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Takehiro Tomiyasu: The Japanese Samurai Of European Football

Takehiro Tomiyasu is one of the most exciting football players to have come out of Japan in recent years. He has burst onto the European scene and has made quite a name of himself in top flight European football. In this post, we will take a closer look into his exciting life and career. Let’s get started.

Takehiro Tomiyasu: All You Need To Know

When was Takehiro Tomiyasu born?

Takehiro Tomiyasu was born in 1998 in Fukuoka, the main city of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands of the archipelago. He is not from the most football-loving area in the country and in fact, he started with swimming and athletics, before moving on to the football school opened by the Spanish giants, Barcelona in his city.

How did Takehiro Tomiyasu start playing football?

Having joined the Avispa Fukuoka youth academy, Tomiyasu made his debut at the age of 16 and at 18 he already became a starter in the second division. Without even a season in J.League 1, he moved to Europe, Belgium, to Sint-Truiden, the team since 2017 owned by the Japanese site DMM. After six months of acclimatization, he became a starter. In his debut season as a starter, Takehiro Tomiyasu had 40 appearances for the club. The federation was betting on him very strongly, he had already reached 15 appearances on the national team.

Did Takehiro Tomiyasu start his sports career as a swimmer?

He could swim, yet he chose football eventually. Coincidentally: at the age of 5, following his sisters, Tomeyasu dived for fun. One day he got hurt, no swimming pool, he came home and found a football team flier. Thus, his career was born. Tomiyasu was born in Fukuoka, a Japanese city on the northern coast of the island of Kyushu, where football is almost rare. Other sports are practiced: athletics or, in fact, swimming. Takehiro is a splendid exception and now a pride. He has already collected about 20 appearances with his national team, and he has already participated in the Copa America. He is a leader of the squad despite his youth, the Japanese Samurai looks all set to conquer the football world.

Takehiro Tomiyasu: Italian Serie A

Tomiyasu arrived at the Italian Serie A club, Bologna with the expectations of a movement that was sure to have found a talent with truly contemporary characteristics, for a school that usually had problems in developing goalkeepers and central defenders capable of playing in Europe. Let’s not forget, we are talking about the only Japanese defender with clear high-level prospects since Maya Yoshida, who arrived in Europe in 2012. Tomiyasu’s international team mate eventually settled as a good midfielder in an average Premier League team, but Tomiyasu seems to have the talent to overcome it.

However, it must be said that Tomiyasu was initially a player in the training phase, who had very interesting characteristics but still uncertain prospects, who had to clarify his passage to Serie A.

What stands out about Takehiro Tomiyasu’s game?

The 188 cm height makes Tomiyasu a solid defender, but at the same time, he is mobile enough to deal quickly with duels at speed. Coming – as mentioned above – from athletics, Tomiyasu allows himself to play many times in advance of his opponents, thanks to a great ability to read both in one-on-one and in aerial tackles. He is good at recovering the ball and in the coverage phase, where, however, he must improve in positioning and correct some distraction errors.

The prototype of the modern defender foresees the ability to start the action from behind and, in this fundamental, the young Japanese defender has shown himself to be decidedly ready. We are clearly not talking about a well-rounded director, but he immediately catches the eye of how skilled he is at sorting the ball. He also likes to start from the bottom with the ball, even under pressure, and is very good with both feet.

There are two hallmarks of his game: the first is speed. Not so much the first step, but in the long run, where his athletic abilities are brilliant. Tomiyasu also has a physical prowess suitable for playing central defender in Europe. He is 188 cms tall but he does need to put on some muscle without getting bogged down by the extra weight. Even then, he manages to get off and running quickly and has an excellent response even when he starts at a disadvantage.

His strong point is the advance, even against faster players. Especially in aerial confrontations, he is good at getting off the ground faster than the attacker without suffering physically. Of course, he is not yet perfect in body positioning, but he is good at immediately correcting the shot and therefore being reactive in one-on-one scenarios. His strong point is reactivity, not so much the first step, as the readings and reflections of the body. All this, it must be specified, can be deduced from a handful of games that have not seen him face high-level strikers. 

