by Tom Lees - 16th January 2016
The land of the rising sun, a football crazy nation, have in recent years supplied Europe with some highly talented players. Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki have all performed admirably at their various clubs, and a new talented forward is making a name for himself and could be a big star for the Samurai Blue, Takumi Minamino.
Minamino began his career at Cerezo Osaka, where he had come through the team’s youth ranks. Originally deployed as a striker, his playing style would dictate that he would move out to the left hand side and is now more commonly seen as a wide man. As a young man Minamino would model himself on Spaniard David Villa, and as he cuts inside from wide positions you can see elements of Villa’s game that the Japanese national has picked up.
The first signs of Minamino’s quality outside of the Osaka academy came in the 2010 AFC Under 16 Championships, where his 6 goals for Japan in the tournament earnt him the top scorer award. The next year he would take part in the 2011 Under 17 World Cup, where his pace, hard work and direct style caused opponents a wealth of problems. Domestically Minamino would break into the Cerezo first team in the 2012 season, playing a couple of games, before becoming a permanent fixture in the side in 2013. It was in this first full year in the professional rank that Minamino was voted ‘J-League Rookie of the Year’. The following year was slightly disappointing for the forward as results would see his Cerezo Osaka side relegated to the second tier, although a positive came in playing alongside Uruguayan Diego Forlán whom he would learn a great deal from. Minamino would spend three seasons in all playing for the Cerezo first team, making 62 J-League appearances for the club, before signing for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg in January 2015.
The move to European football can be a huge challenge for young Japanese players, with such a cultural change and a different style of football it can very often take some time for a player to settle. Not Minamino however, upon arriving at Salzburg his performance levels improved even further. His quick feet, acceleration and direct style of running has become a great asset to the Salzburg side and he is now a regular starter for Die Roten Bullen. During his first season at the club he would be an important part of the league and cup double winning season, and these look to be the first of many domestic club honours he’ll receive.
Although now primarily a winger, his early career as a forward means he drifts into the more central attacking positions from time to time, just like his idol Villa. A critique that can be levelled at the youngster is that he is quite lightweight and needs to strengthen up, and despite having a good shot with either foot, primarily right, his goal scoring ratio could improve. Although averaging a goal every 3 games in Austria, this is an improvement to his J League statistics.
Already capped by Japan at senior level, two appearances to date, Minamino is seen as the forward the country is in need of going into the future. His career at club level has started him on the right path and if successful he could go on to be a hero to millions of his adoring Japanese fans. Expect big things from him in the near future, particularly as we head towards the 2018 World Cup finals, it could be in Russia when he really lets his talents shine for the World to see.