20 Midfielder RB Salzburg Japan
On 16th January 1995 the UK singles chart was topped by a legendary tune for the ages. ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ was a couple of weeks away from being superseded as Britain’s cultural wasteland of choice by Celine Dion’s hyper-vomitty ‘Think Twice’ but it had just reached the pinnacle when, in the Far East, Takumi Minamino was born into the world of football. Take that, England.
Osaka-born Minamino has been written about as one of Japanese football’s brightest prospects for some time and enjoyed an impressive introduction in the jersey of one of his home city clubs, Cerezo. He played more than 60 J.League games between 2012 and 2014 and the future opened up before his eyes despite Cerezo’s relegation.
2015 has been…
Vindication. Despite his reputation there were one or two eyebrows raised at home when Red Bull Salzburg snapped Minamino up in early January, but they knew exactly what they were getting and the young man has delivered and then some. Salzburg won the league and cup double in Austria last season and Minamino played his part. He started nine Bundesliga matches and came on as a substitute in five, scoring three goals.
The first came against Admira in March, as did the second, as did an assist. That’s the kind of player Minamino is: a major contributor and creator who’s scored seven times in twelve league starts as Salzburg look to retain their title in 2015/16.
Positionally he’s most often a right winger but not in anything like the traditional sense. He’ll float more centrally, looking to make an impact from a striking position or even central midfield before reverting to the flank. The fluidity of his play has helped his team get back into games more than once this year.
He’s fast and energetic and links the game well, opting for a neat-and-tidy approach to passing, always looking to drop it off and go for a return. In his elongated spells in a pure striker position he shows good awareness, balance, strength and finishing. He’s difficult to mark, a wide forward who’s at his deadliest when operating away from his standard position and acting like a genuine striker.
Minamino’s a fabulous runner on and off the ball, a very impressive goalscorer and a young man with a few tricks up his sleeve. Most importantly he’s a match winner. Games change at Minamino’s say so, whether it’s goals, creativity, forcing defenders into mistakes and red cards or just a basic imposition of his will on his own form.
Minamino is too quiet too often even in games where he scores, but he already addresses this. He works hard defensively and takes steps to get involved, drifting inside and linking the play, nice and simple until his game settles. One of his biggest assets is that he never hides, never shirks, and always wants to be involved.
Ironing out the original drift is the next challenge. Sometimes you’ll wonder if he’s going to get it together and before you’ve decided he’s stuck the ball in the net, but consistency is his key area of improvement.
His contract runs to the summer of 2018 and Salzburg have the option of extending it by a year, and it might just be the best place for him for the time being. Meanwhile, international football has started to come his way. In October he made a seven-minute substitute’s appearance in Japan’s friendly against Iran, his first and only appearance for Samurai Blue to date. It won’t be his last.
B A classy, effective player with a big future in European football ahead of him
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