TOPTwo Japanese Stars Look to Shine in the Premier League

Two Japanese Stars Look to Shine in the Premier League

By Alec Jordan

The Premier League kicks off this weekend with Japanese internationals Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida hoping to make the first eleven for their respective clubs. Meanwhile, a young half-Japanese phenom is making an impression on the Tottenham youth teams.

Okazaki signed for Leicester City this summer from Bundesliga side 1. FSV Mainz 05, where he scored 27 goals in 65 games. Former Foxes coach Nigel Pearson had reportedly been pursuing him for over two years, but he was controversially sacked in June shortly after signing him, so now the Japanese striker must impress former Chelsea, Juventus and Greece manager Claudio Ranieri. His chances look good; the Italian coach appears to be excited about the prospect of working with him.

“I’ve watched him—he’s very fast,” Ranieri told “He’s a goalscorer. He’s opportunistic in the box. He doesn’t touch the ball and suddenly he touches the ball and he’s a goalscorer. In Italy we say he’s very cold with the ball. In front of the goalkeeper he’s calm and he scores goals. I love him. Shinji is a very good team player.

“I watched some matches of Shinji in the Bundesliga. It is [a] very hard league. Of course the Premier League is a little stronger, but he’s a very intelligent man. I think after a couple of months, he’ll understand everything very well. When a player comes from another league, it’s not easy. Maybe sometimes you need six months, but Shinji is very smart … He will be very important.”

Shinji Okazaki
D.O.B. 16 April 1985 (age 29)
Clubs/Goals: Shimizu S-Pulse (42), VfB Stuttgart (10), 1. FSV Mainz 05 (27), Leicester (-)
International: Japan (43)Maya Yoshida
D.O.B 24 August 1988 (age 26)
Clubs/Goals: Nagoya Grampus (11), VVV-Venlo (5), Southampton (3)
International: Japan (4)

Okazaki should endear himself to the Leicester fans with his enthusiasm and tireless work ethic. If he can score a similar amount to what he managed with Mainz he will become a firm fans’ favorite. He has made a positive start, hitting the net in last week’s 3–2 friendly win over Birmingham. A goal against Sunderland at the King Power Stadium this Saturday, though, would mean a whole lot more.

Maya Yoshida, meanwhile, will no doubt be hoping to carry on where he left off at the end of last season. The center-back was often left on the bench in the first half of the 2014–15 campaign, but things changed after Christmas. One of the most improved players in the league, he became a key defender for the Saints, helping to guide them to 7th in the league and a place in Europe. Steve Caulker has come in on a season-long loan deal, adding to the competition for places at the back, but with Florin Gardos out for a number of months Yoshida will fancy his chances of playing. Southampton’s first game in the league is away to Newcastle this Sunday.

A Rising Star

At youth level, Cy Goddard is looking to continue his rapid progress at Spurs. The diminutive attacking midfielder was born in London and has an English father, yet on the international stage he has chosen to represent the country of his mother’s birth, Japan. He was here in the summer so I had the opportunity to ask him about it.

Picture courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur

“Of course I have two nationalities,” he says. “But it’s not that I feel more Japanese than English. I support both countries when they play at World Cups; it’s just that Japan’s way of playing suits my game better.

“I grew up watching a lot of Spanish football and I think Japan’s quite similar—moving the ball really quickly, playing nice one-touch football. Training with the U16s I could see that up close. The pace and technical ability of the players surprised me. I think the national team is only going to continue getting stronger.”

Goddard, still only 18, broke into Tottenham’s U21 squad last season and is now determined to establish himself at that level. He was singled out for praise during a recent preseason friendly against the Peterborough senior side with coach Ugo Ehiogu describing his as “fantastic,” particularly the way he stood up to the physical test against the opposition’s more experienced midfielders. If he can maintain that level of performance for the U21s this season, then a call up to the first team squad maybe not that far off.

“I’m not thinking about the first team,” he tells me. “I just want to keep progressing, [and] have a good base from which to build on and basically keep playing well. I need to score more goals. Having more confidence in the final third, knowing my way around the box: these things can help take me to another level. More than anything though, it’s just about getting my head down, focusing and working as hard as I can to establish myself in the U21 team.”

—Matthew Hernon

Image: Shinji Okazaki playing in an international friendly against Brazil in Singapore, 2014 (ssc-sportsphotography/Flickr, used under CC)

You can read the full interview with Cy Goddard in the September edition of JSoccer Magazine which can be purchased via