This is why he prefers to play early, even if coverage is perhaps the part of his game where he can have the most room for growth. Tomiyasu is a central defender who can lose focus but is always good at correcting himself. In Copa America, for example, he distinguished himself in covering the penalty area with which he patched up the mistakes of his teammates, even saving a ball on the line after running in a slip. Even if the ability to glide with precision is not in itself such a sought-after quality in a contemporary defender, in his case it is still an additional resource to consider.

The second feature that stands out is its game with the ball. Tomiyasu is not the first Japanese defender good at setting up the action, in a school that insists a lot on technical fundamentals, but is also above the Japanese average: first of all, he is ambidextrous, which for a central defender means having a range of options across the board. Then he is a player who invests a lot of energy in building from below. He obviously does not have the sensitivity of a backward playmaker, but he has the ability to give the ball on the right foot, both in the short pass or in the long one, and he does not make mistakes even under pressure.

Tomiyasu always wants to take responsibility for the ball, he wants to play it a lot and choose the best pass to advance the play, over the easy one. He tries with great courage. His accurate passes cut through lines and he also has the defensive abilities to break the opposition’s press with his incredible speed.

How good is Takehiro Tomiyasu expected to get?

In this aspect, we will have to wait and see how his game will be shaped by the new context of Serie A, where defenders are often advised against taking too many risks. Tomiyasu is a defender with excellent potential, but the fact that he is able to express himself even in a more complicated context, technically and tactically, and where the defenders are practically not forgiven, are all to be verified.

Was Takehiro Tomiyasu always interested in football?

At least initially, however, football was not among the interests of the young Takehiro. In his early years in Fukuoka – the city where he was born on November 5, 1998 -, in fact, Tomiyasu devoted himself to something else: swimming and athletics occupied his sports days, even if in neither of the two specialties he excelled in a relevant way. We certainly recognize his good athletic skills, but it was the need to try another sporting experience that turned his and his family’s interests toward the world of football.

Necessity, combined with the occasion of a lifetime for the local boys – a Barcelona training camp held in those days in Fukuoka – made the young Japanese take flight. Tomiyasu began to learn the art of football with dedication and at the age of 16, he made his debut in the youth academy of Avispa Fukuoka, the team from his hometown. In two years he climbed the hierarchy and was already a starter in the Japanese second division championship.

National borders, however, began to be tight and restrictive for the talent of Takehiro and so, without even making his debut in J-League 1 – the main championship of the country of the Rising Sun – on January 16, 2018, he arrived in Europe, at Sint-Truiden, a team then in the Pro League – the Belgian correspondent of Serie A -, in which he soon became a permanent holder, reaching 40 appearances in the 2018/2019 season. The exploits in Europe also made him win the call of the senior national team, in which he has already exceeded 25 appearances and has already trodden prestigious stages in the international field.

How good has Tomiyasu been with Bologna?

Tomiyasu’s adventures in the Serie A began when he arrived in Bologna, who had to make a major investment – 7 million euros – for a 20-year-old boy. The young Japanese did not disappoint expectations and started immediately strong, without awe, managing to convince even the most skeptical fans with convincing performances on the pitch. The Japanese player immediately took his place as a fourth right in the defense deployed by the Bolognese coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. A position that he has never left for any reason aside from injury, managing to maintain optimal performance, however without settling down to the classic homework often given to rookies.

The Fukuoka native ended his rookie year in Serie A with a respectable tally. In addition to the three assists on the scoresheet, Tomiyasu also took away the satisfaction of his first goal in Italy, in the match played at San Siro against Milan. A goal born of a maneuvered action by the Bolognese and that the defender was able to finalize well: dribbling on Alessio Romagnoli from the edge of the area and a left-footed shot straight into the goalpost. This was a great example of the variety of skills of Takehiro Tomiyasu.

