Who is Hiroki Ito, VfB Stuttgart’s Japanese defender and November Rookie of the Month?
Hiroki Ito has very quickly emerged an integral figure in VfB Stuttgart’s defence following his summer 2021 loan deal from Jubilo Iwata, earning him the November 2021 Rookie of the Month award..
bundesliga.com takes a look at the young Japanese centre-back looking at home at the Mercedes-Benz Arena…
Club: VfB Stuttgart (on loan from Jubilo Iwata)
Country: Japan (three U21 caps)
Ito was born in the city of Hamamatsu on 12 May 1999, joining the academy of three-time Japanese champions Jubilo Iwata at U15 level in 2015. He was promoted to the first team only two years later. His senior debut came in March 2018 in the League Cup against local rivals Shumizu S-Pulse. His league debut followed in August as a late substitute against Kashiwa Reysol – his only appearance of the 2018 J1 League season.
The defender was sent out on loan to Nagoya Grampus in 2019, only featuring nine times before his return to Iwata following their relegation to the J2 League, then emerging as a first-choice defender. The 6’1’’ centre-back featured in 37 out of 42 matches, playing the full 90 minutes in all but one of those – the first and only game of the 2020 season prior the coronavirus-enforced break. Ito’s participation was more sporadic in 2021, but enough to draw the attention of Stuttgart, who took him on loan midway through the Japanese campaign and ahead of the 2021/22 Bundesliga season.
Although Stuttgart’s plans were originally to ease the young defender into European football via their U21 team, the fact that he arrived in Germany fully match fit – with the Japanese league playing through the summer – meant he quickly found himself training with the first team. As well as hit fitness, he obviously impressed coach Pellegrino Matarazzo, who started Ito in the first game of the season against BFC Dynamo in the DFB Cup. He would be an unused substitute in the first two Bundesliga games, but then featured in 10 of the next 12 – starting seven in a row between Matchdays 8 and 14.
November was a particularly big month for the youngster, playing every minute of the three Bundesliga games, not committing a single foul, getting his first goal in the 2-1 win over Mainz – his first Bundesliga victory – and also averaging 96 touches, which was the most of any Stuttgart player over the month. Ito has impressed so much that coach Matarazzo has confirmed the club will be making the loan permanent.
Although yet to represent Japan at senior level, Ito has been a regular in youth teams since the U17s. He was only 18 when he played for the Samurai Blues at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in a squad that included current Germany-based players Ko Itakura (Schalke) and Keita Endo (Union Berlin).
Watch: Ito’s maiden Bundesliga goal helped Stuttgart to victory over Mainz
Plays a bit like: Martin Hinteregger
Like Eintracht Frankfurt’s Hinteregger, Ito is also left footed and stands at 6’1’’. While the Austrian may be more of a battler and stronger in the air, they are both key in their defensive work, while also looking to have an impact in attack. That can be whether they are themselves in the box for set pieces, or their distribution. Ito in particular is fond of a long ball to send teammates in behind.
Did you know?
Ito continues a fine tradition of Japanese players in Stuttgart. He’s the sixth player from his country to represent VfB, following on from Shinji Okazaki, Gotoku Sakai, Takuma Asano, Hajime Hosogai and current club captain Wataru Endo. All bar Hosogai scored in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart, meaning Ito’s goal against Mainz made it five Japanese goalscorers for the club. No other team in the Bundesliga has had that many from the Land of the Rising Sun.
What they’re saying
“Hiro is doing a very good job. You can sense a certain stability in attack and defence. The thrust he brings, the balls he plays, especially his diagonals. He’s got calmness on the ball. That’s why Marc [Kempf] has a job to get back in.” – VfB Stuttgart head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo
“Hiroki has the footballing and physical requirements to make it into our first team in the medium term. We’re convinced Hiroki will manage that quickly thanks to his mentality. We’re really looking forward to working with him.” – VfB Stuttgart sporting director Sven Mislintat on signing Ito
“I thought Hiroki would need a few months to get used to German football, but he’s adapted surprisingly quickly.” – Former Karlsruhe midfielder and Ito’s ex-Iwata teammate Hiroki Yamada
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