Just a couple of weeks after turning 17, Takashi Usami became the youngest player ever to appear in the AFC Champions League, Asia's equivalent of its European namesake - and marked the occasion with a goal against FC Seoul.

That was in May 2009 and in the interim, Usami has joined the growing list of Japanese footballers with whom followers of the game in Germany have become happily acquainted. The attacking midfielder, who joined 1899 Hoffenheim in the summer of 2012 on a one-year loan deal from Gamba Osaka, has wasted no time carving out a niche for himself in the creative hub of the ambitious club from the South West.

At home in Germany


"He's already a top-class striker for his age. Ambitious, very pacy and with great technique. He's very highly regarded within the team," head coach Markus Babbel enthused not long after Usami came on board. For his part, the newcomer is relishing the challenge in Germany, where the football is "quicker, more physical and more intensive" than back home.

He may not have got too much first-team game time during his stint with FC Bayern, but it was far from a wasted year in terms of acclimatising to the new condition on the park and the new environment off it. Now, Usami has fresh targets in his sights - helping Hoffenheim qualify for Europe for the first time, and making his case for a regular berth in the national team.