At Makoto Hasebe's official unveiling as an 1. FC Nürnberg player earlier this month, head coach Michael Wiesinger highlighted the Japan national team skipper's qualities both as a player and leader before succinctly summarising, "He'll make us better." In the wake of Hasebe's second run-out for his new employers, his compatriot Hiroshi Kiyotake reckoned the improvement was there for all to see already.
Added solidity with Hasebe
"Makoto Hasebe and [fellow midfielder] Mike Frantz were very important today. Because of them we could hold onto the ball and that helped my own game as well," the 23-year-old Club playmaker commented after the 1-1 home draw against league leaders Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 6.
The result spiked BVB's winning start to the season and, had Alexander Esswein been able to make more of a last-gasp chance when clean through on guest keeper Roman Weidenfeller, Nürnberg would even have been celebrating a notable victory. That missed opportunity notwithstanding, Wiesinger waxed understandably lyrical after "a fine team performance. You really felt everyone was there for the others over the full 90 minutes."
That applied quite literally to Hasebe, who, as on his debut a week earlier in another 1-1 draw, at Eintracht Braunschweig, played through from start to finish behind Kiyotake on the right. And if the team as a whole are set to benefit further from the new man's steadying influence and tactical astuteness, on an individual level Kiyotake perhaps stands to gain more than most.
First club, then country
Hasebe for his part acknowledged that his fellow Japan international had given him the hard sell when he was still weighing up a move from VfL Wolfsburg: "He told me it was really great at Nürnberg and I should definitely come." The 29-year-old defensive midfield specialist did just that, putting pen to paper on a three-year deal just before the close of the summer transfer window. With the ink still drying on the contract, he was eastward-bound with new clubmate Kiyotake on international duty. And, indeed, this is one Bundesliga move which could have a notably positive knock-on effect for Japan come next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.
All in good time, though. For the moment, negotiating an arduous Bundesliga campaign with Nürnberg has the utmost priority. The promising display against Dortmund came as a welcome fillip and the point earned was at least enough to edge the Franconians out of the bottom three. But it will count for little in isolation and Kiyotake, one of the outstanding newcomers of 2012/13, will likely have a key part to play in shaping the team's fortunes over the months ahead.
Kiyotake can 'make all the difference'
The former Cerezo Osaka star's first season in the German game delivered a return of four goals and eleven assists and, as Nürnberg sporting director Martin Bader put it, "He arrived in a very different country, with great expectations, and hit the ground running. It sounds like it all happened really easily, but a young player like him is going to go through a period of adaptation." That, Bader believes, is ongoing at the moment and, "We hope that with the signing of Makoto Hasebe, he'll find he's got even more support both out on the pitch and away from it. He's a very important player for us, one who can make all the difference."
Hasebe, now six years in-country and with more than 130 top-flight appearances and a 2008/09 championship medal with Wolfsburg under his belt, is offering that support already. "Myself and Kiyo communicate well and that was a factor in some of our interplay today," he said after the game against Dortmund; "But I think there's room for us to improve further." Which can only be good news for Nürnberg - and Japan.