Ryo Nishitani: Japan’s lower-league Busquets by Jake McGhee
Nestled in the heart of Tokyo Verdy’s midfield a 19 year old technician is beginning to stamp his place in the team sheet for Hiroshi Jofuku’s outfit. Tall, gangly and deceptively agile Ryo Nishitani is scarily physically similar to the father of all deep-lying playmakers: Sergio Busquets. Standing at 6 foot tall Nishitani’s build (in terms of Japanese football at least) grants him a physical advantage over a league comprised of largely smaller players, the young technician stroke midfield general isn’t exactly a household name in Japan yet playing in the second tier of Japanese football but he has all the blueprints to become one. In a rapidly growing generation of supreme Japanese football I’ll delve into why Nishitani could be well on his way to greatness.
Footballing IQ is perhaps the most important trait a player can possess, and Nishitani has this in abundance. Watching him off the ball it’s easy to see just how intelligent he is, constantly scanning and gaining a mental image of what’s going on around him to allow himself to pick a pass before even receiving the ball. Playing in the heart of midfield as either a regista type role in the gap between defence and attack or as a more box-to-box role Nishitani excels in both positions. A hard worker off the ball too his seemingly endless engine sees him covering a variety of areas across the midfield smartly able to shift play from one flank to the other and creating overloads with his positioning which has been a key part in Verdy’s game plan.
Despite not featuring much so far this season Nishitani enjoyed a good run of games in the previous season in which he displayed his ability, boasting a brilliant passing range he often pings cross-field balls over the top of opposing fullbacks allowing his wingers to run into space and break through gaps. His decision making when it comes to passing is also incredibly reminiscent of Sergio Busquets, a perfect weight of pass near enough everytime and the knowledge of when to play it safe and when to act as an architect from deep is an extremely rare trait for a player so young.
More often than not Nishitani plays facing the opposition goal and rarely takes the ball facing towards his own net, but when he has been in these situations he’s demonstrated an excellent resistance to presses by identifying and operating in pockets of space where he can use his surprising agility to turn and launch attacks, if not spraying passes from deep he is also accomplished in driving forward with the ball at his feet bypassing his man with ease.
Defensively speaking Nishitani does not shy away from the dirty work that he has often found himself having to do, he is a willing runner who can shut down channels easily and make interceptions using his naturally long legs and gangly frame earning his team turnovers and utilising his physical presence to win the ball in aerial duels.
As previously noted Busquets has a similar profile to Nishitani both physically and on the ball, Nishitani is more mobile however which could lend comparisons to Rice or Locatelli or other more proactive and mobile 6’s.
As Tokyo Verdy will undoubtedly be a front-runner in a hotly fought fight for promotion in the coming season I expect Nishitani to play a role in this and dependant on the outcome of the season teams in the J1 League will take note of him if they haven’t already, a valuable asset to near enough any team in the top flight Nishitani is one of the lesser known talents in Japan due to a slight lack of game time and the fact he is only 19.
Possessing all the necessary components to become a top level midfielder with more work physically to prepare himself for Japan’s top flight there is no reason why he couldn’t be snapped up by a top tier club if Verdy fail to gain promotion this season, after a few seasons in J1 League gaining professional experience he could easily be touted by the ever-growing number of European clubs who are now dipping into the Asian market and make a name for himself in Europe.