FC Tokyo coach Massimo Ficcadenti is convinced outgoing striker Yoshinori Muto will continue Japan’s strong tradition in the Bundesliga.
Mainz announced the signing of Muto in May, with the 22-year-old playing his final match for Tokyo on Saturday in a 3-2 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.
Ficcadenti, who took over as Tokyo coach in January, reckons Muto will have to toughen up to succeed in Germany but believes the Japan international’s “power and agility” will see him follow in the footsteps of Mainz alumnus Shinji Okazaki, who has joined Leicester City.
The Bundesliga is set to have 14 Japanese players in the 2015-16 season including experienced internationals Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe.
“What was immediately clear about him [Muto] as soon as I saw him at practice was his great power, his explosiveness. When I spoke with my assistants I told them, ‘If he could also learn how to play, he can become an awesome footballer’,” Ficcadenti told Football Channel Asia with a laugh on Saturday.
“I started using him as a winger, often on the top flank in a 4-4-2, then as he gained more confidence, he moved more to the centre of our offensive game.”
Japanese players have been attracted to Germany for much of the past decade with the likes of Shinji Ono, Naohiro Takahara and Hasebe making their respective marks at Bochum, Hamburg and Wolfsburg.
But Ficcadenti has warned Muto, who leaves Tokyo after 23 goals in 44 J.League fixtures over the past two seasons, that he cannot expect to keep playing the way he has at home.
“He needs to improve in terms of how he uses his power and his agility. He needs to get deep into the other team’s defensive line, and look more for space instead of directly challenging his opponents,” the Italian coach said of the 13-cap international.
“Here in J.League he can still get away physically, but in Europe it will be much harder, as defenders there are much stronger. He needs to improve his timing, his technique… But he knows, and he will. Step by step, he’ll learn quickly playing at a higher level.”
Okazaki left Mainz for Leicester on Friday after two seasons at the Coface Arena, having scored 17 goals in 55 Bundesliga games.