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【Tales of the mentors】Interview with Coach HIRAOKA Kazunori of Ozu High School on TANIGUCHI Shogo

24 October 2022

【Tales of the mentors】Interview with Coach HIRAOKA Kazunori of Ozu High School on TANIGUCHI Shogo

"Tales of the mentors" is a series of interviews with former mentors of the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) players. In the fourth article, we interviewed Coach HIRAOKA Kazunori of Ozu High School about TANIGUCHI Shogo, one of the best defenders in the J.League.

○This interview was conducted on 19 October 2022

His high school years laid the groundwork for him to continue competing in the J.League

――Tell us about your encounter with Taniguchi.

HIRAOKA I first met Shogo when he was in sixth grade. I was invited to dinner by a tennis coach I knew well, and his child played football. I was told that “there is a teammate of my child whom I would like you to meet,” and that was Shogo. He looked sharp and was well behaved, so my first impression was that he was a good kid. After meeting him, I kept an eye on his progress and he was soon selected for the Kyushu Training Centre. As a junior high school player, I saw him play in a training match against Ozu High School and felt that he had a lot of potential.

――What part of him did you particularly see potential in?

HIRAOKA Despite his size, he was flexible and had the characteristics of a player who would grow up to be a great player. He also had the fundamental skills of stopping, kicking and carrying the ball. Above all, he was capable of seeing the pitch from a broad perspective and made very few mistakes.

――What was your impression of him after he enrolled at Ozu High School?

HIRAOKA In his first year of high school, Shogo developed “adolescent awkwardness,”(*) a condition to which children tend to be susceptible during puberty. As a result of his height being over 180 cm, he had lost his physical balance and could no longer do the things he had done well before. Many coaches tend to give them a time off, but I didn't, because I believe that issues in football can only be solved by playing football. I kept using him in different positions while controlling his playing time.
*The temporary decline in performance or a disruption of motor coordination as a result of the accelerated growth of the body.

――In what areas do you see his development during his high school years?

HIRAOKA The football intelligence he originally had was further enhanced. As well as improving his technique, he has also found a better mental and physical balance as an athlete. He suffered a stress fracture on his right ankle and was side-lined for three to four months, but because of his strong “for-the-team mentality,” he showed great willingness to help the team off the pitch. In our philosophy, injuries are God's way of giving us time to work on other things. The time he spent away from the field working on his headers and upper-body weights may have helped him lay the groundwork for him to continue competing in the J.League.

――After high school he enrolled at University of Tsukuba.

HIRAOKA He enrolled just as my university schoolmate, Mr. KAZAMA Yahiro, became the coach at University of Tsukuba. Yahiro-san also recognised Shogo’s potential, saying that “he is going to be playing for the national team,” and told me that “I want to keep him,” the moment he saw Shogo play. His performance at university was as expected. He played a key role for the Universiade national team and showed his leadership as team captain for the university team. I think that our vision of Taniguchi Shogo has been further enhanced during his four years at university.

――Is his success in the J.League also in line with your expectations?

HIRAOKA When he turned professional, I told him he had to put on another three to five kilograms or he would get injured, and Shogo did just that. Above all, I think that the star players of the club, such as NAKAMURA Kengo and KOBAYASHI Yu, took good care of Shogo. Many of the current players of the SAMURAI BLUE have gone on to play internationally following their stint at Kawasaki Frontale, but Shogo has played for Kawasaki his whole career. Playing for a club abroad is certainly nice, but I think it is also respectable to stay as captain of a winning team in the J.League. Players like Shogo playing in the FIFA World Cup™ should prove that players can also mature in the J.League.

――Finally, could you give a shout-out to Taniguchi ahead of his participation in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™?

HIRAOKA I have never heard a single person speak badly about Shogo. Not only is he worthy of being part of the SAMURAI BLUE on the pitch, but he is also a person who can show dedication and leadership for the team off the pitch. I think he is at his prime as a player, both physically and mentally. Without the keen awareness of being a professional athlete, you will not be able to reach that kind of maturity at his age. It is one proof that he has worked hard leading up to this point. I hope this World Cup will further elevate his career. I think the team needs players who are capable of winning aerial battles, so I hope UEDA Naomichi (Nimes Olympique/France), who is also an Ozu High School alumnus, will be selected together with Shogo.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

Tournament Dates: Mon. 21 November - Sun. 18 December 2022
[Group Stage]
1st Match: Wed. 23 November 16:00 [Local Time] vs Germany National Team
2nd Match: Sun. 27 November 13:00 [Local Time] vs Costa Rica National Team
3rd Match: Thu. 1 December 22:00 [Local Time] vs Spain National Team

Tournament Information

  • 朝日新聞
  • 大東建託
  • Family Mart
  • au
  • Mizuho
  • MS&AD
  • Toyo Tire Corporation
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