Munich - The Bundesliga has long been hailed as a hotbed of Japanese talent, but all is not as well as it might be for the foremost stars from the Land of the Rising Sun this season.
Their goals, assists and all-round impact dwindling, where exactly has the shine gone from Eintracht Frankfurt’s Takashi Inui and 1. FC Nürnberg’s Hiroshi Kiyotake?
Inui has started just eight of the Eagles’ 15 Bundesliga outings so far in 2013/14, making a further three appearances from the bench. Last term, he started all but one of their 34 top-flight assignments, scoring six goals and laying on nine assists. Almost halfway into the current campaign, he has managed neither.
His pass completion rate (77.6 per cent) is also down by four per cent and he has seen marginally less of the ball per game (46.2 touches) compared to last term (49.3 touches). Given that it is a World Cup year, with Japan being the first side to rubberstamp their ticket to Brazil, the former VfL Bochum midfielder’s falling numbers do not quite add up.
Yet he is not the only one. International colleague and fellow World Cup hopeful Kiyotake has barely lived up to the lofty standards he set during his debut season in the Bundesliga in 2012/13, despite grabbing two league goals and three assists in 15 appearances this term.
Like Inui, the 24-year-old has witnessed an increase in misplaced passes, enjoyed less possession and generally failed to produce anywhere near as much game-changing magic from midfield. To illustrate a point, only FC Bayern München’s Franck Ribery provided more assists (16) than Kiyotake (13) last season and the Frenchman already has nine to his name going into Matchday 16 of the current campaign.
Given the respective league positions of Bayern and Nürnberg, that might come across as somewhat of a chalk and cheese juxtaposition, but in actual fact it reveals something rather telling about the psyche of two of Japan’s most gifted exports. Frankfurt did not qualify for the UEFA Europa League owing purely to Inui’s brilliance, just like Kiyotake was not the sole reason behind Nürnberg’s emergence as one of the Bundesliga’s toughest nuts to crack. They thrived because the team excelled. If only the same could be said of the collective this time around.
It goes without saying, 15th-placed Frankfurt, without a home win all season, and 17th-placed Nürnberg, only a point clear of rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig, have work to do, but once the team as a whole begins to fire, Inui’s slalom runs and Kiyotake’s set-piece masterstrokes might not feel like such a scarce commodity. Both players have designs on playing a part in Japan’s FIFA World Cup finals campaign after all.
Life may not be all sunshines and rainbows for Takashi Inui and Hiroshi Kiyotake, but compatriot Shinji Okazaki is impressing on a regular basis with new club 1. FSV Mainz 05. Check out his latest match-winning performance, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel