Despite some initial concerns surrounding the viability and suitability of the re-arranged Olympic tournament going ahead this summer, Tokyo 2020 ended up being a huge success.
The games, which came to a close last week, provided a much needed distraction from the on-going global pandemic and thanks to the successful campaign enjoyed by the Matildas and
Graham Arnold’s Olyroos earning an historic win over South American giants Argentina, it also provided Australian football with some of its greatest memories in recent times.
With the planets greatest athletes descending on Japan for the Olympics, it was only fitting that one of Japan’s greatest ever sporting exports played at least some part in the games.
And while they were certainly not eligible to compete, if one looked close enough, he could still be found at the very heart of all the football action; the tournament’s official match ball gave a subtle nod to one of the country’s greatest ever footballers, Tsubasa Ozora.
The dictionary definition of a prodigy, Tsubasa broke on to the scene at just 11 years of age, catching the eye in numerous youth championships before leading his country to victory at an U17s World Cup.
These performances and the guidance of his mentor, former Brazilian superstar Roberto Hongo, saw the Japanese wonderkid leave home in the search of footballing greatness; successful spells in the Brazilian Série A at São Paolo and in Spain with European behemoths Barcelona cementing him as one of the greatest Asian players ever to grace the game.
However, you will struggle to find anyone who will remember seeing this young superstar tearing it up for the Tricolour Paulista or crushing it at the Camp Nou, because Tsubasa Ozora never once stepped foot on the hallowed turf of the Morumbi, or pulled on the iconic jersey of the Blaugrana…
Instead, millions of fans witnessed the ups and downs of Tsubasa’s stellar career unfold on the pages of one of Japan’s most popular Manga series or sat glued to the action in animated form in the iconic Anime.
While the adventures of Tsubasa might be rooted firmly in fiction, the impact he has had on football in Japan and beyond is very, very real.
The young footballer, who celebrates his 40th anniversary this year, has inspired millions to pick up the round ball over the years, with footballing royalty like Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane and Andres Iniesta representing but a handful of the games’ icons who have publicly spoken of the impact Tsubasa has had on their careers.
Kick360 spoke to two of the A-League’s current Japanese stars to learn more about the impact Captain Tsubasa has had on football in the Land of the Rising Sun, and on their own dreams of becoming professional footballers.
Veteran full back Kosuke Ota won plenty of admirers rampaging down the left flank in his first season in the A-League, the Japanese international proving a constant attacking threat for Richard Garcia’s Perth Glory side.
But we might never have seen him take to a football pitch if not for Captain Tsubasa.
“When I was young I watched the Captain Tsubasa and then I started playing football” says Ota.
“We would all watch it.
“There are many football comics in Japan, but I was one of many who were greatly influenced by Captain Tsubasa.”
Western United centre half Tomoki Imai is another who was inspired by the adventures of Tsubasa and his friends.
“I read the Captain Tsubasa Manga when I was child” says the experienced defender.
“I started playing soccer because of my brother but I think there are many people in Japan who started soccer after seeing Captain Tsubasa.
“I read Captain Tsubasa after I started playing soccer, [and] I practiced imitating them.”
Tsubasa has a huge roster of trademark moves which he learns throughout his journey, many of which have inspired or been directly emulated by real world soccer stars, including Ota.
“I was shot for a video that reproduced the Kamisori shot, it means shaver or razor shoot, that appears in the Captain Tsubasa comic.”
During his time with FC Tokyo, the full back recreated the shot for J-League Youtube channel as part of the Captain Tsubasa ‘Dream Shoot’ campaign ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Ota’s almost hypnotic recreation of the Razor Shot has attracted a massive audience online.
“It has been played 10.86 million views on YouTube. It’s a tremendous number.”
Numbers like this demonstrate the unwavering popularity the Captain Tsubasa series has enjoyed since making its debut in Weekly Shonen Jump back in 1981.
“Everyone who plays soccer knows Captain Tsubasa.” Says Imai.
“I think the Captain Tsubasa has had a big influence on the current J League and the development of Japanese football. You cannot talk about it without also talking about Captain Tsubasa” adds Ota.
As well as being a first introduction to football for many young fans over the years, Captain Tsubasa offers so many important life lessons too.
“There are lot of things to learn” continues the Glory left-back.
“Not just about football. More important than anything is to become a good friend and become stronger for football and to follow your dreams. These are all important things to learn from Captain Tsubasa.”
The combination of fast paced football action and sporting success with the importance of hard work and friendship have played a huge role in the lasting legacy of the series, with those who grew up on the show or manga like Ota and Imai now introducing the latest iterations to their own families.
“Captain Tsubasa is certainly for everyone who love football, included boys, girls and even adults” says Ota.
“I definitely want to show it to my kid, just as I saw Captain Tsubasa and loved Football. It’s the comic that has a lot to teach them, not just about football.”
“If my sons start practicing soccer, I’d like to show them the animation of Captain Tsubasa” adds Imai.
“And as a father, I would be very happy if they could become soccer players who can play well in the world.”
The recent escapades of the Australian teams are sure to have inspired a whole new generation of future Matildas and Socceroos, just as the adventures of Tsubasa Ozora have captured the imagination of young football fans for the past four decades.
Sam Kerr certainly put in a number of Tsubasa-esque performances to help steer her Tillies on to the Bronze Medal match, while Marco Tilio’s thunderous effort against Argentina could easily have been lifted straight from an episode of the iconic Anime series, so it is seems only right that Tsubasa Ozora played his part in these historic moments on Japanese soil.