Arminia Bielefeld may be hovering just above the drop zone, but the fact they have a chance of avoiding relegation at all is in no small part down to Japan international Ritsu Doan, who has two goals and two assists already in his maiden Bundesliga season.
bundesliga.com: Ritsu, tell our global viewers where and how you grew up?
Doan: "My hometown is called Amagasaki in the Hyogo Prefecture. It's not a posh town at all. My parents, who are very active, always told me to play outside. I was in an environment where I could play with a ball from a very young age."
bundesliga.com: How did you get into football as a child? Who encouraged you to play?
Doan: "I started playing football because of my two older brothers. My eldest brother joined a football club to make friends and my second brother and I followed him. When I entered primary school, I met a coach, Mr Yo Hayano. He was my mentor. He was in charge of me between the fourth and sixth grade. That meeting with him was a big turning point for me."
bundesliga.com: What would you have liked to do professionally as a child other than become a professional footballer?
Doan: "I've never dreamed of anything else. I've lived with a ball ever since I can remember. That's why I always knew I would become a football player."
bundesliga.com: How are your family ties to your homeland today?
Doan: "My family is probably closer than most. I still FaceTime with them two to three times a week. When I go back to my parents, we all do karaoke together and get along really well. I wouldn't be the person I am today without them."
bundesliga.com: What do you miss from your homeland?
Doan: "I'm not really interested in enjoying food so I don't have too many problems. In terms of language, I can, slowly, speak English. What I miss most is my family and friends."
bundesliga.com: What do you think are the biggest differences between life in Japan and life in Germany?
Doan: "I lived in the Netherlands for about three years. Since I’ve had to move from one country to another in Europe, I haven’t felt a significant change. Still, I feel like Japan and Germany are culturally similar. I'm more concerned with the national character and the differences between the Netherlands and Germany."
bundesliga.com: Does German food still take some getting used to for you or do you already have a typical German favourite dish?
Doan: "I've never really had the chance to try it out because of the coronavirus. I haven't had the opportunity to go to a restaurant. I've only had the traditional beer and sausage that my friend introduced me to."
bundesliga.com: How difficult was the step to Europe for you in 2017? What caused you the most difficulties and problems?
Doan: "I had the most difficulties with the language. I couldn't communicate well enough at the beginning. For me, communication has always been very important. I needed to communicate with many people and get used to the team in terms of improving my game. That's why the first year, not being able to do that was hard although, thanks to that, I am now able to communicate in English so I think it was a necessary time for me."
bundesliga.com: You've played in Japan, the Netherlands and now in Germany, what do you think are the main differences between these three leagues?
Doan: "First of all, the pace in the Japanese league is a bit slower so you are able to keep hold of the ball relatively well. The pressure is low so you have time to think after receiving the ball. In the Netherlands, the players were young so there was a lot of aggressive play going on. A lot of players were willing to take on opponents one-on-one.
"That's where individual skills play more of a role. Germany is one of the five best leagues in the world. You don’t only need individual skills but team tactics. In my opinion, the Bundesliga is by far the most advanced league, both in terms of individual skill and team tactics."
Watch: Skip to 1:20 to see Doan's first Bundesliga goal against Bayern
bundesliga.com: When the offer came from Bielefeld last September, what were your first thoughts and why did you decide to move to Arminia?
Doan: "There are so many reasons, I can't list them all. One reason was because the coach and the sports director really wanted me and because I didn't have a satisfactory season at PSV. I wanted to break away from that and continue developing. I knew I had to do something else and the best way was to make a change, which is why I decided to move to Bielefeld."
bundesliga.com: How well have you settled in at Bielefeld in the meantime and who has helped you?
Doan: "First of all, my teammates. The players at Bielefeld are very friendly and have great personalities. Thanks to my teammates, I live here without any problems. The manager of the Japanese national team also lives in Düsseldorf and he takes very good care of me so I think their help is also very important for me."
bundesliga.com: Have you always followed the Bundesliga and what did you know about the club Arminia Bielefeld?
Doan: "Unfortunately, I didn't know much about Arminia Bielefeld. I didn't know the team was a first division team but after watching a few games, I thought Arminia Bielefeld had potential."
bundesliga.com: You've played a few games now. What do you find fascinating and special about the Bundesliga?
Doan: "First of all, the level of the game is very high and winning isn't easy because the level of individual skill is high. Our opponents use good tactics. The attraction is, therefore, this challenge and the joy of winning a game. The joy of getting three points is great. You can only win a game if you really give 100 per cent. That's been my experience since I joined this team and this league. I've also seen many Japanese players playing in the Bundesliga and moving to big teams in the world so I think our players and our fans have a very positive impression of the Bundesliga."
bundesliga.com: What did you hear from family, friends and the media in
Japan when it was decided that you were moving to the Bundesliga?
Doan: "I made the decision alone. I'm the type of person who doesn't seek advice from anyone so I didn't consult my friends or my brothers. I didn't tell my father and mother about it until after I had made my decision. Many of my friends reacted positively but I think I may have surprised everyone."
bundesliga.com: How important is the Bundesliga in Japan and how many people follow the games and performances of the Japanese players?
