Yoshinori Muto: The Man who Chose Mainz over Chelsea

Yoshinori Muto – remember the name because big things are expected from the Bundesliga’s latest Japanese import.

Shinji Okazaki will have an international teammate by his side next season as 1.FSV Mainz 05 recently confirmed the signing of Japanese sensation Yoshinori Muto on a four year deal.  A fee thought to be worth in the region of about €3 million Euros was agreed for 22-year-old Japanese international who has signed from FC Tokyo.

Muto, who as recently as 2013 was playing for Keio University, signed his first professional contract last year, scoring 26 goals in 59 games in all competitions for FC Tokyo. At the end of the 2014 season Muto matched the J-League record for the most goals in a debut season with 13 goals in 33 appearances. International recognition soon followed as Muto made his debut for the Blue Samurai in a September, 2014 0-2 defeat to Uruguay. coming on after 58 minutes. Only 4 days later in a 2-2 draw with Venezuela the 5’10” forward scored his first international goal, collecting the ball just inside the Venezuelan half before holding off a strong challenge, running 30 yards and unleashing a stinging left footed shot from outside the box into the bottom corner leaving the Venezuelan goalkeeper with no chance.  Not a bad way to introduce yourself on the world stage.

Ranko Popovic, the current Real Zaragoza manager who gave Muto his debut in July 2013 when coaching FC Tokyo, knew straight away that there was something special about the youngster. In a recent interview with Bleacher Report he spoke about the Japanese player. “His potential was amazing, I didn’t see for a long time such an intelligent player like Muto. He has something different to all other players because he comes from a good family, he has good education, he was at university. A very smart, intelligent guy, he has something which you cannot learn.”

Muto showed that intelligence when a bid of around 4 million Euros came from Chelsea which many believe had more to do with commercial interests rather that football, Muto took a step back, weighed up his options and signed instead for the Rhineland-Palatinate club. A fear over lack of playing time is thought to be Muto’s main reason for rejecting the Blues, although the attention garnered from Chelsea’s bid didn’t distract from Muto’s play in the J-League, says FC Tokyo teammate Kosuke Ota. “Muto always has humility, is serious, and works hard for the benefit of the team. This is the first time he has had experience of dealing with this kind of speculation, and it may be difficult, but the fact that he is able to still deliver results while all that is going on shows how professional he is.”

Chelsea earlier this month announced their ‘largest ever commercial deal’ with Japanese tire manufacturers Yokohama Rubber Company and Jose Mourinho said cryptically of the proposed Muto transfer: “That’s modern football. That’s modern management. You cannot close completely the door to commercial interests.”

Muto confirmed that he had opted to join Mainz over Chelsea as he felt the German club “fits his level”. When interviewed by Sky Sports Muto said of his transfer to the German club “I wanted to keep my expectations realistic and play for a team that fits my level,” he had also been impressed by their desire to sign him, “I began to want to compete at a level above. They really showed they wanted me,”

“We spent a long time watching Yoshinori Muto because we’re certain he’ll fit in at Mainz and with our style of play,” Mainz head coach Martin Schmidt said.”He’s a quick, agile and technically gifted forward who can play out wide, and he’ll bring us added qualities in those positions.”

Just how far Muto can go remains to be seen.  But given his rapid rise from a university team to the Bundesliga, one thing is likely —  he’ll at least get enough playing time at Mainz to prove he’s got what it takes.

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Part time football writer - From Bray, County Wicklow Ireland You can follow me on twitter - @jay_walker_83