Yuki Nagasato won the FIFA Women's World Cup with Japan in 2011
She recently signed with men's club side Hayabusa Eleven in Japan
"I want to see more Japanese players take action for society"
Breaking barriers is in Yuki Nagasato's DNA.
Part of the sensational Japan side that won the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in 2011, Nagasato has been an integral figure in helping the game grow, not only in Japan, but also in Germany, England, USA and Australia, where she's inspired young players to continue to chase their dreams.
Just when one would think she's given all there is to give in the game, the 33-year-old forward recently made global headlines with her perhaps her most significant career move yet. On 10 September 2020 Nagasato made history by becoming the first woman to play in a men's professional league in Japan when she signed for Hayabusa Eleven on loan from parent club Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Nagasato will be playing for NWSL expansion side Racing Louisville starting in the 2021 season.
What makes the move even more special is that she's lacing up her boots alongside older brother Genki. FIFA.com caught up with Yuki to talk about what went in to the move, her prime motivation behind it and her dreams for further development of the game for women in Japan.
FIFA.com: Yuki, your recent move to Japan has got a lot of media attention. What’s been the most positive aspect that’s come from all the coverage you’ve been getting and was the global attention something you anticipated? Yuki Nagasato: I did not expect that me playing on a men’s team would be so popular, but I do think it's a positive message to girls and women. It's a great challenge for me to play with men, but it's even better for other women to see that it can be done.
From a personal perspective, what’s it been like playing with your brother? It feels normal for me. He feels like a normal team-mate to me. It's been a while since I've spent much time with him because I've been playing soccer across the world. I've seen a new side of him and I'm getting to know him better than I did before.
Other than the need to stay fit and play football regularly, what else motivated this decision? The club wants to join the J.League, the professional league. It will probably take four to five years to get there, but I hope to be the first woman to do that as well. But for now I can help the team get to that level.
You've spoken about Megan Rapinoe’s influence on you. What has she brought to women’s football and football in general? She has inspired me to do something good for society. She had a lot of positive impact on football during the last World Cup. I had been thinking about what I could do since then. I want to continue to break barriers in football and in life to create more equal opportunities so that we see ability and talent before gender, race, etc.
What was your first game like for Hayabusa? I felt like I have been with this team for a long time. We had very good chemistry on the field, especially with my brother. We had very good combinations. I definitely feel confident after playing in the practice match. I do have the ability and talent to play at this level.
What’s your ultimate goal from your time with Hayabusa? I want to continue to develop myself as a player. This is a very good challenge for me because the men are much quicker and it allows me to be mentally sharp to make quicker decisions on the ball. I can beat men’s players with my quick decision making.
Your international career was hugely successful and the World Cup win in 2011 surely tops the list of your memories with the Nadeshiko. What stories can you share with us about the 2011 campaign? Which stood out to you from that whole experience? One memory I have was the Japanese media was not interested in covering any of the games. They did not show much interest until the quarter-finals. That was very interesting! I do not think anyone expected us to win the World Cup. We as a team did not expect it either. Overall that is such a special memory and experience for me and the team.
Women’s football in Japan seems to be growing and growing. Japan always perform very well at all the youth Women’s World Cups. How much pride do you have in the fact that you were a big part of growing the game for women in your country? We always set goals to qualify for the World Cup. After the 2008 Olympic Games we finished in fourth place and gained a lot of confidence from that experience. We knew we could accomplish more as a team when that happened. We then set a new goal to try to win the next Olympics and World Cup coming up in 2011 and 2012. Our coach [Norio Sasaki] brought us where we wanted to go. He was very good at managing the team and we had great success with him.
What else do you want to see happen in the development of the game for women in Japan? We will start the professional league next year. We need the league to be successful for the next five to ten years to grow the game. Women’s football has lost some interest in our country because we haven't won titles for a long time with the national team. The media, once again, is not as interested in covering the team because we have not won titles recently. However, the national team is young and needs time to develop at the professional level. I want to see more international players come to Japan to play to help grow the league and increase the level of play. We need that. We need to make sure the level of the game in our professional league is competitive and grows in quality over time. Playing with and against the best players will help a lot.
I also want to see more Japanese players take action for society. I would like to see the players speak up more and use their voice for positive change. People feel afraid to speak up because they are often not accepted when and if they do. I speak up but I want others to as well. I want to develop a collective voice for those to feel they are supported by a community of people when they speak. They hopefully will feel empowered and not discouraged if they get negative feedback from others.