We tend to think to footballers as privileged, no matter their background, career or personal traits. But sometimes we fail to understand how life can be challenging in terms of perspectives: what’s next for someone who has played the whole life on a green pitch?
Is it really simple to make this transition? Which desires are sacrificed at the altar of your goals? And can a footballer come up with a radical change of career after having spent 20-25 years of their lives mostly playing? It’s tough to tell, especially for a country like Japan, where pro-world will turn 30 just next year and most of the players are not exactly swimming in gold.
There are several chances. You can be an ambassador for the club (Kengo Nakamura and Yuto Sato the first examples that came to my mind), you can work within the clubs as part of the staff, you can become a commentator on several channels, or even build your YouTube channel from scratch (Kazuyuki Toda and Daisuke Nasu are on that trail).
Or you can work within the universities and start a new career on the dugout. That’s what happened to the protagonist of today’s interview: we’ve been lucky enough to have a chat with Ryohei Hayashi, whom we’ve talked about in 2019 and who’s actually a fan of the work done by JLR.
We talked through Twitter for a quick chat, asking him how’s life after his retirement in 2020 and his new adventure as a head coach for the Tokyo University Association Football Club.
You played in the top two levels of Japanese football for 12 seasons, then decided to retire. Why you thought that was the right time to stop? How was it to find yourself off the pitch?
When I was training by myself throughout the break imposed by the Coronavirus in the middle of the season, I suddenly felt it. I figured out it was going to be my last year. Before that time, I never thought about retiring.
So… Verdy, Reysol, Montedio, Mito, Verdy again, Zelvia and Thespa. It has been a long journey. If you had to pick the best moment of your career, which might have been?
Given how I played my career as a striker, surely the best season was in Mito with HollyHock in 2017. I scored a lot that season… but winning the playoffs and the years with Reysol – like when I played in the FIFA Club World Cup – were as well great experiences to live.
And what about the worse? Is there a time when you felt that obstacles were too big to overcome? We often (mistakenly!) think to footballers as privileged, and so, people with no problems in their life. That’s a misconception we often have: how did you get through hard times or troubles throughout your career?
Probably the worst season was in 2014, when I was unfortunately injured, and I had to stay out for a long time. I couldn’t play for almost a year. Luckily, I was able to recover for the playoffs and play the final, which is still now a wonderful memory.
When you face difficult times in life, you’re able to grow as a person. I faced troubling periods many times in my career, but I never stopped believing in myself. I kept working hard and doing what I needed to do to give the best.
In your resume, there are 64 goals in J2 – better than Hulk! –, J1 and J2 titles, games played in the AFC Champions League and even in the FIFA Club World Cup. To my mind, though, your figure is also tied to the many copycat celebrations you did from Mito onwards. We’ve also written about it. How did you come up with the idea of celebrating like the greats from our times?
Actually, this habit started way earlier than Mito (laughs). I always enjoyed a nice celebration, since I was scoring goals in university (author’s note: Hayashi featured in the football club of the Meiji University for four years).
I’ve always enjoyed watching international football, then it felt natural to use my goals to show people in Japan new celebrations, coming from international players (laughs).
Once you retired, you said: “I haven’t decided anything about the future, but I love soccer, then I would like to continue to be involved in any way so that I can give back to the soccer world.”
You kept that promise right away: you’re a commentator for overseas games at DAZN, you’re a columnist. Did it feel natural to make this transition? And how did your passion for foreign football started? (If I understood correctly, you’re a great fan of Zlatan Ibrahimovic).
When I look back and I opted to retire, I hadn’t decided anything. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to be still involved in football even after my retirement.
I fell in love with the game a long time ago and it happened because of Real Madrid’s Galacticos, whom I saw when I played in junior high school. That memory stayed with me, and it made me feel over the moon.
After a few weeks from your retirement, you took charge as well of a university team, at the University of Tokyo. It was a fast change: how do you feel coaching young players, being on the other side?
Being a player and working as a coach are totally different, but it’s really interesting and I can tell you I want to become a better leader while also learning more about football.
Who knows where to football will bring Hayashi? His gig at the Tokyo University Association Football Club – who have just sponsored a new partnership with FC Wacker Innsbruck – seems the first step of a possible coaching career: we just have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, we wanna thank Mr. Hayashi for his availability throughout the whole process – you can follow him on Twitter @Ryohei_h11 – and wish him the best for his future commitments.