Shinji Okazaki joined Mainz in the summer of 2013 from Bundesliga rivals VfB Stuttgart...
Shinji Okazaki joined Mainz in the summer of 2013 from Bundesliga rivals VfB Stuttgart...

Okazaki revelling in frontline role at Mainz


Shinji Okazaki was born on 16 April 1986 in Takarazuka, Japan and, after finishing school in 2004, signed up with top J-League outfit Shimizu S-Pulse. It was the first professional step on a path that would lead him to record-breaking heights in the Bundesliga.

First stop Stuttgart in the Bundesliga

After a couple of seasons on the periphery, Okazaki stamped out a first-team berth for himself at Shimizu and rapidly developed into one of the league's most dangerous forwards.

Okazaki got his first full international call-up in October 2008 against the United Arab Emirates and was an integral member of the side that reached the last 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In January 2011 he chipped in with three goals as Japan marched to the AFC Asian Cup title in Qatar.

The pacy forward's international exploits helped persuade VfB Stuttgart to move for him and he made his first appearance for the Swabians on the very day FIFA cleared him to play, debuting in a UEFA Europa League match against Benfica on 17 February 2011. The first Bundesliga outing came just three days later against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Goals galore for Mainz

A spectacular overhead kick against Hannover 96 on 19 February 2012, voted Bundesliga Goal of the Month, helped raise Okazaki's national profile. Operating for the most part out wide, however, he was not finding the net at anything like his accustomed rate. Indeed, while carving out 32 chances for team-mates and 25 for himself, he scored just once in 2012/13.

However, some eye-catching performances at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil gave a taster of what was to come in 2013/14, albeit not with Stuttgart. A move to 1.FSV Mainz 05 and then head coach Thomas Tuchel's redeployment of him in a central striking role got Okazaki back to his scoring roots with a vengeance. 15 goals - a Bundesliga season record for a Japanese player - were the outcome as Mainz sealed a surprise place in the UEFA Europa League.

Despite having to endure a disappointing 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, Okazaki's form showed no signs of vanishing in 2014/15 as he continued to ride the crest of a goalscoring wave. A Matchday 3 brace in the 3-1 win over Hertha Berlin saw another record tumble as the striker overhauled Yasuhiko Okudera as the highest scoring Japanese international in the Bundesliga's history and, with his place in Mainz's starting secure, there's little doubting he'll add to his record-breaking tally.