Saturday, September 4, 2010

Miyaichi’s no Inamoto

Arsenal have just signed 17 year old Ryo Miyaichi. He’ll join us in December when his contract with Chukyo University expires. He’s a tricky left winger with speed, dribbling ability and an eye for goal. And from the only photo I’ve seen of him, he has the kind of awesome helmet hair that only an Asian can appreciate:

I think it’s remarkable the change in attitude with Japanese signings. I think the last Japanese player we bought was Junichi Inamoto in 2001. He played one season with us, was cut adrift, lit up the 2002 World Cup, and then spent the next eight years wandering around Europe. He’s currently back in the J-League with Kawasaki Frontale.

Back in 2001, Inamoto was largely seen as a commercial signing, someone who was foisted upon Wenger unwillingly. No one believed he was signed on footballing terms, and it didn’t help that he didn’t feature in many games. He was awesome in the World Cup, but by then, it was too late, and he’d already left the Arsenal.

In 2010, no one is suggesting that Ryo Miyaichi was signed for commercial reasons. Instead, Miyaichi is thought of as just another promising youngster who has been signed by a manager overly obsessed with youth. In the last nine years, Japanese players have earned the right to be considered “real” footballers, rather than commercial investments.

In the 9 years since the 2002 World Cup, we’ve seen a lot of really good Japanese players playing in the top leagues of Europe. From Hidetoshi Nakata at Roma, to Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic, and now with youngsters like Keisuke Honda at CSKA Moscow, they started and starred at top clubs.

I think it gets easier for each subsequent generation to break through. The first few players are fighting perception and stereotype. It takes a remarkable talent to join a foreign club, in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, and then compete against 24 other professionals for a contact and playing time. And if a player has no frame of reference, no previous example of players who’ve done it, it’s extremely difficult to flourish.

As with the case with Inamoto, who had this to say about his time at Arsenal:

I don’t think Inamoto’s a bad player. He showed his ability in the 2002 World Cup, and he spent 8 years travelling the leagues of Europe. He probably wasn’t Arsenal first-team calibre, but if you look at our side in the early 2000s, it was remarkably strong. Not a lot of players in the world would’ve got into that side. However, Inamoto was awe-struck by the quality of the Arsenal (as was the rest of us) and couldn’t believe that he was worth a place in that side. So, he couldn’t make that leap from young hopeful to established squad player.

I don’t think Miyiachi’s going to have that problem. Firstly, because the players he’d be trying to displace are Nasri and Rosicky, not Pires and Ljungberg. Secondly, because there isn’t that inferiority complex anymore. Nakata and Nakamura have showed that Japanese players compete in the best leagues in the world. Honda showed as much ability as anyone else in the World Cup. Thirdly, no one thinks he’s been signed for anything other than his footballing talent.

It’s pretty amazing to see how far things have come.

So on my 233rd last day of my 20s, I worked, went home, napped, and woke up. Difficult to find stuff to write about in the interlull. Might go back to sleep, and maybe some interesting news will build up in the next few days.

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