L-eight-est in a line of stars…

Cerezo Osaka’s latest No.8 is generating a lot of excitement in Japan – and quite rightly so…


You are usually left looking for the positives after a 0-0 draw, but when Cerezo Osaka’s recent game against Oita Trinita ended goalless it wasn’t hard to find the silver lining.

Yoichiro Kakitani was a joy to watch, and his every contribution exuded confidence and class.

He was at the heart of everything his side did going forwards, and the 23-year-old doesn’t so much run with the ball as glide. His awareness of the location of teammates and opponents was sensational, and one piece of play in particular, when he floated through the centre of the pitch, tore in behind the Oita backline and then dinked a glorious chip over Kenta Tanno which flew just a little too high, was worth the price of admission alone.

Not everyone was enamoured with that passage of play though, and after the match his coach Levir Culpi was ruing the fact that his star man hadn’t just put his foot through the ball.

“He made a mistake. It’s not the ball for a chip,” he said to me, before acting out the more direct shot Kakitani should have opted for.

The Brazilian knows he has a fantastic talent on his hands but is constantly demanding more.

“He is good. He has nice technique but he needs more numbers. Effectiveness. Goals, assists. Because he can do it.”

The expectations of these fans are now pinned on the latest No.8

Kakitani should listen to his coach as he has experience in these matters. Culpi was of course responsible for helping to nurture both Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake, and is unsurprised by the parallels being drawn between them and his current No.8.

“This is natural, it’s inevitable to compare them,” he said. “Shinji Kagawa is a good player because he did. This is the difference, he did. He’s a three-time champion now – two times with Borussia Dortmund and now Manchester [United]. He did. And he scored. He scored 30 goals, maybe, in J2, and he started [with seven] goals in J1 and then goes to Germany. The same in Germany. This is numbers. You need numbers. You play good it’s ok, but you need numbers to be the best.”

That is not to say he doesn’t think Kakitani has what it takes to replicate the success of his predecessors though, and he has sensed a marked improvement in both performances and results since he returned to the club as head coach last August.

“I think it’s possible because he gets better this year. Last year [too] getting better. But I think it’s possible because he has good technique. Speed, left and right [feet] ok. He knows how to score. He knows.”

Another key figure at the club who knows exactly what it takes to be successful is “Mr. Cerezo”, Hiroaki Morishima.

I bumped into the original No.8 in the tunnel at Kincho Stadium after speaking to Culpi and asked him what he felt about the aura he had created around the shirt.

Kakitani salutes the Cerezo fans ahead of the match with Oita Trinita, April 27th, 2013

“The players after me have achieved success,” he laughed, modestly. “I just happened to be the first one and after that the team is taking care of things well.”

Does he feel that Kakitani feels any pressure as the latest to follow in his not inconsiderable footsteps, though?

“Hmm, is there pressure? More than anything I think [the players] are just focused on getting good results. I’m sure Yoichiro feels the pressure of everyone’s expectations while playing but he seems to be enjoying that. And watching him from outside being able to do that is reassuring. Now number eight is Yoichiro’s number.”

That is certainly the case but if he keeps performing as well as he has been then it surely won’t be too long before Kakitani becomes the latest to vacate the shirt and head to Europe. His coach seemed to think that was a realistic target if he applied himself properly, and Morishima agreed – although he stressed that such things shouldn’t be rushed.

“I think now in the J.League we have been producing results. Maybe it’s best not to suddenly go overseas or be in a hurry, the timing is important.

“If he can focus on achieving results here then he will be able to continue onto the next step, I think.”

On that I think we are all agreed.


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