Heaven Sent Child of Football

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Captain Tsubasa

The 1978 World Cup is famous for many reasons. It could be the famous extra time goal from Mario Kempes sending the Argentine home crowd crazy as they moved to a first World Cup win on home soil, or the dark cloud that hung over the tournament to start with.

Allegations of political manipulation of the tournament by the new military junta were rife, echo’s of Hitlers 1936 Olympics or Mussolini’s 1934 World Cup were there for the world to see and the tournament itself was labelled “The Dirtiest World Cup of All Time.” So in many ways, it’s debatable as to whether or not it has served as an inspiration to the masses. Yet for one young man, sat watching the World Cup for the first time at home in Japan, it was everything he needed.

Yoichi Takahashi, an 18 year old at the time with no real exposure to a not so popular sport in Japan, soaked up everything that makes football the best sport in the world. The drama of the matches, the effort put in by the players and the emotions shared with the fans encapsulated him. It was everything the aspiring manga artist was looking for.

Baseball in 1978 was, and still is, the most popular sport in Japan. Football was still emerging really and the majority of clubs were still semi pro. What drew Takahashi to football was what he considered its “freedom.” He believed that baseball was too structured, too regimented and devoid of the single moments of brilliance that pop up out of nowhere in a football game, like, for example a goal in extra time to win the World Cup to send a nation into hysterics. Takahashi decided that he wanted to translate that emotion and brilliance to the people through the popular form of manga. It was going to prove to be a hard task.

Takahashi decided to make children his protagonist’s, hoping that readers would identify with the dream of growing up to become professional footballers, playing for the biggest clubs in the world. He decided to call the manga Captain Tsubasa, after his main character Tsubasa Oozora, who starts off as an 11 year old holding lofty dreams of winning the World Cup with Japan. His publisher, Shueisha inc, was sceptical for a long time, not only because it was Takahashi’s first manga, but also the risk they were taking in putting money into portraying a sport with a small amount of popularity. It took over 2 years of convincing them before they finally came round. It has definitely proved to be worth it.

The ‘heaven sent child of football’, as the main character is known as, has transversed the world, playing for Sau Paulo and Barcelona, whilst other characters have played for clubs such as Juventus and Hamburger SV. The manga’s popularity has never waned, with over 70,000,000 volumes in circulation in Japan alone, whilst worldwide it has been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, German and Arabic. An anime was created off the back of its success and 18 games were created. Football’s popularity in Japan has risen dramatically as well, with 2 professional league’s, an ever growing number of spectators and the chance to host a joint world cup with South Korea in 2002.

Most importantly though is the manga’s service as an inspiration to millions of young children since the 80’s. It has inspired a legion of footballers. Hideotoshi Nakata, widely considered to be the best Japanese player of all time, was inspired by Captain Tsubasa to become a footballer and to consider it as a career. This is not limited to just Japan though. Due to the manga’s links to European football and the popularity of manga’s, Captain Tsusbasa has even inspired legendary players of the game such as Zinedine Zidane, Neymar, Alessandro Del Piero and Andres Iniesta. Its cultural heritage stretches even further, with Captain Tsubasa stickers planted all over Japanese self defence force trucks during the Iraq War.

What this manga’s popularity has proved, is that football can be a totally inspiring force, even under the most dubious of circumstances. That even in dire times football has brought nations together or allowed people to pursue new avenues of work and leisure, and that sometimes a child’s dream can truly come true.

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