Cologne forward Yuya Osako has enjoyed career-best form this season, with his blossoming partnership with Anthony Modeste giving Billy Goats fans serious hope that the club can qualify for Europe for the first time in 24 years.
Ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Schalke – and best friend Atsuto Uchida – Osako sat down with bundesliga.com to talk about the Bundesliga title-chase, his talented teammates, and his place in Japan’s footballing pantheon… just don’t compare him to Shinji Kagawa!
bundesliga.com: You are in fine form, having scored twice against in the 6-1 win over Darmstadt recently…
Osako: It’s true that that was a great performance, from the whole team! I felt really good in that game. However, I wouldn’t say that I was perfect and that there is no room for improvement. We can still do more, but this game was a good base to build upon.
Watch: Highlights of Cologne's Osako-inspired 6-1 thrashing of Darmstadt!:
Osako: In the Bundesliga there are many very good teams, not just those three. It doesn’t make much sense to focus too much on those three games. We should always take it one game at a time.
bundesliga.com: Alongside your strike partner Modeste you have become a terrifying sight for opposition defenders…
Osako: I think we work really well together. “Tony” is a guy who can change a game in one instant. The opposition defence has to keep an eye on him the whole time – which creates opportunities for me! The partnership is great for both of us.
Watch: Osako was voted Bundesliga Player of the Month in January:
bundesliga.com: What about the cultural difference between Japan and Germany? Is it difficult for Japanese players to settle here?
Osako: Almost everything you encounter in your daily life is different from Japan. It took some time to understand that and adjust. Today, though, my family and I are very comfortable in Germany. We have a very happy life.
bundesliga.com: What is your reputation at home compared to other Bundesliga stars such as Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe and Uchida?
Osako: There is no comparison! Big players like Kagawa or Uchida can’t even go shopping in Japan without being noticed. For me, that’s no problem.
bundesliga.com: What is the reputation of the Bundesliga in Japan?
Osako: The Bundesliga is very highly respected in Japan. And for many of the best players in the J-League, a move to Europe and especially the Bundesliga is the next logical step in your career.
bundesliga.com: Japanese players in the Bundesliga are beginning to form something of a community…
Osako: Yes, indeed. Personally, I maintain very close contact with Uchida. We benefit from the fact that the distance between Cologne and Gelsenkirchen is not great.
bundesliga.com: You might have lined up directly against Uchida on Sunday if it wasn’t for him being injured…
Osako: That's right, the game might come too soon after his lay-off. In any case, it's a beautiful thing that we get to see each other. When I was first a professional player and moved to Kashima Antlers, Uchida was already there. We won the title together in 2009, and we have been great friends ever since.
bundesliga.com: Do you know the first Japanese player to have played in the Bundesliga? He played for Cologne…
Osako: Of course I know that: Yasuhiko Okudera!
bundesliga.com: Okudera won the title with the Billy Goats in his first season. What kind of reputation does he enjoy in Japan?
Osako: As the first Japanese player in the Bundesliga, it wasn’t easy for Okudera back in 1977. He enjoys respect from his countrymen for being the one to walk this path first. He opened the door for future generations of Japanese players. He deserves great respect.
Osako was speaking to Andreas Kötter