the player, their parents, the coach and myself were attending.
We also tried to maintain the player’s physical condition to the extent that we could.To do this, a physical trainer sent our players a video containing indoor exercises and we asked them to send us their training video two weeks later. After receiving the video from players, the physical trainer gave feedback to our players with points to improve.
So you were handling both the mental and physical aspects of the game.
We made various efforts. One of them was sending our players a video with a motivational message from (former) Gamba Osaka academy star players like Takashi Usami, Masaaki Higashiguchi, and Ritsu Doan. It certainly encouraged our U13 players who saw their activities suspended immediately after joining our academy. Usami’s message was: “Congratulations on joining the academy, you are now one of us”.
Did you organized meetings where all the players could meet each other?
Yes we did. We organized several online meetings between U-15 and U18 players. During these videocalls they could chat with each other without the trainers interfering.
Obviously, each player’s home situation is different and therefore it is not desirable for the club to tell them what to do when they are at home. On the other hand, as activities were suspended, we expect the player to have the creativity to keep themselves busy for a day.
I want them to learn good habits, such as studying in the morning and strengthening their physical condition in the afternoon.
There is a big gap in this year’s football calendar. For players who are affected by the covid-19 crisis, do you think their progress will slow down or would this crisis make them even stronger?
When looking at a player’s career path, players from the third grade of middle and high school must be anxious whether they are seen enough by scouts or not. Some might be worried if there is still a path to become a professional player. I must admit that there is this anxiety from our side (the club) as well.
However, we need to focus on what we can do now. During the pandemic, our coaching staff created a highlight video for each player (that had to leave the club) so they could be send to other J-League clubs and schools who were interested to recruit him. Even in the most difficult circumstances, we would like to find a way to provide support for the players’ future career choice.
Regardless of your age or position, there is a lot we can learn from these extraordinary times. So lets take the positives learnings out of this and apply them to the future.
How would you like to use PSD once football activities will resume?
I would like to make effective use of the Video Library. It looks interesting to link video clips to the players’ profile page, or to collect video scenes containing our football philosophy and principles and share them within the club. Much possibilities here for sure. We spend a lot of time on our PCs nowadays, so let’s hope that my fellow trainers will use PSD as a communication tool as well.