Playing for Manchester City and the Japan national team, Yui Hasegawa is one of those delightful players with swift skills and an exceptional vision. From entering the Nadeshiko League in 2013 to going abroad at only 24 years old, Hasegawa has undoubtedly become a force to be reckoned with. Currently playing for Manchester City, one of the strongest teams in the Women’s Super League, she has appeared in two World Cups and played at the Tokyo Olympics, yet she remains modest despite her impressive talent and experience.

In an exclusive interview all the way from Manchester, Hasegawa talks to TW about playing overseas and Japan’s standing in the global field of women’s soccer.


World Cup and Olympics

The Japan national team, known as Nadeshiko Japan, was the favored team for many in the 2023 World Cup before its run was cut short in the quarterfinals in a frustrating loss to Sweden. Now, Nadeshiko’s imminent challenge is to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Toward that end, they begin the third and final qualifying group away in North Korea on Feb. 24 before moving to home ground at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Feb. 28.

“Qualifying for the Olympics is the bare minimum,” Hasegawa tells us. “We feel really responsible for how we didn’t make the Rio Olympics and how it led to a loss of interest in women’s soccer in Japan. We’re doing a lot to prepare right now, especially during our away games, so that we’re well equipped for any unexpected scenarios against North Korea.”

Ahead of these Olympic qualifiers, Hasegawa reflects on Tokyo 2020. “Being held in our own country, I think a lot of Japanese people showed an interest in a wide range of sports. It was a shame that we couldn’t get the results we wanted during that time of enthusiasm.”

Despite Nadeshiko’s impressive track record and distinctive playing style that’s lauded around the world, Hasegawa remains strict with herself and her team when talking about their previous losses. “Though we weren’t able to win either, we had a better response during the World Cup compared to the Olympics,” she says. “The Tokyo Olympics was a tournament that made me realize how important it is to connect with our fans.”

Yui Hasegawa Playing for AC Milan

Going Abroad

A few months prior to the Olympics, Hasegawa left Japan for Italy, signing with AC Milan on Jan. 29, 2021 — her 24th birthday. “I’d wanted to go abroad for a while, and I had gotten to a point where I was pretty satisfied with my own play in Japan,” she says. “My goal was always to get to England, so I first went to Italy to work on my individual growth. I feel really lucky that I was able to go abroad at a good time in my career.”

Since leaving Japan, Hasegawa has certainly felt cultural differences, both on and off the field. “Overseas, there are a lot of players who are bigger and faster than I am, so it really helps me when I go up against foreign countries as part of the Japan national team,” she says. “I also feel that in Europe, people are more vocal about their opinions than in Japan. This characteristic also comes out on the field: More players out here charge forward where a Japanese player might try to pass.”

Going abroad and playing for AC Milan, West Ham and now Man City, Hasegawa has gotten a taste of what fans are like globally. “In England, people really know their soccer. I get the impression that fans here watch soccer for the game, whereas in Japan, fans come to see specific players. That’s important as well, but being Japanese, I would love to see the excitement and knowledge that I see in UK audiences in Japan’s WE League,” she says, referring to the country’s top women’s league, which is also its first fully professional women’s soccer league.

When asked specifically about Nadeshiko Japan, Hasegawa’s face lights up. “We are just so tightknit as a group, and I think every player would say the same thing,” she says. “The players who aren’t on the field, while feeling frustrated, still do everything they can to support the team. I want to win with Nadeshiko, especially because we are so close as a team.”

Japan’s women’s soccer team has a lot of fans worldwide, not only because of its impressive technique and teamwork but also because of its lovable nature as a team. It’s clear that the team’s ability to work together comes from a place of deep respect and caring for each other.


Women’s Soccer

Unfortunately, there’s a stark difference in interest and viewership when it comes to women’s and men’s soccer. When asked for her opinion on the state of women’s soccer, Hasegawa believes that “except for the US, it’s true that men’s soccer gets more attention than women’s soccer. It’s really in the last year that women’s soccer has garnered a lot of attention in England, and it has 10 years of history. I think there’s a lot of hope for the WE League in the coming years.”

Moving forward, it will be exciting to watch the growth of the now 3-year-old league.

When considering the wage disparities between female and male soccer players, Hasegawa proves to be incredibly diplomatic. “To be honest, I don’t feel like I’m at a point to ask for the same income the men have,” she opines. “It might be the same soccer, but the crowd and revenue they bring in is different. I’m hoping that as our skill level rises, so too will fans’ interest and, gradually, the players’ income. It’s definitely a complicated issue, but we’re seeing this progress unfold in England, and men’s soccer is a great example of fans’ interest and players’ efforts working together. What we’re aiming for is very clear to me.”

Striving for a better future for women’s soccer, Hasegawa also gives some valuable advice to children who might be interested in playing soccer professionally: “While you’re young, it’s important to have fun while playing.”

She continues, “When I was a kid, there wasn’t even a professional women’s soccer league, so we could only look up to male soccer players. But now with the WE League, there are so many more female soccer players who can make a living with just soccer. I hope a lot of little girls can look up to the WE League as a tangible goal for them. I’m going to keep trying my best to have as many kids as possible to look at me and think ‘I want to be a soccer player.’”

Find Yui Hasegawa on Instagram at @yui___hasegawa.