Last night I decided to listen to the Guardian Football Weekly’s World Cup preview show, they did a rundown of every group and spoke to a journalist who is either from the country they were talking about or works in the country they were discussing.
For Japan they give John Duerden a bell who covers football in Asia for a whole host of reputable news outlets, the presenters of the Guardian football weekly were asking the usual questions like, how far can Japan go? Who will be the threat etc etc. Then he asked the question, which player in the Japan squad will have the most chance of becoming a breakthrough player.
They meant young players coming through but Japan seem to have an issue at the moment with the development of young players, either they aren’t at the level needed to represent Japan or they are quite simply just not being given a chance for the national team as Akira Nishino would rather rely on the same old faces that have been to most other World Cups with Japan.
So there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Duerden to pick a young player, because Japan must have one of the oldest squads at the finals, I haven’t looked it up and I’m unsure where to even look up the average squad age at the World Cup finals, but I would be willing to bet that Japan would be in the top three oldest squads participating.
Leeds United’s Yosuke Ideguchi looked to certain pick for the World Cup final squad before his transfer to England messed all that up for him, but Ideguchi has been quoted saying that it is more important for him to secure a transfer to Europe than going to the World Cup, and he is young so he will have a chance to go to another World Cup without a doubt especially if he makes a career for himself in Europe.
Takuma Asano is another exciting young Japanese player who is officially an Arsenal player but is unlikely to ever play for them. He has spent a lot of time on loan at Stuttgart, and was named in the preliminary World Cup squad, he could have been another that Duerden could have suggested had he not been cut from the squad by Nishino.
These are seen as two exciting talents that have come out of Japan recently but with neither of them being in the final squad, then Duerden opted to point out that Takashi Usami has the potential to really make a name for himself if given a chance to play in the finals.
He is coming into the World Cup squad on the back of a good loan spell for Fortuna Düsseldorf where he has helped them achieve promotion back to the Bundesliga. He made 24 appearances in his loan spell scoring 7 goals, and predominantly plays as a winger but can do a job in midfield too if needed.
His career started out in Osaka, Japan with Gamba and from there he moved to Bavaria to sign for German giants Bayern Munich. He played 3 games for Bayern, but mainly featured for their reserve/youth team before being sold to Augsburg in 2016. After 11 appearances for Augsburg, he then moved to Fortuna Düsseldorf where he eventually found a team where he could play often and enjoy some level of success.
Could Usami be the player that offers Japan some cutting edge, and creative flair? Looking at the squad selected by Nishino it doesn’t offer that much excitement and on paper it’s hard to see how Japan will make it out of the group, Nishino badly needs Japan to perform extremely well especially with the level of shambles that has been going on at the JFA (Japanese Football Association) headquarters with the sacking of Halilhodzic so close to the World Cup. It’s hard to know if Nishino had a hand in that, or if it was down to player power or solely a JFA decision. Either way the JFA and Nishino really need to hit the ground running in Russia otherwise their decision to replace the manager so close to the finals will come under intense scrutiny.
Takashi Usami is unlikely to be a starter in the first eleven, but if things become desperate for Nishino and Japan then with Usami being an attacking option he will likely be thrown on and have the opputunity to grab his chance and stake his claim to be in the side in the future, especially if he does the business on the pitch and pulls Japan out of any possible sticky situation they find themselves in.