Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 May 2020

Confident, dedicated, talented: Can Takumi Minamino make the step up to Liverpool?

Asian football writer Michael Church profiles the Japanese star and gets insight from a former manager

Should Takumi Minamino ever feel the need to endear himself to Liverpool fans, the 24-year-old can direct the Anfield faithful to a clip on YouTube that will leave them salivating with anticipation.

Six-and-a-half years ago, when still an 18-year-old in his first full season with J.League side Cerezo Osaka, Minamino unleashed a right foot strike that flew into the top corner of the Manchester United goal to leave many in Osaka’s Nagai Stadium speechless.

“Oh dear me,” said United great Paddy Crerand, on commentary duty that night for the English club’s in-house television channel. “Well, the only thing you can do about that goal is applaud. That is a blinding goal.”

It might only have been a pre-season friendly, but that goal against the then-Premier League champions – followed by Minamino’s confident, arms-stretched-out look-at-me response – was a precursor of what was to come as the youngster steadily turned himself into one of the hottest properties in Asian football.

The following season he left his mark on the Asian Champions League while also being named the J.League’s Young Player of the Year as Cerezo fell just short of claiming the domestic title, and by the start of 2015 he was on his way to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.

“I worked with Takumi when he was 18 years old and his potential was really big and we are seeing now what he can do,” says Ranko Popovic, who coached Liverpool’s new signing at Cerezo Osaka for the first six months of 2014.

“He was dedicated and what is not usual for Japanese players is that he was also full of confidence. He was full of confidence when he was young and this is the reason why he’s coming up so high. He was so hungry and this is something that I like about him.”

Having started out at his local club Sessel Kumatori, Minamino moved to Cerezo’s academy at the age of 12 and was quick to make an impact. In 2012, he made his first team debut and established himself as a regular in a vibrant, young Cerezo side the following season.

By that point he had already started to gain international recognition, impressing for Japan at the Asian U16 Championship in 2010 with five goals in as many games before going on to represent his country at all levels. He made his senior national team debut as a substitute in late 2015 in a 1-1 draw in a friendly with Iran at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

Minamino has since become a regular under current Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu having impressed during his four-and-a-half seasons in Austria, where he further honed a deftness of touch in and around the penalty area that allows him to create chances for himself and his teammates.

His game, though, is not beyond reproach and the lack of a cool head can see him fail to turn opportunities into goals. His scoring struggles are most pronounced in the blue of Japan where, despite a solid record of seven goals in 15 games for his national team since the start of 2019, his profligacy has seen some glaring misses.

There have been fewer issues for Salzburg, though, and it will be the form he showed in the rarefied air of the Uefa Champions League that would have appealed to Jurgen Klopp rather than his performances against the likes of Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

“His success comes from his own character, because it’s usual in Japan when a player is so young and is a star they go in the wrong way,” says Popovic, who crossed paths again with Minamino last year during a stint as manager of Austrian side SKN St Polten. “They get to be a little bit arrogant because the media build them up and they lose control.

“Takumi, for me, something I appreciated about him is he was always the same. When he was high he was the same, when he didn’t have a good level he was the same, dedicated. He didn’t lose confidence. He wasn’t on an emotional rollercoaster. He’s fantastic.

“In Austria I met him when we played against him and I spoke with him and you can see he has the balance. It’s not easy when you are this young and you become a star and to stay always equalised.

“I’m 100 per cent sure he will always bring the same level. If this is enough [to succeed at Liverpool] I don’t know, but I think he will. They signed him and he has potential. I’m sure he will develop more around better players.”

Updated: January 1, 2020 11:57 AM

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