The Best Up And Coming Japanese Footballers

newsonjapan.com -- Nov 18
With players like Daichi Kamada, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Takumi Minamino having impressed amongst the football elite of Europe it's perhaps fair to say that more players might be heading for some time in the European limelight in the near future.

Here we look at five of the beat up and coming Japanese footballers who might be the next big things. The only criteria we've used is that only players under 21 and those whom are plying their trade outside of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues will be considered.

Number 5. Rihito Yamamoto

Kicking off our list of the best up and coming Japanese footballers is Rihito Yamamoto. The 19-year-old currently plays for second tier Tokyo Verdy, where he cam through their youth ranks.

Already the youngster has racked up near on 100 senior appearances and his footballing intelligence is there for everyone to see; the fact he’s operated in numerous positions is further evidence of that.

Now, he’s settled in a holding midfield role. It’s his calmness on the ball and his desire to play forwards at every opportunity that matters. We fully expect him to head to J1 soon enough.

Number 4. Kosei Tani

Breaking into professional football is tough for every young player; it’s hardest of all on goalkeepers though with the position a) not really something that’s easily introduced from the bench and b) unforgiving to mistakes.

The fact Kosei Tani, 20, is already established as a first choice at J1 side Shonan Bellmare (on loan from Gamba Osaka) is testament to both his skill and mentality. Being a good shot stopper is the minimum requirement of a goalkeeper but Tani, who is amongst the tallest players in J1, makes keeping the ball out look very easy; it’s his positioning and footwork that really stand out whilst he rarely pushes things back into the danger zone.

Nine clean sheets in 32 appearances this season shows he is enjoying his time behind the Bellmare defence.

Number 3. Daiki Matsuoka

Say what you want about Shimizu S-Pulse being in a relegation battle but one man impressing is Daiki Matsuoka. Despite his youth - he's 20-years-old - Matsuoka is one of the first names on the team sheet and in the heart of midfield too. Many people make the mistake of labelling him a defensive midfielder, but he is very much box to box.

He has great energy, good quality on the ball in terms of passing and shooting and rarely does he get caught in possession owing to such clever use of his body. The other side of the game is the defensive elements. Matsuoka is tough in the tackle but it's his reading of play that really impresses; he just has the knack of being able to sniff out danger.

Number 2. Shinya Nakano

Shinya Nakano might have only just turned 18 but the first team squad isn’t new to him; he’s been there since he was just 15 years of age. He made his competitive breakthrough for J1 side Sagan Tosu last season and has quickly established himself as a key player in the side. Just to put into perspective, the youngest player to win the NBA championship was 18 years old and 6 days. At that age Nakano had already more than 20 professional appearances for Sagan Tosu and had won the u16 AFC Championship with Japan national team.

Nakano predominantly plays at left back – although he’s adept on the right flank and centrally too. He’s a defender that is comfortable with possession of the football, which is a must in the modern era and enjoys getting forwards too.

His passing is decent, but his best offensive quality is his dribbling skills whilst he can produce in the final third too; he already has four assists to his name despite several of his 45 J1 appearances coming at centre back. With defensive awareness also high up his list of qualities the links to Europe have already started.

Number 1. Koki Saito

Topping our list of the best up and coming Japanese footballers is Koki Saito; he's also the only player to make our list that is already plying his trade in Europe after joining Belgian second tier side Lommel SK from Yokohama early in 2021.

The Japan youth international first impressed in J2 and then in the top tier. Since moving to Belgium he's netted four goals and provided two assists. His contribution to the league campaign this season sees him sit as the club's top scorer under Peter van der Veen. The youngster is a cool customer in front of goal and thrives pulling off defenders to see their numbers; as long as Lommel create chances he'll continue to score goals.

There you have it, the best up and coming Japanese footballers. Did we miss anyone?