The awareness of being able to withstand such stages played a fundamental role in Tomiyasu’s 2020/2021 season. The coach Mihajlovic – in a market that brought new arrivals to the rossoblus for the flanks, such as the young Hickey and the expert De Silvestri, in addition to Bani’s departure – decided to deploy the Japanese as the central piece of his traditional defense to four, proving to have particular confidence in the excellent adaptation from the tactical point of view of Tomiyasu.

It was a decision that did not affect the overall performance of the Japanese at all. It is never correct to appeal only to mere statistics to tell the deeds of an athlete, but on this occasion, a look at the numbers gives the idea of ​​the consistency the 23-year-old had during his experience in Serie A. The succession of data almost seems to reflect itself in all fundamentals. Significant improvements in terms of aerial duels won per game- we go from 2 to 3 on average over the 90 ‘- in addition to the losses linked to the discipline, where we are witnessing a halving of the seasonal yellow cards, passing from 8 to 4. Tomiyasu has put aside the shyness of his rookie years, working on the weak points and perfecting his already known technical and tactical characteristics: Tomiyasu is no longer just a pleasant Japanese surprise in Serie A.

How did Takehiro Tomiyasu end up at Arsenal?

Bologna, however, ended up being a stepping stone to more prestigious shores, as in fact, it was with the transfer of the Japanese to Arsenal in the summer of 2021 for a figure close to 20 million euros.

The transition to the Gunners took place on the last day of the transfer market when the championship had already begun. The player arrived in England in one of the worst moments of the Arteta management and in general of Arsenal’s recent history: after the first three days of the Premier League, the Londoners were last with zero points in the standings. 

The defensive problems were evident, for a team that seemed completely in disarray and where the ghosts of a very complicated season like the past one were seen again. After the September break, the Spanish coach decided to take the path of new life coming from the London transfer campaign. Tomiyasu on the right and Ben White – arrived from Brighton for an impressive 58 million euros – could be seen in the new rear guard in the middle, with Gabriel and Tierney completing the package.

Looking at the first movements of the Japanese on the Emirates lawn, one of the fundamentals of the native of Fukuoka re-emerges is his ability to transform and adapt from a tactical point of view to safeguarding the goodness of his performance. A concept that dates back to the beginning of his career, when at Sint-Truiden he grew up as third on the right in a three-man defense, before making his debut with Japan as a central and learning the dictates of four in the Bologna jersey.

Arteta immediately realized that he has a real defensive wild card in front of him, skilled with both feet and gifted with excellent football intelligence despite his minimal European experience. In the 3-2-5 in the setting phase, Tomiyasu acts as a blocked full-back, thus allowing the equal role of the opposite side – Tierney or Tavares in the circumstance – to free themselves for greater offensive propensity. On some occasions of power play, he can even be seen alongside the two in midfield, in a sort of 2-3-5 that guarantees further solutions in the goal area.

A position that for many may seem irrational, made possible, however, by his aforementioned ability in ball retrieval, combined with a good top speed in defensive transition races. Arteta trusts a lot of his professionalism and chooses to risk even the eventual one-on-one in the restart. 

Words of praise for Tomiyasu were obviously not lacking and came directly from the voice of the former deputy of Pep Guardiola, truly impressed by the performance of his “hybrid player”: ” I am very happy to have him, first of all as a man, he is truly a great person. He is doing all the right things, he is a great professional and he is offering us a lot of composure in the rear, thanks to the way he defends and understands the work we want to do with him,” said Arteta.

How has Takehiro Tomiyasu impacted Arsenal?

After those three frightening initial defeats, that is, since he first set foot on the pitch, Arsenal has never lost a match, starting – at the time of writing – a row of 9 consecutive useful results – 7 wins and 2 draws. A fundamental roadmap for the rise from the bottom of the standings and which gives morale to a group that is finally cohesive with the ideas of its coach.

