International defender Tomoaki Makino is the latest player to join a Japanese exodus to European clubs after the Blue Samurai’s impressive showing at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
The 23-year-old, due to play at the Asian Cup in Qatar later this month, has agreed to sign with Cologne, J-League club Sanfrecce Hiroshima said on their Web site.
He is expected to leave for Germany on tomorrow to undergo a medical checkup and sign a deal with the Bundesliga side before heading for Doha to prepare for the continental championship, Japanese media said.
The center-back, who did not play at the World Cup, will be the fifth Japanese player in the German top flight alongside Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Makoto Hasebe and Kisho Yano (Freiburg).
Of the group of five Japanese, only Hasebe was playing in the Bundesliga before South Africa, where Japan reached the World Cup last-16 for the first time on foreign soil.
Stuttgart are also reported to have offered a deal to Japan and Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki, who scored a goal in South Africa.
Hajime Hosogai reached an agreement on a transfer to Bayer Leverkusen last week and will be immediately farmed out to second division side Augsburg.
Japan’s 23-strong Asian Cup squad featured eight Europe-based players including CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Kagawa when coach Alberto Zaccheroni announced it last week.
The number will rise to 10 when Makino and Hosogai sign formal deals with their new clubs.
“I have been inspired as I watched how players of my generation like Nagatomo, Uchida and Kagawa change after moving abroad,” Makino told Japanese media. “I don’t want to be outdone by them.”
In other post-World Cup transfers, defender Yuto Nagatomo moved to Serie A Cesena from FC Tokyo and midfielder Akihiro Ienaga signed with Spain’s Real Mallorca from Gamba Osaka.
Last month Mallorca signed Ienaga on a contract until 2015 but the 24-year-old must initially go out on loan because the club have already filled their quota of three non-EU players in their squad.
Mallorca vice president Lorenzo Serra Ferrer told a news conference at the player’s presentation on Thursday, attended by around 60 journalists including some 30 Japanese, that the club had had several offers, from Spain and abroad.
“There is also a possibility that we will loan him to a top second-division team, not because we don’t have faith in the quality of the player but because it is not in our interest to strengthen our rivals [in the first division],” he said.
“As well as the Spanish league, there is also interest from Netherlands and Germany,” he said. “We’ll see at the right time, there is nothing decided.”
Ienaga is the second Japanese player to join Mallorca, following in the footsteps of Yoshito Okubo who played at the Balearic Island club between 2005 and 2007.
“My first choice would be to play for Mallorca but I have confidence in the club and in Lorenzo and I won’t worry too much about the decisions,” Ienaga said. “I will work.”
“Japanese players are very quick and have a good technique,” said Mallorca’s Danish coach Michael Laudrup, who has played in Japan’s top division, the J-League.
“To go to Spain will help him to improve as this championship is much more demanding,” he said. “It’s what Mallorca wants at the moment, players who can do something now and in future too.”
Serra Ferrer described Ienaga as player who is “technically very good, who is good with either foot, a great passer, accurate and fast”.
He denied that the signing was a move by the club to enter the Asian market.
“Our first objective is to football, but if through this contract the club becomes better known in Asia, then so much the better,” the former Barcelona coach said.
Apart from Okubo, three other Japanese have played in La Liga, with little success — Shoji Jo at Real Valladolid in 1999-2000, Akinori Nishizawa at Espanyol in 2001 and Shunsuke Nakamura also at Espanyol from 2009 to last year.
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