By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Approaching the age of 50, with his youngest son in college, more than comfortable in his post as technical director of the Santa Rosa United soccer club, Dave Shaffer decided it was time to see the world.
Shaffer took a leave of absence from SR United and started collecting passport stamps. His wanderings took him to Africa, Europe, the Far East and Southeast Asia, to cities and villages and, of course, soccer pitches. By the time he got home, he had more than a new perspective on life. He had a job offer he couldn’t refuse.
Shaffer left Wednesday for Japan, where he will start work as a senior coach for Total Football, a Tokyo-based soccer development organization.
“I’ve passed up lots of opportunities in the past, especially coaching in men’s leagues — here in the U.S. — in Oregon, San Francisco — in Puerto Rico,” Shaffer said the day before he left. “This just felt right. It was the right time for me. I figure I’ve got a good 10 years left to be driven like this.”
Alan Ramos will take over the under-17 boys Barcelona team that Shaffer had been coaching for SR United, while Justin Selander will guide the U10 boys Celtic team. The club has not yet hired a new technical director for the next season, which begins in January.
Shaffer, 49, is a well-known figure in the tight-knit Sonoma County soccer community. He coached at Sonoma State, Santa Rosa JC, Montgomery High and Cardinal Newman, as well as leading the Sonoma County Sol men’s team. Shaffer spent over 20 years at SR United, which now boasts more than 500 kids in various age groups.
“Dave has put his heart and soul into SRU over the last 20-plus years,” club general manager Josh Sterling said. “He sweats gold and blue and always will. SRU will miss him, but as a friend and co-worker, I am very excited for Dave as this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The SRU door will always be open for Dave.”
Shaffer’s experiences in Santa Rosa will be invaluable when he gets to work for Total Football, which has funding from corporate sponsors Nike and Pokari Sweat, and ties to professional soccer clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona, Celtic and Valencia, plus the Royal Dutch Football Association.
Total Football identifies and trains young talent in Japan and, ideally, finds spots for the best players on those elite clubs. The organization is also in the process of setting up academies in other Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. Shaffer will have a hand in training junior coaches, and in developing programs on U.S. Naval and Air Force bases in the Pacific Rim.
There is something of a craze for youth soccer in Japan these days. Shaffer said the equivalent of a high school national championship game might draw 35,000 fans. A semifinal game is likely to pull in anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000.
“The opportunity to work with those athletes sparked my interest,” Shaffer said.
He got the chance after meeting with two of the most important figures in Japanese soccer. Leigh Manson, a former professional coach in the U.K., is the founder of Total Football. American Tom Byer is widely credited as the driving force behind the rise of the Japanese men’s and women’s national soccer programs.
Shaffer, who had never been to Japan before, met them through a friend there, and it quickly felt like a job interview.
“I was kind of flabbergasted,” Shaffer said. “I showed them what I’ve been doing, talked about my experiences, what I’ve learned. They said, ‘Wow, this is great stuff.’ They asked me more about it, it morphed into more talks and I decided this Japan thing was something I wanted to pursue. And that’s what I did.”
Total Football will set up Shaffer with an apartment and a car in Tokyo, and he’ll go right to work. He’s on a one-year contract, but believes it could be extended.
As he said, the opportunity was just too good to pass up. Not that he isn’t conflicted about leaving SR United, the club he helped put on the soccer map.
“I’ve coached kids who now have kids in the club,” Shaffer said. “SR United has given me a great opportunity. I’m really sad to go. I’ve got a bunch of colleagues and friends that I will miss tremendously. I went over to the field for my last practice, and over 100 kids and their families came over to me. I was crying. Some of them were crying. It meant a lot that they’ll miss me.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.