Takefusa Kubo was predicted for greatness after entering Barcelona’s academy at the age of 10, and the Japanese offensive midfielder now seems to be on track to fulfill his promise by storming the Asian Cup.
The 22-year-old, who was originally signed by Real Madrid, has settled in at Real Sociedad this season, scoring six goals and helping the club finish first in their Champions League group.
His impressive showing has led to speculation that he may join Manchester United.
Kubo had a little role in the 2022 World Cup, but he is poised to take center stage when Japan returns to Qatar for the Asian Cup, which begins on Friday.
With Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma expected to miss the first few months of the season due to injury, Kubo’s ability to break down defenses will be essential.
“I hope he can be one of the players who leads the team to victory,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said.
“He plays for Real Sociedad in the Champions League and the Spanish league, and he is the foundation of their attack.”
“I want him to keep playing that way when he joins up with the national team.”
Kubo has carried the dreams and expectations of Japanese supporters since he left his hometown of Kawasaki as a kid to attend Barcelona’s renowned La Masia program.
He was called “the Japanese Messi,” but he was forced to depart after Barcelona was handed a two-year transfer ban in 2015 for violating FIFA rules on recruiting junior players.
Kubo joined FC Tokyo and played in the J-League until the age of 18, when he signed a six-year deal with Real Madrid.
He was immediately loaned out to Mallorca and moved around a number of Spanish teams until signing a permanent contract with Sociedad in 2022.
– Dance it out –
Kubo has flourished at San Sebastian, captivating fans with his hypnotic dribbles and wicked sense of humor.
He is well-known for his candid post-match interviews, which he delivers in a talkative and happy Spanish.
And he enjoys himself on the field, as seen by his celebration of a recent score against Athletic Bilbao by seeming to pull up hurt before bursting out into a “twerk” dancing motion.
“This is a club that suits my style — lots of skilful players, lots of talent, people who play the ball,” Kubo was cited by The Guardian as saying.
“That’s very attractive for a player of my profile.”
Manchester United are apparently interested in signing Kubo, with Brazilian winger Antony potentially heading in the other direction.
The Asian Cup will allow Kubo to show off his skills, with Japan favorites to win the title for the sixth time.
Kubo made his international debut five days after turning 18 and has since gained 29 caps for his country.
However, he only appeared in two games in the 2022 World Cup, starting against Germany and Spain.
He was replaced at halftime with Japan losing in both games, only for his teammates to fight back and earn historic victories.
With a sickness, Kubo missed Japan’s last-16 defeat to Croatia.
Moriyasu believed Kubo was too inexperienced to compete in the 2019 Asian Cup, which Japan lost in the final against Qatar.
The coach feels he is “a different player than he was at 18” this time around.
“He’s really looking forward to this competition,” Moriyasu remarked.
“I want him to give it his all.”