Masaya Okugawa has been a revelation in his first full season with Arminia Bielefeld. - © Reinaldo Coddou H./Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty
Masaya Okugawa has been a revelation in his first full season with Arminia Bielefeld. - © Reinaldo Coddou H./Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty

Masaya Okugawa: Who is Arminia Bielefeld’s Japanese attacker with shades of Shinji Kagawa?


Masaya Okugawa is leading the way for Arminia Bielefeld in his first full season in the Bundesliga, and his hunger for more goals could soon see him earn him a first senior cap for Japan. fills you in on the former Salzburg attacker who is the latest Japanese import to find that German football suits him.

Masaya Okugawa

Age: 25
Club: Arminia Bielefeld
Position: Attacking midfielder
Country: Japan (U19 cap)

Key stats

From Koka in Japan, Okugawa made his debut with second-tier side Kyoto Sanga and caught the eye of several European clubs through his performances for the Japan U18 team. The promising attacker moved abroad for the first time when he joined Austrian giants Salzburg in July 2015 - initially collecting experience with their feeder club Liefering. Having scored eight goals and provided 10 assists in 64 games over two seasons in the second division, the youngster got five goals in 30 Austrian Bundesliga matches on loan at SV Mattersburg over the course of the 2017/18 season.

Okugawa gained his first experience of German football courtesy of another temporary move, and finished with five goals in 19 Bundesliga 2 games for Holstein Kiel during 2018/19. The 5’8” player then enjoyed a breakout year with Salzburg, scoring nine times in 23 league matches in 2019/20 as well as coming up against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League and Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League. In total, Okugawa would feature in two league and cup doubles, but he left Austria mid-season in 2020/21 having scored 14 goals and provided eight assists in 47 career appearances for Salzburg.

He initially joined Bielefeld on loan in January 2021, helping his new team stay in the Bundesliga with one goal and two assists in 13 Bundesliga appearances. The following campaign saw Okugawa make his switch permanent, and he quickly became an essential member of Frank Kramer’s attack. By Matchday 20 of 2021/22, the Bielefeld No. 11 had seven goals in his first full year of German football.

Plays a bit like: Shinji Kagawa

Due to an eye-catching talent for dribbling, his early days in Japan saw Okugawa compared to Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar. The Bielefeld man is capable of turning sharply away from a marker and has a fast-paced playing style, so it’s easy to see why that connection was made. In terms of his overall impact, though, he can probably offer his team similar to what Kagawa offered Borussia Dortmund.

Kagawa is the record Japanese goalscorer in the Bundesliga, and Okugawa is a definite goal threat who - like his predecessor - is comfortable on either foot. Former Manchester United player Kagawa famously broke through in Jürgen Klopp's hard-working, high-pressing Dortmund team, and the latest Japanese attacker to light up the Bundesliga is cut from the same cloth. Okugawa is persistent - albeit more direct than his compatriot - and puts in one hell of a shift.

Shinji Kagawa (l.) was part of a stellar Borussia Dortmund side that won back-to-back Bundesliga trophies between 2010 and 2012. - Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

It’s an approach that was no doubt honed while playing in the high-intensity Salzburg system, and the 2021/22 stats placed the 25-year-old in the top 10 in the Bundesliga for intensive runs and the top 30 for both distance covered and sprints. Able to play across any of the attacking midfield or forward positions, Okugawa - like Kagawa before him - is the type of player that fans will gladly pay to watch.

Did you know?

Okugawa linked up with compatriot Ritsu Doan in 2020/21 but began carrying much of the goalscoring burden himself the following campaign. He scored in all three of Bielefeld’s league wins in the first half of 2021/22 - including during an impressive 2-0 success at RB Leipzig - and netted in four matches in a row between Matchdays 16 and 19.

Watch: Okugawa's Goal of the Month contender against Wolfsburg

What they’re saying

"Masaya is a very intelligent, industrious and strong player who offers a goal threat from midfield. In a footballing battle, you want to have him on your side." – Kramer after Okugawa penned a three-year contract with the club in July 2021

"Even when you don’t see him in a game, in the next action he can be a real threat in front of goal… he always has clever ways to get to the opposing goal." – The Bielefeld coach again, this time speaking during Okugawa’s run of six goals in nine games during 2021/22

"My next step - I hope - is to play for the national team." – Okugawa - who has been on the fringes of the Japan squad - reveals his hopes for the future