Academy coaches Mark Robinson and Michael Hamilton will soon embark on a trip to Japan that will extend AFC Wimbledon’s link with a flourishing youth set-up in the Far East.
Japanese coach Shohei Naito founded an academy for his club Kyoto Kyoei Gakuen after being inspired by the AFC Wimbledon story and advice from our coaches. In return, Mark and Michael have been invited out to Kyoto, Japan, to watch youth and professional matches, and they will also be putting Japanese prospects through their paces in a coaching session of their own.
The link all started some years ago when Shohei visited the Dons academy and learned all about our unique club.
"I sent an e-mail to AFC Wimbledon to ask if I could observe Under-18 training because I was studying football and coaching and was going to take my UEFA B coaching badge in England,” recalled Shohei. “I already knew about Wimbledon’s history, so I was very interested in the club. I also observed training at Fulham, West Ham, and Chelsea, but I wanted to spend my time learning at Wimbledon because Mark's coaching was different. His philosophy for coaching players I wanted to understand and I loved the culture I observed at Wimbledon.
“I spent nearly two years studying football and coaching at Wimbledon and it was an incredible time for me. I learnt so much and made great friends. I returned to Japan to set up the academy for Kyoto Kyoei Gakuen. It has been hard work, but rewarding, and we have started to beat and upset big Japanese academies, so I believe I have taken the Wimbledon underdog spirit with me to Japan. I am very much looking forward to sharing the Japanese football experience with Mark and Mike and giving my players the opportunity to be coached by them.”
Mark, who is Head of Football at our academy, said: "When Shohei chose us ahead of various other clubs to further his coaching education I was very humbled. What grew over that year was a great friendship as we literally spent every hour together talking football and coaching. We have kept in touch and he brought over a few players from his academy to train with our Under-18s for a week. Now he has given Mike and I the opportunity to visit him and coach for a week, which is such a great opportunity. It's important you continue to stretch yourself as a person and a coach, so I am excited by the challenges the week will throw up. We are hugely grateful that Shohei’s academy are financing the trip for us and we need to make sure we have maximum impact in the week that we are there."
Michael, AFC Wimbledon Academy Head of Coaching, added: “I remember Shohei’s first day, he was wearing a Wenger-esque long jacket and had his handbook in his hand ready to take notes. He was only meant to watch a couple of training sessions, but days turned into weeks and weeks into months. I still have the gifts Shohei gave us when he left to go home! If you’d told me in those first days that we’d still be in contact all these years later I would never have believed you, but what grew was a natural friendship and a great connection between Shohei and the club. It’s now so long ago that players such as Frankie Merrifield and Huw Johnson were coming through the academy and into the first-team squad.
“We’ve always kept in contact and we promised him we’d visit him over in Japan. Our schedule for the week includes leading sessions with the Under-18s, watching professional and youth games, and working with the coaches. It’s going to be a great experience and we are truly humbled to be invited.”