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J.League Fair Play Award winner Tomoaki Makino shows no mercy on football pitch

One AFC Champions League title, EAFF East Asian Cup, Fair Play Award and 3 times J.League First XI winner, Tomoaki Makino is a defender who works tirelessly in the heart of Urawa Reds and Japan

One AFC Champions League title, EAFF East Asian Cup, Fair Play Award and 3 times J.League First XI winner, Tomoaki Makino is a defender who works tirelessly in the heart of Urawa Reds and Japan National Team. It is with great pleasure that the former Bundesliga’s FC Koln defender agrees to sit down with Junpiter Futbol for an exclusive interview as he shares his childhood memory, Japanese football, thoughts on Southeast Asian football, tips of how to be a good defender and more. (Main Photo: Courtesy of J.League)



JPF: How did you pick up football?

TM: At home, I have got 3 brothers and all of them played football. Even my dad played football too. So from young, all of us grew up playing football together at home. You know when one of you started playing football, the rest of us will just followed. I still remember I was about 7 year old when I seriously fell in love with football. Apart from football, I also played baseball! Haha!



JPF: When you were that young, where did you normally play football? Did you already started representing any youth team?

TM: The area that I grew up in Hiroshima did not have a football team. So I will have to travel to another town just to play football. So I would just walked into a team and told them I wanted to join in! I did not know anyone as I was not from that town but I managed to join in for the football training. Fortunately, one of the youth coaches took notice of me and offered me a trial. I’m glad that I impressed and got into the team. And the name of that team was Inokuchi Myojin. In fact, it was the number-1 team in Hiroshima!



JPF: Apart from Japan, you have played in Germany too. Can you share with us what do you think of your career thus far?

TM: I have always wanted to continue to improve myself not just as a footballer but also as human being. That stint with FC Koln, I have definitely learnt a lot. And of course, it’s always encouraging to see many young Japanese players playing in Europe now. However, I am not feeling pressure in any way as a J.League player in the National Team. In fact, the standard of J.League is not anywhere lower than any of those leagues in Europe. As you can see, many good players such as Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Lukas Podolski, just to name a few that are playing in Japan. By battling with these quality players week in week out, it does raise the level of my game too. A good example will be the AFC Champions League. Japanese teams are performing well at Asian level and that is a good indication of the level of Japanese football these days.






JPF: We noticed you have been extremely active in very interesting high cardio treadmill training!

TM: Yes! That is not just cardio training, it’s actually a high altitude (3,000m above sea level) running training! It is getting very popular in Japan and many athletes are really into in. In particular, Olympic athletes are having this high altitude training as part of their training programme. As a matter of fact, it’s getting popular with the older folks in Japan as well.



JPF: How much do you know about Southeast Asian football?

TM: Southeast Asian football is getting stronger these days. From what we have seen at the last Asian Cup, the level of Vietnam and Thai football are very high. Even Cambodia is getting much better these days. And Southeast Asian countries are really hungry for success. They are all working on getting the right resources (such as appointing good coaches) and working hard to improve.



JPF: How about Singapore? What is your thought on Singapore football?

TM: I have travelled to Singapore for matches with Japan National Team twice. And of course, we have played with Singapore a couple of times both in Japan and Singapore too. To me, playing Singapore is always tough because Singapore always played very aggressively. They never give up easily and always fight till the end of the 90 minutes. And I still remember that goalkeeper (Izwan Mahbud) from our World Cup qualifier match against Singapore at Saitama! He was simply outstanding.





JPF: Together with SingaCup, Singapore International Premier Youth Football Tournament, we have always been involved in using football to give back to the community in different countries. What advice do you have to share with the young players who inspired to be a professional footballer like you?

TM: Here in Japan, I have always have the privilege to speak to many children about football. To me, there are some simple but important things which young players have to remember. Firstly, never be afraid to speak up. Anything not sure, you must not be afraid to ask. For example, if you want the ball, ask for the ball. If you are not sure of the instruction, ask your coach. Next, use your ears to listen. Coaches will always guide and give you advice, so listen to them. And not just listen to the good feedbacks, you must be ready to listen and accept the bad ones too. Take it positively and learn from it. Then you will improve.



JPF: What is the type of player that you admire?

TM: Haha, good question! I always look out for intelligent player. To be precise, I like intelligent player who always use small actions or “sly methods” to sneak past opponent! For example, when I am asking for ball in front of my opponent, before I even asked for the ball, I would have already been tugging his shirt with my hand right behind my body! In this way, there is no way my opponent could intercept the pass that’s coming to me as I keep him checked at bay, haha! One such player is Neymar – I like him as a player. Then again, don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Fair Play but depending on situations, sometimes we just have to find a way to get past our opponent to win the game. And to beat opponent using some “sly methods”, we Asians have not reached anywhere near how the Europeans are playing yet.



JPF: We were told that you are a Defender who seldom receives card?

TM: Haha! Yes, I am a player who uses “sly methods” in games. I usually give away foul on average 10 times per game but I have never receive any card! I admit I do tug others’ shirts here and there in games but I am always quick to apologize to the referee as well and I always get away with it, haha! In fact, for the entire last season I had only received just 1 yellow card. And that was in the World Cup for my country!



JPF: Judging from your Instragram, you have always seems to be a very hilarious, playful and a big joker. Tell us, is that the real you?

TM: Of course, I am always like that! I don’t have an on-the-pitch Makino or off-the-pitch Makino! That’s just me!



Hiroshima-born Tomoaki Makino has played more than 350 times for Urawa Reds and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J.League. The former Bundesliga’s FC Koln player also earned 33 caps for Japan and scored 4 goals since debuted for the National Team in 2010. Apart from winning AFC Champions League in 2017 with Urawa Reds, Makino has also won J.League Cup & Emperor’s Cup with the Saitama team.


Special thanks to Tomoaki Makino, Urawa Reds, Akihiro Matsumoto, J.League & SingaCup, Singapore’s Premier International Youth Football Tournament for making this interview possible.




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