Scouting Japan: Part 1 – by Jake McGhee
Scouting Japan will be a collection of player profiles across Japan’s top division, the J-League. Each article will feature numerous clubs with an array of players being analysed and looked at each time. I plan to cover Japan across 4 of these pieces.
Sota Kitano is a 17 year old Japanese attacking midfielder who has enjoyed his breakout season in the J-League up to this point, currently on international duty with Japan’s U-19 squad and scoring the decisive goal against Algeria in a game where he was surrounded by players much older than him.
Sota is a naturally gifted player who excels on the ball, his close control and ability to manipulate the ball are incredibly impressive for such a young player, he is one of those rare players who seems to be born with the gift of awareness and presence of mind when on the ball to turn into space or play a line-splitting pass. Sota is also constantly available when on the pitch, he operates in the half spaces left between the opposition defence and midfield and acts as a focal point for his teams attacks. Although he is not the most physical player and can shy away from duels his intelligent runs often ensure that he does not need to enter into a physical duel, allowing him to easily peel away from defenders.
Nishio is a 21 year old centre back who has been a regular feature at the back for Cerezo Osaka this season, featuring 14 times domestically and grabbing an assist to go with that. This season Ryuya has had a mixed bag of performances, although he is not the most refined player on the ball and the inevitability of flaws in his game his presence is often enough to put off attackers, in a largely technical-focused league Ryuya is a rare example of sheer physicality and dominance in the air. Although he is not a particularly tall centre back standing at just under 5”11 he is incredibly good in the air, he is a big threat from set pieces and last season Ryuya proved to be a real danger for opponents via set pieces.
Shinya Nakano is my favourite young player in Japan at the moment, a left back who can double up as a centre half too. At only 18 years old he displays a great aptitude for the technical and physical side of the game, rapidly becoming a very well rounded full back. One key aspect of his game is his ease in turning defence into attack, seamlessly working up and down the left flank he always offers himself in transitions, aside from your traditional fullback role Shinya is also able to play as more of an inverted fullback which can be seen when his team is on the break, often shuffling into a more advanced, central role. His ability on the ball and directness is another great part of his game, his fearlessness is seldom seen for his age but only adds to his game as he looks ahead to an incredibly promising career.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Riku Yamane is a real gem of a player, sitting at the heart of midfield he is one of the most technically astute and intelligent players in Japan for his age. An orchestrator of the game he is reminiscent of a young Andrea Pirlo, with an ability to spray balls out wide or advance play up the field with a smart pass. One of my favourite things about Riku is that he does not pass for the sake of it, each ball he plays is smart and calculated, a player who seems to always be one step ahead. Riku excels in a double pivot as he often finds himself part of when on international youth duty, something he is fairly used to now as he has been captain of his nation since he was only 15. The remainder of this season will be very captivating and important for Riku although he may struggle for game time, league leaders Yokohama F. Marinos have already began to integrate the young man into the team however with the season coming down to its key fixtures Riku may struggle to get time on the pitch. At only 18 his future looks bright and full of promise.
Joel Chima Fujita
Fujita is a 20 year old holding midfielder who has cemented his place in the Marinos starting 11 this season, featuring numerous times across the season so far. A calm and assured figure who sits in front of the Marinos back line Fujita is an impressively mature footballer for his age, at such a young age he is a very complete and well rounded midfielder. Joel is a reliable player who gets the job done easily, a mastery of the basics in football has allowed to him to keep the midfield ticking over without having to physically exert himself too much, covering passing corridors easily and always finding himself in the right place at the right time.
Easily the most promising player in Japan right now Ryotaro Araki has all the makings of a superstar, a quick mind paired with quick feet makes for a special player and Araki has both. At only 20 years old he is a Jack of all trades when it comes to attacking, able to play anywhere across the front line and even in behind as a number 10 Araki really has it all. His ability on the ball is second to only Andres Iniesta in the J-League as his mastery of the ball has resulted in him getting 23 G/A across 70 appearances in Japan’s top flight, an incredibly gifted and dynamic player whichever club ends up getting Ryotaro Araki on their books can count themselves very lucky as he looks destined for European stardom. His playmaking is perhaps his best trait as can be seen in this clip:
His playstyle is incredibly similar to Serge Gnabry, offering directness and explosive bursts past defenders Ryotaro is the biggest prospect in Asia at the moment.
Ayase is your prototypical number 9; reliable, assured and consistent. A player who has scored 10 times in 16 appearances so far this season Ayase is enjoying a brilliant season as the 23 year old looks to be the spearhead in the fight for the J-League title. Sitting top of the scoring charts exemplifies Ueda’s ability to find the net, it is easily his strongest asset in his game as European clubs begin to take notice of the player with Freiburg and Basel noting interest.
His reliability and presence of mind to stay calm in front of goal are key aspects of his playstyle, he is everything you want in a number 9.