Ooft has Tokyo talking Dutch doubles
THE sun rising over Japanese football has a distinctly orange hue.
For the man behind Japan's success in the Asian Cup last November is Dutchman Hans Ooft, formerly a player with the famous Rotterdam club, Feyenoord, and a past coach of the Netherlands national youth team.
Ooft, 45, is trying to add to the Japanese game the traditional Dutch qualities of speed of thought and speed of movement - qualities which epitomised Holland's ''Total Football'' World Cup final sides of 1974 and 1978.
It is an interesting and exciting challenge for Ooft, who has already witnessed great improvements in the national team since he took control last May.
His target is to win one of the two places open to Asian countries in the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States and also to produce a playing formula which can be continued by his successors.
Ooft, who acted more as an observer than as coach with an under-strength Japan squad during the Lunar New Year tournament in Hongkong, said: ''It is a two-way thing, trying to adapt their natural game to my coaching and using my coaching methods to benefit their own game.
''I cannot teach them how to fly but neither is it a mission impossible.
''You have to be realistic by analysing the players, seeing how I want them to play and trying to fit them together.
''I am there for Japanese soccer so I find what is best for them because in two years' time there will be another guy in my position. Therefore you need to develop a certain style.'' Ooft played for Feyenoord between 1964 and 1969 before moving to Cambuur, where he retired as a player in 1976. He joined the Dutch FA as a coach and worked mostly with schoolboy players and at youth level, his leading pupil being Gerald Vanenburg, who would go on to become a key member of the Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven club sides and of the Netherlands' 1988 European Championship-winning team in Germany.
After working with the Japanese club Mazda from 1984 to 1988, Ooft returned home to coach his only club side in Holland - FC Utrecht - before being offered the post of national coach with the Japanese FA.
''Obviously I knew the potential because of my five years with Mazda and thought I would like the challenge,'' said Ooft.
''The players are of a decent standard and that is one of the reasons why I said 'yes' to the job.
''The functional technique of the players is there but not the tactics.
''We have to grow in terms of tactics but they do pick things up quite quickly; that is one of the good parts of their game. In fact I was surprised how quickly because I thought it would take a long time.
''The weak parts are that they can be restless and have no patience but that comes with confidence and belief in each other. If you know the steps and what follows you play with confidence. With Mazda it took me two years to get this confidence through tothe players.'' The emergence in the late 1960s and early 1970s of Ajax and Feyenoord paved the way for the brilliant Dutch national teams which reached two World Cup finals, in 1974 and 1978.
Their ''Total Football'' tactics - masterminded first by Rinus Michels and continued by Ernst Happel - were based on speed of thought and speed of movement and were carried out by players of great versatility and technique.
Now Ooft is trying to ally these qualities with the Japanese strengths of pace, determination and aggression.
''I want to play with quick movement and quick thinking, where the ball circulation has to be high. The emphasis is not on running with the ball but on running without the ball,'' added Ooft.
Japan's first success in the Asian Cup last November was achieved in front of their own fans in Hiroshima. After winning their group unbeaten, Japan beat China 3-2 in the semi-finals before scoring the only goal of the final against previous holders SaudiArabia.
The brightest star in Japanese football is roving striker Kazu Miura, who earned rave reviews from Italy's Roberto Baggio after Juventus played a couple of friendlies in Tokyo last August.
Both Miura and fellow striker Takuya Takagi have attracted the interest of clubs in Italy but, according to Ooft, two factors will keep them at home - the fabulous salaries now being paid to their leading players and the start, in May, of the new professional J-League.
''It was a complete coincidence that Japan won the Asian Cup during the build-up to the J-League and it has created a tremendous amount of excitement; football in Japan is booming,'' he added.
''The most important thing for the J-League is to build a solid foundation. The people behind it have studied the NFL (National Football League) and the NBA (National Basketball Association) in the United States to make sure they do not make the same mistakes as the NASL, he said in a reference to the North American Soccer League, which started with great pomp and ceremony but had to close down due to dwindling interest and financial difficulties.
''They also want central control of the finances - and the income is tremendous. Marketing of the J-League will make US$100 million profit every year and 70 per cent of this will go to the 10 clubs.
''After all, one big deal is better than 10 small deals.
''The foundations are very solid and they are also taking care of the continuity. Clubs had to establish a certain number of teams before they were allowed to enter, from the A team down to a farm team, youth team and various age levels.
''In this way they will be able to produce players from a very young age, like they do in Holland.'' Copying the Dutch on and off the field can't be a bad way to make your mark in international football, as the Japanese are beginning to do.