Thanks to me (maybe) Japan may have discovered a player capable of filling the troublesome No.9 spot…
I first had my suspicions a while back when Hiromi Hara seemed to be trailing me around the country. There was a spell when the JFA’s Technical Director was at every game I attended, and until I spotted him at Thespakusatsu v. Gainare Tottori I’d just assumed it was coincidence.
His appearance in Gunma, however, alerted me to the fact that he must be on my trail (why else would he be at Thespa-Tottori?) and I realized that as an intrepid foreign journalist covering the J.League my insights in this magazine and on twitter (@seankyaroru, for anyone not yet following) were obviously being picked up on in JFA House.
After initially playing it cool I decided to test the waters a couple of weeks ago during the Kashiwa Reysol-Cerezo Osaka game. While all around were (quite rightly) demanding Yoichiro Kakitani be drafted into the full national team I tweeted that Alberto Zaccheroni could do worse than calling Reysol striker Masato Kudo up for the games against Bulgaria and Australia.
And lo-and-behold, the 23-year-old was given just that chance.
Seeing as I was ahead of the curve I was able to get Kudo’s thoughts on his national team chances in the mixed zone after that game, and although he admitted to not having really thought about it too much he did seem confident he could compete in the international game.
“I don’t really have any image with regards to the national team as I haven’t been called up even once yet,” he said. “If I were to get the opportunity to represent Japan though of course I would be honoured.
“I always try to think positively. I have confidence that I can achieve good results at that level. Now I have that confidence and that has enabled me to produce good results in the J.League.”
His club coach, Nelsinho, was also full of praise when I asked if he thought his No.9 could be as effective for the national team.
“This year Kudo has changed – in a good way,” he began. “He’s been scoring goals in important games, he’s been leading from the front, and his hold-up play has really improved. Not only with regards to his goalscoring efforts but aspects that aren’t immediately apparent to the naked eye have also been contributing to the team. His technical level has been really eye-opening.”
Once the wheels had been set in motion Zac’s eyes were opened as well and he included Kudo in his 26-man squad a week later, along with Keigo Higashi (not one of my tips – Hara-san must have other advisors, too).
“I’ve said it many times already but I have a particular interest in young players who show improvement and also players who demonstrate to me that they are growing,” Zaccheroni explained.
“At the same time, I’ve also said that being called into the national team once doesn’t make you good enough to be a regular at international level. Players must continue to show improvement.
“[Kudo and Higashi] are not an exception to that. Until now these kind of players have been called up and not all of them have shown improvement. In terms of these two players, they are the ones who have shown improvement between when I was appointed as manager three years ago and now.
“Both of them are utility players who can play in several positions. I should also pay special mention to the fact that both of them are powerful and demonstrate their ability by aiming straight for the goal.”
That is certainly true of Kudo, and as Nelsinho suggested the striker has really come on in recent seasons. He has benefited especially by gaining vital experience in the ACL – which must have been part of Zaccheroni’s thinking – coping very well with the rough-and-tumble of that competition, not only shrugging off over-enthusiastic challenges on and off the ball but also scoring regularly to help his side to the quarter-finals unbeaten.
Of course the next step is the biggest to take but with nobody having made the Samurai Blue centre-forward role their own yet I see no reason why Kudo shouldn’t be given the chance to stake a claim with Brazil edging ever closer.