Doan: "I was always under the impression that the Bundesliga was full of intense one-on-one games. On the other hand, there are a lot of physically strong players here against whom smaller Japanese players can use skills such as speed and agility. I think this is a place where Japanese players are able to compete."
bundesliga.com: After four months, what are your impressions of Arminia Bielefeld and the quality of the team?
Doan: "All my teammates are nice and friendly to me. Besides, we're a team that has just been promoted from the second division. Even if we lose a game, we remember the joy of playing in the first division and immediately look onward. We are taking advantage of the fact that we are able to play here. Good team."
Watch: Scroll to 0:36 seconds for Doan's stunner against Mainz on Matchday 10
bundesliga.com: What are the main qualities of this team? Where do
Arminia's strengths lie?
Doan: "We want to keep possession but our opponents are strong. That's why we always fight to win the one-on-one opportunities and even when we are defending, we close the ball down immediately. We work hard, which I think is one of our biggest strengths."
bundesliga.com: Do you think Arminia will manage to stay in the league
and if so, what makes you optimistic?
Doan: "To the first question, I say yes! I would like to be clear at this point in saying that I definitely want to contribute to our staying in the league. I want to help the team so three points are important but I think a point is absolutely necessary. There have been games in the past where we could have gotten a draw. We can get closer to our goal if we refrain from making unnecessary mistakes and clinching the draw at the very least."
bundesliga.com: How would you describe yourself? Where do you see your footballing qualities and strengths?
Doan: "My strength is primarily the moment I get the ball, getting past the opponent in front of me and creating chances in open space. When I look at the statistics, whether it's the number of successful dribbles or the percentage of one-on-one situations won, I've been able to show good numbers in the last six months. I want to continue to build on my strengths."
bundesliga.com: What role does coach Uwe Neuhaus play in your development?
Doan: "The coach doesn't tell me, 'You have to do this or that'. He knows my style of play now and accepts my role but then he also tells me to show my strengths. There are not many coaches who trust you like that and let you play to your heart's content. As a player, he is a coach I really enjoy working with. For me, he's a great coach who has given me a lot of freedom and confidence."
bundesliga.com: You scored your first Bundesliga goal on Matchday 4
against Bayern Munich, of all teams, and Manuel Neuer. To what extent was that a special moment for you, despite the 4-1 defeat, and what are your memories of it?
Doan: "The team was losing so I was aware that if I got the ball, I would try to attack and I'm glad I did. Scoring my first Bundesliga goal against Bayern Munich, the best team in the world, is a great memory for me but I expect more from myself in terms of scoring many more goals in the future. I think this was just one of them so I don't think this goal will be my best goal."
bundesliga.com: How satisfied are you with your personal performance in the Bundesliga and where do you see room for improvement?
Doan: "Well, I feel like my strengths work in the Bundesliga as well. The statistics prove that. What I want to improve on is my quality in front of goal, the accuracy of that last pass and my execution after getting past that last opponent. That important quality in football has been missing a bit in the last couple of games for me. I want to be able to show my quality in every game."
bundesliga.com: What is your favourite position on the pitch and why?
Doan: "That's still my current position: right-sided forward. I've been playing this position since I was 12 years old and want to master it."
bundesliga.com: In September 2018, you made your debut in the Japanese national team. What does playing for your country mean to you?
Doan: "When I put on the national team kit, I stand on the pitch with pride and joy. It is not only special for me but for my family, relatives and friends as well. I carry the expectations of the nation on my shoulders. I stand on the pitch as a determined Japanese national player."
bundesliga.com: What has been your most beautiful and special Bundesliga moment so far and why?
Doan: "The opening game against Frankfurt was my first official game after moving to Bielefeld. I was a bit scared about succeeding in Germany, however, I was able to play well. It was an important game. After that, I had more confidence. If I wouldn't have played well against Frankfurt, maybe I wouldn't have started well either so I think it was a turning point for me."
bundesliga.com: What has been the most beautiful moment in your life so far and why?
Doan: "It was my first goal for the Japanese national team. My family, relatives and friends were very happy, probably even happier than I was. It was the moment I felt the happiest because the people who have always supported me were happy. It made me realise, once again, how much they support me."
bundesliga.com: How important is social media to you? We saw that you
have over 200,000 followers on Instagram.
Doan: “It's the only way I stay in contact with the fans so I use it sensibly but sometimes it's hard. Some comments make you think, 'how can you say that?' There are good and bad sides to it. I don't think anything of it but as a footballer, I have to be careful how I interact with people on social media.”
bundesliga.com: What are your big sporting goals and dreams? What do you want to be remembered for and have said about you at the end of your career?
Doan: "My dream is to play on the world's biggest stage, the Champions League, and I want to work hard for that on a daily basis. I also want to inspire people as a player. I'm happy when people see me play and are motivated to do their best tomorrow, the day after and so on, or when they feel that I give them strength. I want to be a star player and to make people believe."