Ko Itakura won the Bundesliga 2 title with Schalke last season. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Ko Itakura won the Bundesliga 2 title with Schalke last season. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
bundesliga

Ko Itakura: Who is the Japan and Gladbach defender who shone at Schalke?

whatsappmailcopy-link

When Borussia Mönchengladbach moved to sign talented Japan defender Ko Itakura from from Manchester City, the Foals were adding a skilled and versatile player with plenty of playing experience in Germany to their ranks.

Ko Itakura

Age: 25
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Position: Centre-back, defensive midfield
Country: Japan (12 caps/1 goal)

Key Stats

The Yokohama native joined Kawasaki Frontale as a boy and was on their books until 2019. After making his debut in 2016, he appeared five times as a substitute in Kawasaki's championship-winning 2017 season. He was sent on loan the following year, scoring three times in 24 league games for fellow J1 League club Vegalta Sendai. The 6'2" defender - who can also play as a holding midfielder - moved to Manchester City in January 2019, and was immediately loaned out to Dutch side Groningen.

Having taken six months to settle in, Itakura spent the next two seasons on loan in the Netherlands as well. He featured 22 times in the Dutch Eredivisie in 2019/20, and played every minute of the 2020/21 league campaign to help Groningen finish seventh.

A loan move to Schalke followed and things could hardly have gone better for Itakura, who played 31 times - 26 as a centre back - and scored four goals  as Die Knappen won the second division championship and returned to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking.

Itakura is hoping to feature for Japan at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. - Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Itakura's progress at international level has been steady too. He played at the U-20 World Cup in 2017 before making his debut for Japan's senior team in their 2019 Copa America game against Uruguay. He returned home to represent Japan at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, impressing at centre-back as the host country topped their group before eventually losing to Spain after extra-time in the semi-final. He has since racked up 12 caps for his country, scoring once and looks set to make Hajime Moriyasu's squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where Japan will kick off their challenge against Germany on 23 November.

Plays a bit like: Jan Vertonghen

Rangy and quick over the ground, Itakura makes defending look easy. In theory right-footed but comfortable enough on the ball to have regularly played as the left-sided centre-half, he is similar in style to Benfica's former Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen. The 35-year-old Belgian is winding down his career at this stage after earning 131 caps and counting for his country as well as finishing third at the 2018 FIFA World Cup along the way. Like Vertonghen did with Ajax, Itakura has patiently learned his trade in the Netherlands before making a big move as he enters the prime on his career. Capable of pinging an accurate diagonal pass over the top of a defence, he joined Schalke and successfully aided the Royal Blues in their goal of returning to the Bundesliga.

Watch: Ko Itakura rescued Schalke a point against promotion rivals Hamburg

Did you know? 

Itakura was not the first Japanese player to line out for former club Schalke. Atsuto Uchida was a regular at right-back for the Royal Blues between 2010 and 2017, clocking up 153 appearances for the club including 104 in the Bundesliga. He helped them to reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2010/11 and won the DFB Cup the same season, adding the 2011/12 DFL Supercup as well before leaving for Union Berlin in August 2017 after injuries took their toll.

What they're saying

"Ko covers an unbelievable amount of ground and is a tactically disciplined player who can operate in different positions in defence, including as a No.6. He had a number of attractive options in terms of a transfer, so we're all the more delighted that he's decided to join us because he's a cornerstone of our planning." - Gladach sporting director Roland Virkus

"He plays well and is also a top professional who makes every effort to become better every day." - Itakura's former Groningen coach Danny Buijs speaking in March 2021