Scouting Japan: Part Four – by Jake McGhee
Undoubtedly one of the most highly revered young players in his native Japan, Jiro is quickly making a name for himself amongst followers of the J-League. The 19 year old operates mainly as a right winger but can also function as more of an archetypical number 10, any position which allows his creativity to flourish. One of my favourite things about Jiro is his ability to play quickly whilst maintaining control and giving good passes to his teammates, a good team player who excels in linking up play with his teammates and providing quick 1-2’s or threading a ball through the lines. With a wand of a left foot, the pairing of a quick mind and quick feet it’s impossible not to see similarities in Jiro to a certain other namesake of his, Celtic cult hero Shunsuke Nakamura. Whilst not incredibly similar their play styles do draw some mutual conclusions, both Nakamura’s have incredible football brains and both were creative playmakers who orchestrated attacks for their teams.
It’s not hard to see why European clubs are already keeping a keen eye on Jiro as he doesn’t look to be too far away from making the leap across the continents.
From both an outside and inside perspective Gamba have had an incredibly frustrating season, with the club struggling to stay afloat in the J-League it has led to a more physical and defensive style of football but there have been some flashes of attacking prowess too; perhaps none more promising than from Isa Sakamoto. Despite the 19 year old being a threat he has struggled to grasp a spot in the starting 11 up til this point with new Gamba boss Hiroshi Matsuda arguably not giving him a fair crack of the whip. Isa is a brilliant poacher, a classic number 9 who often finds himself in the right place at the right time, with excellent positioning and awareness his teammates are assured that Isa is always available as an outlet. Recently he has shown his link-up play by dropping deeper into the pitch whilst his team are attacking to act as more of a hold-up man as opposed to a poacher, with a solid range of passing and a knowledge of when to hold the ball and when to release it he is gradually developing into a solid striker.
A direct, pacy and tricky winger Ten Miyagi is reminiscent of one of Japan’s most recent and successful exports to foreign shores: Kaoru Mitoma. Miyagi ranked in the 71st percentile for smart passes when compared to other J-League wingers and in the 72 nd percentile for progressive carries, his speed makes him a handful for fullbacks as he uses his pace to torment and drag defenders out of position allowing for his teammates to drift into vacant spaces and allow for a shot at goal.
This directness and eye for a key pass are quickly becoming typical of Ten as he racks up the numbers for his assist tally. In my eyes, Miyagi is incredibly well rounded for a winger and could also flourish in a more central role as an advanced playmaker, his end product is incredible additionally as his shooting is a huge strength in his game as seen in this clip where Ten snatches all 3 points for Frontale with a wonderstrike:
Kota is an 18 year old centre half who has featured regularly for the Gamba u18’s, he looks set to make the jump up to the first team soon and will likely be a welcome addition to a shaky defensive line. Tall, assured and physically robust Kota is your traditional centre back. His tenacity and drive make him my favourite young CB coming out of Japan at the moment, I’m excited to see the progress that he will make next season as he vies for a spot in the Gamba lineup. He has the potential to become an international starter in my opinion. His fearlessness is another aspect of his game which I love, in many situations where he receives the ball from his defensive partner and a press is triggered by the opposition he calmly deals with the situation by having presence of mind to either perform a sharp turn to evade his marker or play a raking diagonal ball which seems to be one of his specialities.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Widely considered as one of the most exciting goalkeeping prospects coming out of Japan, however it is across the Pacific in America where most of this hype has been garnered as many supporters of the national team are keen for the Arkansas-born stopper to be called up for the USMNT. He is also eligible to play for Ghana and of course Japan, whichever lucky nation calls him up first and secures his name in their nations goalkeeping ranks has hit the jackpot with a special goalkeeper. Zion’s distribution is exceptional, he makes passes which would be talked about for weeks if it were Ederson as seen here.
Due to his age he is still prone to a few errors as he can sometimes be seen rushing out too early but these characteristics will slowly fade as Zion progresses and matures whilst gaining experience in games. A good alert goalkeeper Zion’s speed and agility allow him to be both a good shot-stopper and a good distributor of the ball.
At just 20 Zion’s future looks very bright with his name undoubtedly being added to more and more clubs watchlists as the days go on.
A former number 10 turned fullback Atsushi Inagaki still possesses all his technical qualities and now paired with the discipline required to be a fullback looks to be a real prospect coming through the ranks at Urawa, he is gaining plaudits from fans and staff alike at the club as he looks to be edging closer at making a breakthrough to the first team. A good passer of the ball Atsushi is a steady and sure player who does the basics well, a good range of passing coupled with a calm mind allow for him to be a valuable asset for any team. His understanding of when to drop and when to push-up are crucial for a fullback and although not always perfect he seems to have a decent understanding. A keen runner with a good engine he often closes down wingers leaving them with little time to dwell on the ball and often forces back-passes.
To say Daiki Matsuoka pulls the strings for Shimizu would still be a vast understatement. A highly, highly intelligent footballer Daiki Matsuoka is one of the only regista models I have seen in Japanese football. Operating in the deep-lying playmaker position Daiki is a maestro on the ball, with a similar playstyle to Busquets he enjoys spraying passes out wide and playing incisive diagonals. Picking the ball up in his final third and winning turnovers often lead to Daiki getting his head up and launching the counter-attack from deep, this asset is my favourite thing about his game as he has the presence of mind to quickly win the ball back and set up an attack in one fluid movement.