Cologne - Japan’s strong tradition in the Bundesliga looks set to continue in 2015/16 following Yoshinori Muto’s summer move to 1. FSV Mainz 05.
The 22-year-old goal-getter is the latest in a long line of Japanese exports to have made Germany’s top flight their home in recent years, but he could turn out to be the most gifted of the lot.
A scholar and a footballer
“What was immediately clear about him as soon as I saw him in training was his raw power, his explosiveness,” explained Massimo Ficcadenti, head coach of Muto’s former club FC Tokyo. “When I spoke with my assistants I told them, 'If he could also learn how to play, he can become a fantastic footballer.”
Muto certainly didn’t disappoint the Tokyo masses, equalling the J-League record for most goals in a debut season in 2013/14 (13 strikes in 33 outings). He has since been capped 11 times by Japan, all the while reading for an economics degree at Keio University.
Fuelled by goals
Muto made his his final appearance in a Tokyo shirt in a 3-2 win over Shimizu S-Pulse on 27 June 2015, signing off with ten goals in 17 league outings for the first half of the current J-League campaign. His decision to join Mainz on a four-year deal ensures that no less than 14 Japanese players will be gracing the Bundesliga in the coming season.
“They [Mainz] really showed they wanted me,” Muto recalled. “I wanted to keep my expectations realistic and play for a team that fits my level. From the word go, I want to focus on scoring goals.”
Muto has some big boots to fill at the Coface Arena in any case following Shinji Okazaki’s departure for Premier League outfit Leicester City FC. His Samurai Blue team-mate finished each of the last two campaigns as Mainz top scorer and walks away as the Bundesliga’s all-time leading Japanese marksman (37 goals in 128 appearances).
Only time will tell whether the versatile forward can surpass Okazaki’s extraordinary achievements, but there’s no doubt he has the potential to be a big hit on German soil. “He's a quick, agile and technically gifted forward who can play out wide, and he'll bring us added qualities in those positions,” effused Mainz head coach Martin Schmidt. “We’re certain he’ll fit in.”