The coach who is helping to transform New Zealand football

Hiroshi Miyazawa, NZ Football’s Coach of the Year 2018, has been a quiet force in shaping the future of New Zealand football for the past 15 years. 

For those in the know about New Zealand’s football scene, big names that come to mind would be All Whites captain Chris Wood, or Oceania Football Confederation legend Wynton Rufer.

But there is another legend who has been working quietly behind the scenes to transform New Zealand football.

Hiroshi Miyazawa, a former Japanese pro-footballer, has become a coaching force in Aotearoa.

In September, he won NZ Football’s Coach of the Year title after leading the Onehunga Sports Football Club, a team he’s coached for 15 years, to its first Chatham Cup victory in 2017.

NZ Football’s international profile is also on the rise largely due to Miyazawa, who was in July announced as the New Zealand Under-20s Men’s Assistant Coach for the 2018 OFC U-19 Championship.

“We need to make what happens in the New Zealand rugby world happen in New Zealand’s football world.”

Hiroshi Miyazawa Chatham Cup

Hiroshi Miyazawa led the Onehunga Sports Football Club to its first Chatham Cup victory in 2017.

From beach town to football academy

Football is to Japan what rugby is to New Zealand.

Here, football is still a growing sport. In Japan, as many as 600 young people will compete in any one trial for a spot in football academies. There are more than 400 secondary-level football academies in the Tokyo region alone. 

The trials for 12-year-olds are intense.

Miyazawa, who grew up in the seaside city of Chigasaki in Kanagawa, attended a key secondary-level football academy in the region after his prodigious talent was spotted.

He eventually joined a prestigious football academy which held hundreds of students at any one time – but the places were never assured and students had to maintain excellence or lose out. “If you weren’t good enough, someone would take your place immediately.”

Miyazawa draws a comparison to the fierce competition to join New Zealand’s All Blacks team.

“You have to be really hungry to play in Japan. There is phenomenal pressure. During the trials, there will be 600 players fighting for only 15 or 16 spots,” says Miyazawa.

“Signing with a professional academy at the age of 12 doesn’t mean you will stay there forever. Half of these youth will be cut after one year.

“For seven-day players, there is another trial with about 300 young players competing. Every single day you have to prove yourself. You’ve got no choice – either you can handle the pressure or get dropped.

Hiroshi Miyazawa played for the Sanfrecce Hiroshima club in J-League

Hiroshi Miyazawa played for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J-League from 1997 to 2000.

Playing in the J-League

After football academy, Miyazawa attended Chuo University, a private research institute.

Founded in 1885, Chuo University is one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions, and famous for its world-class athletic facilities. It hosts various public sports events such as the President’s Cup Sports Competition. The university’s athletic facilities are also open to elementary and junior high schools, and the local community.

He graduated university in 1993 as a professional footballer. Miyazawa represented Japan in the Under-20s football team. 

The timing was perfect because it was the same year that the first professional league in Japan began, with the birth of the renowned J-League.

Miyazawa played for JEF United (1992–1995), Shonan Bellmare (1995–1997) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (1997–2000) during his time in the J-League.

Today, the J-League is the top football league throughout all of Asia.

Hiroshi Miyazawa with the NZ Under-20 Men’s team

Hiroshi Miyazawa (left) with the New Zealand Under-20 Men’s team.

Coming to New Zealand

Miyazawa arrived in New Zealand in 2001, but during his seasons at JEF United, he played with All White Wynton Rufer.

Rufer had played as a striker, with more than a decade of his career based in Japan, Germany and Switzerland. He achieved four major titles, with his greatest success at Werder Bremen. In 1990, Rufer was named Fifa Oceania Player of the Century.

“Wynton is a football legend. He’s like rugby’s Jonah Lomu in football circles,” says Miyazawa.

During their two years playing for the J-League the footballers struck up a great friendship, and Rufer helped Miyazawa with his English.

Unfortunately Miyazawa suffered significant sporting injuries during his pro-football years, which made competing in premier leagues difficult.

He moved in 2000 to Canberra, Australia, to play for the Canberra Cosmos. When the club was disbanded he immigrated to New Zealand in 2001 to play for the Football Kingz, now replaced by the Wellington Phoenix.

The same year, Miyazawa began coaching for the Auckland-based WYNRS football school, founded by Rufer.

Miyazawa retired as a pro-footballer in 2003, ending his professional playing career, but beginning a whole new journey as an international Under-20 Men’s coach to be reckoned with.

Wynton Rufer and Hiroshi Miyazawa

Wynton Rufer (first from left) and Hiroshi Miyazawa (third from left) circa 2003.

Helping young New Zealand talent shine

Miyazawa has spent the past 15 years nurturing young New Zealand talent.

He is confident about his efforts to help promising footballers realise their full potential.

“I have a unique coaching ability with a level of excellence.

“Passion – that’s my motivation.”

The result of New Zealand’s rising international football stars is proof, with young player Chris Wood, the current All Whites captain, coming through Miyazawa’s training.

Wood had also travelled with Miyazawa on one of the tours to Japan during his early football career.

Hiroshi Miyazawa and the Under-20s Men's team

The Under-20s Men’s team will play in the 2019 Fifa World Cup.

The 2019 Fifa World Cup in Poland will be Miyazawa’s first challenge as coach. It will be a stepping stone for the Under-23s competing.

Miyazawa is hopeful for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but also realistic about the All Whites. 

“New Zealand football is getting better but so are other countries. To seal the gap will be the challenge.

“You’re not going to attract the professional players from countries like Japan [because of the money] but we will attract the amateur players.”

Under Miyazawa’s coaching, the Onehunga Sports FC won the 2017 Chatham Cup, New Zealand’s largest football tournament. One player, 24-year-old Shohei Moriyasu, stood out.

Moriyasu’s father Hajimi Moriyasu used to play with Miyazawa in the J-League, but now the same man has become Japan’s Olympic and National Team Head Coach and will be Miyazawa’s key opponent at the Tokyo Olympics.

“We need to make what happens in the New Zealand rugby world happen in New Zealand’s football world.”

What about girls in New Zealand keen on football, who are their role models?

Just like rugby, with the Black Ferns achieving top international status and currently playing better than the All Blacks, the same goes for New Zealand’s football, says Miyazawa.

“Right now, the Football Ferns are doing better than the All Whites. They’re very, very good.”

And any advice for young players in New Zealand?

“You have to love football. You have to work hard.”

– Asia Media Centre