The project can only be good for the technical growth of a Tomiyasu placed at the center of the Arteta course and never as in this case is it necessary to cling to the American ‘ Trust the Process ‘. The work in the field of the Japanese footballer represents at best a design in which, once again, it is the need to pull the best virtues or qualities inherent in the human soul, enhanced by the professionalism and practical application. On the other hand, nothing else could be expected from the mother of inventions.

Bologna days

Bologna was a critical part of the professional career of Takehiro Tomiyasu, who at just 20 years old is ready to amaze again in a new country and has a suitcase full of dreams. On the green lawn, he is never afraid, because if you have played football on two continents and in three different nations so young, obviously you have something special, more special than the simple desire to leave the safety of the motherland to discover the world from another point of view. Pure courage is that of the Japanese, the desire to get involved right away. The choice of him seems trivial, but it is not for everyone; in fact, consider that in Europe, fans are not lenient and inclined to wait for the flourishing of the talent of people coming from distant countries, in which the football tradition is less developed, as in the case of Japan itself.

Why is Takehiro Tomiyasu known as “The Samurai”?

Tomiyasu often shows excellent dexterity (relative to the ability to first control and manage the ball), a rare if not unique quality for a player born as a central defender. The native of Fukuoka also seems to be characterized by an ability to quickly react to the actions that develop on the green lawn and to all the stresses that may occur within the playing field, as well as by a dynamic (and in flight) equilibrium that can be improved over time but already quite thick, on his way to becoming a Samurai if football.

Physical condition

Probably thanks to his dominant physique, Tomiyasu does not have a high frequency of support and in the acceleration phase, one of his greatest strengths, he manages to present a good pace aided by a fairly long stride: this allows the Japanese defender to establish himself as a potentially very good player even at defending in the long run. This is the analysis of a footballer of tall stature (188 cm) and with a muscular structure that can be improved and therefore, at present, not excessively robust.

Technical-Tactical Considerations

In general, we can say that the young central defender is essentially a flexible player: in the J2 League (second Japanese football level) he played as a central defender but, sporadically, also in front of the defense, as a defensive midfielder is able to create some decent plays. In Belgium, he made his fortune, as well as in the national team, still in the role of central defender. In his short career, he had the opportunity to adapt to the 4-man defensive line of VV Sint-Truiden and the Japanese senior national team, as well as the opportunity to try his hand in defense at 3 of Japan U21, in which he did not disappoint playing the role of “right lateral defender”. Again in Belgium, but also in the preseason led by Sinisa Mihajlovic, the Asian defender has well interpreted the role of right back, in the jargon “right external defender”, showing a good ability to push which, however, does not make his positioning on the field dependent on being constantly on the sideline.

Playstyle

Tomiyasu, in fact, often loves to squeeze towards the center of the field, always being in the area of ​​the ball carrier, in order to be able to help manage possession. He has an uncanny loose ball management ability, associated with an improved (but well trained) ball control, and often performed even under pressure from the direct opponent. It is also useful to underline how he, a player yet to be discovered, always prefers the vertical or diagonal pass over the simple back pass qualities that make him a very interesting player,

Football is unpredictable and we do not know what Tomiyasu’s football path will be, one thing is certain: write his name, and we will probably hear about it.

Bologna

It was the 9th of July of this last crackling summer transfer session: Bologna, still unaware of the serious illness that would have hit its majestic leader, had long been projected into the exploration of an exotic football world, thanks to the great work produced by the Director of the technical area Walter Sabatini and the Emilian scouts. The rossoblu, on their official website, made it official that they had acquired the right to a young Asian footballer, the just twenty-year-old Takehiro Tomiyasu, a skilled foreigner from the fields of southern Japan. 

Tomiyasu made his debut, football wise, in the team of his hometown: the imposing Japanese defender, so distant but so fond of his homeland, stood out, in an original phase, right in the remote fields of Asia, a location still untouched by a more advanced football tactic, typical of the European continent. The first shots at the ball in childhood, then the first noteworthy plays with the youth teams of Avispa Fukuoka: a club that allowed that promising boy to reach the first team while still very young and able to play well in the 16/17 season. He had 35 appearances in the Japanese second division, all as a starter. 

