Nadeshiko Leaguers Running into the Future Episode 2 Mayu Ohtake (forward, Sfida Setagaya FC)
The JLSL (Japan Ladies Soccer League) was launched as the top women’s domestic league in 1989. It was subsequently renamed as the “L. League” and has been known as the “Nadeshiko League” since 2004. Even though the league’s name and the number of clubs involved have changed, some things have remained the same, namely the high degree of skill and the single-minded determination to continue playing football in any circumstances. In this the second part of the series, “Nadeshiko Leaguers Running into the Future”, in which we re-explore this basic appeal that is expressed in the name “Nadeshiko”, we talk to the player who last season won the league’s Fighting Spirit Award and was also selected to the Best XI. She is Mayu Ohtake (25), a forward who plays for Sfida Setagaya FC and works in the team’s main sponsor Summit, Inc. in Setagaya City, Tokyo.
(By Midori Masujima, sportswriter. Titles omitted in the article)
Mayu Ohtake – Winner of the Fighting Spirit Award in a season when she played as forward while also seeking another important “position”
When I visited Sfida Setagaya FC (coached by Akihiko Kamikawa) in the middle of March, the evening temperature was 9 degrees centigrade. Maybe because I’m used to covering J. League news, the floodlights of the training ground seemed a little dim.
As I watched the training, I somehow felt a little nostalgic about the cold and darkness. In the women’s league in the past, almost all the clubs used to practice late in the evenings, even in winter. Because the players balanced playing football with working in regular jobs, they were only able to gather after work had finished in the evening.
That was also the case with the former powerhouse Yomiuri Beleza (currently Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza). When the star-studded men’s team finished training, the women would arrive at the clubhouse to train on the cold pitch. Their energetic laughing voices signaled the beginning of “Nadeshiko time”.
Nowadays, thanks to support from sponsors and workplaces, many clubs can conduct training during the day, even in the Nadeshiko League.
Sfida’s players, except for those who are students, balance football with work, and a number of them belong to the club’s main sponsor “Summit”, the supermarket that provides the logo on the chest of the official team kit. Some players also work at Summit’s affiliated companies. I saw other players hurrying to the ground on bicycle after finishing work at a regular company and catching a train.
The football played by Nadeshiko Leaguers, whose lives are rooted in regular jobs, has an appeal that sets it apart from the professional game.
During the training, amidst the voices of the coach Mr. Kamikawa and the players shouting instructions to each other, one frequently hears the word “Arigato!” (Thank you!).
It was playing for such a homely team that Ohtake scored a team-high 14 goals, making her the second highest scorer in the league last season. Speaking modestly in a very quiet voice, she says, “I want to become a player who is needed by the team and can make a contribution”.
Ohtake, the League’s second top scorer last season, still has issues in the mental aspect
Last year, you were selected to the League’s Best XI and won the Fighting Spirit Award.
Ohtake: Yes, but the team finished second, 12 points behind Iga Football Club Kunoichi Mie. So, on reflection, I strongly feel that I should have made more plays and scored more goals that could have contributed more to the team. Even though we beat the top team Iga, we dropped points against the teams below us … especially in the first half of the season, my performances were lacking in many ways.
– The League’s top scorer, Asuka Nishikawa of Iga, scored 19 goals, which was five more than you. How do you evaluate your performance of 14 goals?
Ohtake: Considering that I receive more chances to score than anyone else on the team, I don’t think I take full advantage of them. On reflection, I feel that my ability to finish chances is low.
– I see that you reflect on yourself first. However, according to the Nadeshiko League data, your shot conversion rate is top at 30.4% (14 goals from 46 shots). That’s a good number.
Ohtake: I feel like I have many issues to overcome in mental terms. In offense, I give in to pressure too easily and my weakness gets exposed. I need to retain a strong sense of determination to the end when shooting. This season, I want to display greater mental strength.
The gap between the evaluation of others and self-evaluation
Ohtake joined Mashiki Renaissance Kumamoto FC while in fourth grade at elementary school and gained attention in the local community by also playing for the football team of Kumamoto Municipal Josai Junior High School and so on. In 2012, she entered Hinomoto Gakuen Senior High School, a powerhouse in girl’s high school football, and helped raise the national recognition of the school by contributing to three successive victories in the inter-high school championships. She advanced to Teikyo Heisei University and also contributed to Japan’s second-place finish in the Summer Universiade (Taipei 2017).
Even so, according to Ohtake, “I couldn’t feel confident as a football player.” When graduating from university, she considered playing for a major club. Actually, she did receive offers from a team that had joined the WE League, however, it’s likely that the club was negotiating with other players at the same time. Ohtake was asked to wait for a final answer about joining.
Setagaya adopted a contrasting approach when it made its offer. Kenichi Kawabe, the coach at that time, passionately implored Ohtake to join and play for the team. She made the decision to play football while working, to contribute at a place where she was needed. She joined Sfida in 2019; the team became Division 2 champions in 2020, and she was selected as the MVP in the same year.
– Why do you think you struggled for confidence despite having such a wonderful career?
Ohtake: When a certain club said to me, “We want you to wait for our final answer about joining”, I coolly assessed the situation and thought I am not a player they are desperate to have. Just at that time, I received the offer from Setagaya and truly felt like I want to do my best in a place that really needs me. I felt the desire to contribute to the team and make it stronger.
– Rather than turning professional and aiming to become a national team member?
Ohtake: Maybe I lack desire in that respect. However, right now, I want to challenge myself to see how far I can respond to being needed at Setagaya.
– In addition to playing as a forward, your aim is to do your best in the position where you are needed, isn’t it?
Balancing Work with Football
– What is your current job at Summit?
Ohtake: This year, I joined the personnel affairs department at head office and am working on insurance. I am allowed to work from 10:00 to 15:00. When I first joined the company, I baked bread and took charge of store sales.
– Do you have any failure stories?
Ohtake: Yes, I do. At that time, I worked from 8 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. One day I made a pizza but got the finishing time wrong. The pizza was burned black and I got a telling-off from the senior staff members.
– How difficult is balancing work with football?
Ohtake: When I was working in the store, it made me really happy when customers told me that they were watching and supporting me and congratulated me on scoring. More than anything, I felt encouraged.
– What is your target for this season?
Ohtake: I’m sorry but I don’t like to make big promises. My only ambition is to improve on last year.
Mayu Ohtake Profile
Born January 30, 1997 in Kumamoto Prefecture. Position: forward
Teikyo Heisei University Women’s Football Club → 2019 Sfida Setagaya FC
First league appearance: March 21, 2019 at the age of 22 years 50 days
2021 Plenus Nadeshiko League Division 1 Fighting Spirit Award/Best XI
2020 Plenus Nadeshiko League Division 2 MVP
Photographs provided courtesy of ©J.LEAGUE (top) and Sfida Setagaya FC (bottom)
Sfida Setagaya FC team website = http://www.nadeshikoleague.jp/club/s_setagaya/