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J.LEAGUE PREVIEW: Shibasaki’s star continues rapid rise

Gaku Shibasaki is now fully established in the Kashima Antlers starting eleven, and is aiming for even more progress this year. Ahead of the season I spoke to the Japan international about his goals for 2015…

The Japan News, Friday 5th March, 2015

Last year was a landmark season for Gaku Shibasaki, with the Kashima Antlers midfielder an ever-present force for his club and making his long-awaited national team debut.

The 22-year-old was labeled world class by Javier Aguirre during his brief tenure as Samurai Blue coach — praise which followed a glowing tribute from his former boss Jorginho, who once described Shibasaki as the best young player he had ever coached or played with.

But the Aomori native is not resting on his laurels and is targeting more success in 2015.

“It is always nice when people hold you in high regard, but personally I think I have to improve even more,” he told The Japan News ahead of the season.

“Of course, it’s important if other people rate you, but I have to keep evaluating myself. I have to have a proper awareness of where I stand in order to be able to become a player who can play at a higher level.”

He demonstrated such potential at the Asian Cup, coming off the bench in the quarterfinal against the UAE, changing the dynamic of the game and equalizing to send the match into extra time. It was one of the few bright spots for Japan in a disappointing campaign.

That wasn’t his only contribution, however. In just over an hour, he took five shots, created five chances and completed 93 percent of his passes — as well as scoring his penalty in the shootout that Japan would go on to lose.

Gaku Shibasaki

“I absolutely grew [as a result of the Asian Cup],” the 2012 J.League young player of the year said. “I became aware of the things that I am lacking by just playing in Japan, which I guess you could say is a fairly limited country. Having the chance to play against international opposition is not an opportunity I’ve had often, so that was one of those things.”

He’ll have more chances to test himself against foreign teams this season, with Kashima having returned to the Asian Champions League for the first time since 2011.

“They have a higher level of intensity than Japanese teams, as well as good quality and physical strength,” he said of Antlers’ continental opponents.

When accepting his young player award in 2012, Shibasaki referenced the difference he sensed in his level and that of the top players in the world. He believes that divide has narrowed but still exists.

“I think that with regards to that gap, I have been able to improve. Now I think I am closer to the world level than I was before, but I am not satisfied with where I am and have to keep aiming to reach a higher level.

“I don’t know when I will achieve success in that respect, but I will keep striving to improve until I do.”

He ultimately has his sights set on Europe, and is also confident he can become a national team regular.

“I want to be standing there on the pitch as one of the starting 11,” he said.

“I personally believe I am the type of player who can do that, so have to work properly to achieve it.”

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