The following is an interview which appeared in Japanese football magazine JSoccer (edition 11 which came out on in late February 2-14). We here at The Lone Star have been fortunate that editor Alan Gibson, writer Paul Williams and JSoccer have allowed us to publish it in here on our site. Enjoy!
The Chilean coastal town of Talcahuano was decimated by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck in 2010, with estimates suggesting 80% of the town’s population were left homeless after the monster 7.5 metre wave struck. Determined to rebuild their town, the local government turned down the offer of temporary tent accommodation, wanting instead to build permanent shelters so that its residents didn’t build new lives in temporary dwellings.
Almost four years later and with a similar determination to succeed young Japanese attacker Hiroki Uchida called the industrial port city home. From a young age all Uchida has wanted to do was to play professional football in South America. Like many his age, he was inspired by the exploits of the famed manga character Captain Tsubasa.
“Since I started playing football, I have had a determination to become professional in South America,” Uchida told JSoccer Magazine recently. Uchida, 23, was born in Chiba and from a young age all he wanted to do was play football.
“When I was young, I was playing football every day,” he recalled.
“I belonged to FC Sakura and I was learning skills at different teams when I didn’t have scheduled training. I didn’t watch TV very often when I was a kid. If I had time to watch football, I played the game instead.”
Uchida played for local sides FC Sakura and ACC Yotsukaido, before joining the famed Teikyo High School, which saw him twice participate at the All-Japan High School Football Tournament.
As Uchida was starting out his professional career he suffered a personal setback when, at just 20 years of age, he lost his father. “I have a great respect for my father,” he said. “He passed away when I was 20, but it’s my lifelong dream to succeed for him.”
Only a year later, while he was training at Yokohama F•Marinos, Uchida suffered another setback when he broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot. “I was with Marinos for a year. It was really tough when I broke the bone in my right foot at the most important time, when we were about to discuss my contract,” he recalled.
It was not long after recovering that Uchida decided to head for South America to achieve his dream, heading first to Paraguay before offers started coming in from Chile. After trialling with a Primera B (second division) club and being offered a contract, Huachipato, in the Primera Division, came in with a trial offer in the nick of time.
“They (the second division club) offered me a contract but Huachipato offered a trial before I responded to that, so I went to Huachipato,” he said.
“My first impression was that they all had aura. I wasn’t nervous for some reason, I was confident that I’d be accepted if I did my best.” Accepted he was, signing a deal with the club in the middle of 2013, making his debut off the bench against Santiago Wanderers in a 0-1 home loss. He made his starting debut two weeks later at home in a 0-0 draw against mid-table Corbeloa.
Like most Japanese players who move abroad, he had issues settling in, especially when it came to the language and food. “I got used to it (living away from Japan) for the most part, but the hardest aspect is food,” he admitted. “It was okay at first, but eating Chilean food everyday didn’t agree with my body, so I started cooking Japanese food myself.”
While he might have struggled adapting to the food, he was happy with how he adapted to the football.“Comparing myself when I played the first game of the season one week after I signed the contract and at the end of the season, I think I adapted well to the physical strength, speed and quick pressing here in Chile,” he said.
It was a modest start to his career in South America. Just eight appearances and three starts, but no sooner had his time at Huachipato started, than it ended with the arrival of new coach Mario Salas. Salas, who had been head coach of the while U20 national team, took over Huachipato for the 2014 season and decided Uchida was surplus to requirements. It was yet another setback for the young man as he looks to fulfil his lifelong ambition of making a career as a professional footballer and representing the national team.
A frustrated Uchida reflected on his bad luck, knowing he is just one of many footballers playing abroad who are quickly dispensed of when a new coach comes on board.
“This would never happen in Japan, but I think it’s part of the overseas football experience. The last coach acknowledged my ability. It’s just one person, but I think I should be confident based on that fact. At the same time, I feel frustrated that I have been only acknowledged by one coach.”
But in true Uchida style, he will use this experience as motivation for the future, “I’m determined to succeed at the next team, making the most of this frustrating experience,” he told JSoccer Magazine.
After a rollercoaster experience in South America, a return to Japan beckons with Uchida confirming he will look to return to the J.League rather than stay in South America.
“At this moment, I’m not planning to play in South America,” he admitted, “But it would be great to come back (to Japan) after a few years as a better player. I achieved my dream of becoming a professional player in South America, so now I want to achieve my dream of becoming a J.Leaguer.”
While Uchida is yet to secure a contract for this coming season, with his determination there is no doubt he will rebuild his career after this latest setback, just as the people of Talcahuano rebuilt their city and lives in the aftermath of the 2010 disaster.
This interview originally appeared in JSoccer Magazine Issue 11 and on JSoccer.com …. you can get the magazine (or any back issues you might want) here. There are also Pay-What-You-Like PDF issues available at that link – catch up on Japanese Football in English, from the inside! You can also follow them on twitter.