Japan soccer champion breaks silence on absence: ‘No respect for players’

Yuki Nagasato stepped away from the Japan women's national team in 2016. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Former Japan women’s national team player Yuki Nagasato broke her silence Tuesday, revealing why she chose to step away from the team. 

The 35-year-old striker left the team in 2016 prior to the Olympics, but she chose to remain silent about her decision at the time. She had spent 12 years with the national team, recording 132 appearances and 58 goals.

Nagasato won a World Cup with Japan in 2011 and finished as a runner-up in 2015. She also has an Olympic silver medal from the 2012 Olympics. But she decided to depart due to a lack of respect for players under a new coaching staff.

“Maybe I could’ve chosen to stay in a different way but I didn’t have energy and motivation to keep up with trying to make it a better place for the future,” she wrote.

Asako Takakura took over as head coach in 2016, replacing Norio Sasaki. Under Takakura, who, players were not respected as professionals “both on and off the field” and the standards did not reach the level appropriate for a national team, Nagasato wrote.

There was no right evaluation for players. There were disrespectful things for human beings,” she wrote. “This lack of professionalism made me really exhausted. I don’t know how professional I am, but I’ve learned it through my entire professional career for over 20 years in five different countries by now.”

While Nagasato took issue with the coaching staff, she later realized the issues stemmed from the national federation.

“For 7 years I’ve been silent. But I don’t want to be silent anymore,” she continued. “Because I noticed that to be silent doesn’t solve the problem. And I want the national team to be the most professional environment and they show the attractive performance with their professionalism which the kids and younger generations want to look up to, they could play there with respect in the future. And I hope they will have an impact on people around the world.” 

During the SheBelieves Cup, Nagasato spoke out about the lack of visibility for the tournament in Japan.

“To be honest, it’s almost feeling like the federation trying to ‘cancel’ what we achieved until 2015,” she wrote at the time. “It’s [been a] completely different organization after that.”