New Real Madrid signing Takefusa Kubo: the future of Japanese football

Japan's 18-year-old starlet has the potential to become a potent weapon for club and country at Tokyo 2020.

Takefusa Kubo does not like to be called the next Messi, or the Japanese Messi, or the baby Messi.

He's Takefusa Kubo. He's a talented, dynamic, quick, strong, creative, attacking playmaker with a low centre of gravity, great vision, balance, and an unselfish team-player to boot.

Kubo is Japan's big hope for the future, for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and has just been signed by Real Madrid.

Back in Spain

Real Madrid annouced the signing of Kubo on Friday (14th June), just before the start of the Copa America, which Kubo will compete in.

The Spanish footballing giants confirmed the deal in a statement, saying that he was being signed to "reinforce" their academy team, Castilla.

The top level of the madridista academy are set to get their hands on one of the most promising youngsters in world football. - Real Madrid statement on signing of Kubo.

The move to Madrid marks a return to Spain for Kubo.

Four years ago he was at Barcelona's storied 'La Masia' academy, that nurtured a young Messi, when FIFA sanctioned the Catalan club for illegal signings of underage players.

The Japan hopeful was forced to leave along with a dozen other youth team members.

But rather than the death of a dream, it was just another challenge that Kubo took in his stride.

After shining for F.C. Tokyo this season, he's had his first international call-up, is in the squad for the Copa America in Brazil (14 June to 7 July), and just turned 18.

Clubs including Barcelona, PSG, and Manchester City were also lining up to sign the Samurai Blue star in the making.

"I was able to touch the sun.
I am so happy to get the chance to represent Japan.
I want to repay my feeling of gratitude through my football from now on."

- Takefusa Kubo posts on Instagram after his first full senior call-up to the national team.

Prodigy

Kubo played at F.C. Tokyo in Japan's J1 ever since he left La Masia, and continued to hone his fearless brand of football that fizzes with promise.

A prodigy whose light hasn't gone out in the difficult transition from youth to pro.

With 4 goals and 4 assists in 13 J1 games, and an ability to run at a pace that terrifies opposition defences, it's no wonder Real Madrid fought hard to sign him.

Kubo recently made the cover of Japanese magazine 'Sports Graphic Number' with the headline: 'Legend of a Prodigy.'

Takefusa Kubo on the front page of Japan's Number magazine
Takefusa Kubo on the front page of Japan's Number magazineTakefusa Kubo on the front page of Japan's Number magazine

“Sometimes I’d like to see who I am 10 years from now,” Kubo wondered in the Number interview.

“But you can’t just skip that time, and I don’t think there are any shortcuts."

“I’ve played at each level for the national team, and the older I get the further we travel, the stronger our opponents become and the bigger the tournaments are."

"But the uniform I wear doesn’t change, and the feeling of playing with a new squad is still unique."

Kubo is encouraged by his inclusion in the Copa America Olympic preparations and is clearly central to the plans of Samurai Blue boss Hajime Moriyasu.

“There are lots of strong players who can’t get regular national team call-ups, and that’s not something that happens with your club," the 18-year-old continued, "so you’ve got to work hard and keep leaving your mark.”

Gunning for gold

Japan will play in the Brazil 2019 Copa America with a young and experimental squad to gain experience for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Kubo will aim to emulate Messi by winning Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

The hosts want to make history by winning their first ever Olympic football title in front of a home crowd.

"We are gunning for gold at the Tokyo Olympics," Japan coach Moriyasu stated, "I think players must be able to succeed at the senior national team level in order to achieve our target."

The Copa America will give the young squad some invaluable international tournament experience that they can take with them into the Olympics just over a year later.

Brazil 2019 runs from June 14 - July 7 and Japan have been drawn with Chile, Uruguay and Ecuador in Group C.

A stiff test for such an inexperienced group.

We are gunning for gold at the Tokyo Olympics - Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu

“I’ve selected many players who are in the age group to play at the Tokyo Olympics,” coach Moriyasu said on announcing the squad for South America.

It was a list that had Takefusa Kubo's name on it, still only 17 at the time.

“I wanted the young players to grow ahead of next year’s Olympics by competing at this wonderful tournament, the Copa America."

Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki is one recognisable name in a squad that contains 17 uncapped players.

Takefusa Kubo (L) and Shinji Okazaki prior to the international friendly match between Japan and Trinidad and Tobago in Toyota, Aichi, Japan, June 05, 2019. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
Takefusa Kubo (L) and Shinji Okazaki prior to the international friendly match between Japan and Trinidad and Tobago in Toyota, Aichi, Japan, June 05, 2019. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)Takefusa Kubo (L) and Shinji Okazaki prior to the international friendly match between Japan and Trinidad and Tobago in Toyota, Aichi, Japan, June 05, 2019. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Japan Olympic squad preview

This Copa America squad gives a glimpse into Japan's Olympic line-up.

Apart from Kubo who could prove an explosive talent at the tournament, Japan has a lot of other rising stars.

There is a lot of excitement around 22-year-old defender Ko Itakura who signed with Manchester City this year and played in the Dutch Eredivisie on loan with Groningen.

Tatsuya Ito is another young Japanese player making his way in Europe with Hamburg in Germany's second tier, another creative attacker with good dribbling skills who stands just 160cm tall.

Last April the 21-year-old was nominated for the Bundesliga's rookie of the month.

“I hope they grow by playing for the national side and winning as many matches as possible,” says coach Moriyasu.

Japan squad for Copa America:
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Ryosuke Kojima (Oita Trinita), Keisuke Osako (Sanfrecce Hiroshima).
Defenders: Naomichi Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Ko Itakura (Groningen), Tomoki Iwata (Oita Trinita), Yugo Tatsuta (Shimizu S-Pulse), Teruki Hara (Sagan Tosu), Daiki Sugioka (Shonan Bellmare), Daiki Suga (Consadole Sapporo), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Sint-Truiden).
Midfielders: Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Shoya Nakajima (Al-Duhail), Yuta Nakayama (PEC Zwolle), Koji Miyoshi (Yokohama F Marinos), Tatsuya Ito (Hamburger SV), Taishi Matsumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Kota Watanabe (Tokyo Verdy), Hiroki Abe (Kashima Antlers), Takefusa Kubo (FC Tokyo).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Daizen Maeda (Matsumoto Yamaga), Ayase Ueda (Hosei University).

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