Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s dominance in recent seasons is largely thanks to an off-field leader and an on-field leader, who share key qualities and a loyal connection to the J.League champions.
In 2012, it was under coach Hajime Moriyasu that Sanfrecce Hiroshima secured their maiden J.League title. An astute defensive midfielder during his own playing career, Moriyasu had a knack for interceptions and putting his body on the line to win possession, before threading a pass to unleash his team’s attackers.
Capped 35 times for Japan, he was instrumental in Hiroshima’s first-stage victory in the 1994 season. Moriyasu played on until he was 35 and, although he hung up his boots at Vegalta Sendai, most Japanese football fans will remember him as a Sanfrecce icon who spent almost his entire career with the Purple Archers.
In his final years playing at Sanfrecce, Moriyasu lost his regular starting spot to Kazuyuki Morisaki, a central midfielder who burst onto the scene in 2000 when crowned J.League rookie of the year. Morisaki is proud to be one of the many leading players produced by Hiroshima’s vaunted youth system. “I’ve come through the ranks at this organization, and I’ve always felt inspired by a sense that my success means success for the club,” Morisaki said.
Moriyasu has appointed Morisaki as his “on-field leader” and has enormous faith in his fellow club stalwart, particularly since Morisaki’s seniority gives him a vital role in a team looking to recover from a 1-0 defeat to River Plate in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015. Starting from the first leg of the J.League final on 2 December until the loss to the Argentinian giants, Sanfrecce played five games in two weeks, though the team refuse to use this heavy schedule as an excuse.
In fact, it has spurred Sanfrecce to continue focusing on their own brand of football. “When we are in attack, I have to make sure we don’t take excessive risks. In defence, I need to snuff out our opponent’s attacks before they threaten our goal,” explained Morisaki.
The coach is like a big brother to me, and he talks to me from a player’s perspective.
Throughout his career, he has performed these roles with aplomb, while Moriyasu believes his on-field general has the physical and mental attributes necessary to be a successful leader. “Many challenges must be overcome to achieve victory,” Moriyasu explained. “He [Morisaki] shows the fortitude necessary to win and that can lead to even greater achievements. ‘Fortitude’ is an easy word to say, but it’s hard to convey this sentiment. But he shows the strength needed to win. He has a winner’s mentality.”
Morisaki credits Moriyasu for shaping his attitude and style of play, over the course of a relationship that stretches back to when his coach was a senior member of the team. “He has displayed great leadership since his playing days. Whether he was on the field or not, he was always utterly committed to the team. I learned how to be a professional by watching him. Even today, this still holds true,” the 34-year-old said.
Their close bond forged over many years also provides Morisaki with support in other areas. “Now that I’m a veteran player, fewer people offer me advice,” he said. “The coach is like a big brother to me, and he talks to me from a player’s perspective. He doesn’t just speak to me as a coach; he often asks for my opinion, so we communicate really well. If I feel slightly negative, he’ll always say something positive and cheer me up. I feel better after I’ve talked with him.”
Morisaki is indefatigable every time he takes to the pitch, and he embodies his coach’s philosophy of playing each game “as if it’s your last”. He is brimming with confidence ahead of the match for third-place: “I don’t want to just make up the numbers at this event.
“We will wholeheartedly play our brand of football, a style focused on winning that served us well in the J.League,” he went on. “Our ability to produce good results shows that the team has improved its overall strength. I think that bodes well for the future.”
Moriyasu has thus become a Sanfrecce legend as a player, a respected older brother figure, and now as a coach while he clearly entrusts his on-field leader Morisaki to lift his team one more time for their last game at Japan 2015.
Yet although Morisaki has had a decorated career in the J.League for over a decade, he also has had his share of disappointments. His team were relegated to the second division – twice; he missed selection for Japan’s squad for the Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004; and he has even suffered from overtraining syndrome. And yet, each time Morisaki has found a way to come back.
“He has been mentally tough enough to overcome many gruelling experiences,” Moriyasu concluded. “He shows the strength he has gained from getting through those tough times, and also the delight he gets in being able to play football today.”
Moriyasu knows as well as anyone about how difficult it can be to bounce back from a heart-breaking experience. He was on the field during the 1993 'Agony of Doha' match, in which Japan missed qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™, when Iraq scored a dramatic late equaliser.
Moriyasu and Morisaki, who have done so much to make Sanfrecce the club it is today, will do everything they can to ensure Hiroshima finishes with a flourish at this Club World Cup.