If you add to this only 4 yellow cards and the first goal scored (decisive for the fate of the match against Roasso Kumamoto) at important levels, we could talk about the first phase, albeit primitive, of the football birth of a defender who, just of age, was already the starter and defensive leader in the team of his own city. The sporting dimension of the still immature Takehiro was not that, however, it was clear that he deserved more and his talent suddenly called out the foreign sirens. 

Tomiyasu’s first great choice was to leave his country of origin very young to enter not in the football that matters, but in the football that matters most (compared to the humble Japanese second division). A courageous but widely shared choice was that of the player who, in January 2018, was able to express his desire to grow in Belgium, thus subjecting himself to greater media attention.

This could not be a problem for someone who at just 18 had defended the colors of his city as a starter, disputing a noteworthy season. It was VV Sint-Truiden who offered space to the Japanese in the Jupiler Pro League, an opportunity not to be missed and that the current prospect of Italian football has seized on the fly. The first season was objectively difficult for Tomiyasu, probably the difficulties in adapting to the new pace of play initially slowed him down and forced him over and over again to follow the team that had just bought him for 800,000 euros from the bench, or even from the grandstand. 

A derisory figure for the football vision of that segment of Europe that makes football a sport to be venerated, a courageous investment on the part of the directors of the yellow and blue club. The analysis of the first failure of a defender as complete as he is young, however, would be superficial if reduced to that much, many factors certainly conditioned the initial performance of the Japanese who imposed himself with arrogance in the following season. 

It was the year 2018 that in fact crowned his splendid defensive skills: precise, punctual readings, master of an innate class. Above all, only 4 yellow cards and 1 goal, the same characteristic numbers of Tomiyasu’s first great season in Japan, a sign of destiny? 

Maybe yes, because it was a successful championship for the future Asian star, which made it possible to make a last big leap (a jump so long that it became a high-altitude flight) towards Italian football: probably the third great phase of Takehiro’s career, which is increasingly reflected in a real and high-profile player. A first welcome debut in the senior national team in a friendly against Panama had already arrived on 12 October 2018, for him who with his compatriots had already defeated Saudi Arabia in the final of the U19 Asian Cup in 2016. 

This is a match that sees the not-yet twenty-year-old leading the Japanese defensive line with a strong personality and without major headaches, the clash will in fact end 3-0 in favor of Tomiyasu’s team, with goals from Minamino, Ito, and the own goal of a Costa Rican defender who definitively sentenced the Ticos to a heavy defeat. In the back line of the 4, Tomiyasu flanked modest players, from full-backs to the other central defense, players who have so far imposed themselves only in their country. 

An exception must be made exclusively for Makino, an experienced defender originally from Hiroshima and with a less glorious past in the ranks of Cologne, with just 8 appearances in the Bundesliga.

Takehiro Tomiyasu’s story with Bologna has reached its end credits. The Japanese defender is ready to leave the rossoblù club after two seasons to start a new adventure in the Premier League: the ’98 class will be a new player at Arsenal. Agreement found in the late morning of Tuesday 31 August at the end of a decisive meeting in London between Tomiyasu’s agent and the English club: the Gunners will pay 20 million euros plus 3 bonuses into the coffers of Bologna. Despite the departure of the Japanese, the rossoblùs do not plan to buy a new defender in these last hours of the transfer market. 

Purchased in the summer of 2019 for 7 million by the Belgians of Sint-Truiden, Tomiyasu immediately imposed himself in Bologna becoming an immovable fixture of Mihajlovic’s team, who has always focused on him using him as a right winger in a back four but also as a central defender. In the two seasons with the rossoblu the Japanese made a total of 64 appearances, also scoring 3 goals and serving 3 assists in Serie A. For Takehiro Tomiyasu, a new adventure awaits in England, with the legendary Arsenal FC at Emirates Stadium.

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