This story first appeared in the August edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Takuma Asano is a young man in a hurry. The 21-year-old Japanese forward, who joined the Gunners last month, has won two J.League titles in his three years at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, yet he knew that to reach the level he aspires to he had to play abroad – and when Arsenal came calling he jumped at the chance.
Although it’s highly likely Takuma will initially be sent out on loan to gain experience of the European game, Arsène Wenger is in no doubt about his ability. “What I see in him is the quality of his runs, his pace, his body strength,” the manager told us. “He is quite aggressive and you do not find many players today who go behind defenders at every opportunity, and that is one of his strengths. Overall, I must say that I personally am a strong believer in him.”
With that endorsement ringing in his ears, Asano sat down with the Official Magazine for his first interview as an Arsenal player. Takuma, welcome to Arsenal.
How do you feel about signing for the club?This really is a big club. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.
What do you admire most about this club? Firstly, this is a huge club on a global level and I want to learn by putting myself in this tough environment. This is one of the best clubs in the world and obviously I’m attracted by that.
What do you think this move means for your career? This sort of experience doesn’t come around too often but I’m not only here to gain experience. I’m here to challenge and gain experience by actually playing in games. So I will do my best to achieve that.
When describing yourself as a footballer, what is your best quality? Pace is my biggest strength, then movement by using my pace. I feel goals are what are expected of me, too. I want to improve these qualities in the team even further and hope I’ll be able to express myself.
How well-known are Arsenal in Japan? If you know football, you know Arsenal. I don’t really watch football played outside Japan but of course I knew Arsenal. That’s how well-known the club is.
Who’s your all-time favourite Arsenal player? When I was growing up, Thierry Henry had the biggest impact as an Arsenal player. I’m a forward so of course I liked his style of play. As a player, there are so many things I could learn from him.
You are the third Japanese player to wear the Arsenal shirt after Junichi Inamoto and Ryo Miyaichi. How much do you know about their records here? Unfortunately they couldn’t leave as big an impact as they’d have liked. It must be very difficult to become successful at this club but I’ve come here to try it myself.
Your Jaguar goal celebration is well-known in Japan. How did it come about? One of the media staff at Sanfrecce Hiroshima first started calling me ‘Jaguar’. Then supporters found out and put Jaguar banners out for me. I decided to do the Jaguar celebration when I scored a goal, and as I started scoring more goals people in Japan started to know about it, too. Now fans expect me to do it every time I score.
We have Keisuke Honda at AC Milan and Shinji Okazaki at Leicester as prominent Japanese attackers playing Europe. Who do you look up to or aspire to be? Shinji Okazaki plays in the same position as me and is also very successful in the Premier League, so he is the one that I aspire to become. I hope to get closer to him as a player.
Do you remember any particular moment from Okazaki’s performances? When Shinji scores, it’s always broadcast in Japan. When he scores, I can hear the supporters roaring and that made a big impression on me. It’s not only that – when I play for Japan with those who play in Europe, I can feel how great these players are. So I hope to hear the roar before sharing my joy with the supporters!
How much footballing talent do you think there is in Japan at the moment? I feel each individual Japanese player has a great deal of quality and it’s important to get experience abroad and understand the level of football outside Japan. Once they know world football and have improved themselves it will help the national team. I don’t think we’ve reached world level yet. So, from my generation, all the players who will become the core of the national side should play abroad and gain vital experience to improve as a team.
What are the highlights of your career? In terms of the number of people who saw it, it was the goal I scored in the Asian qualifiying final for the Olympics. Of course, I have goals I scored in the J-League that were memorable. But for me to get onto the world stage that goal in the final was huge.
You’ve won trophies and titles since you were at youth level but did winning things come naturally to you?I wasn’t always a football elite, but what I always try to do is give 100 per cent. I’ve won titles in a team and won awards as an individual because I’ve always given my best. While it is important to have titles as your target, you can only achieve those grand goals if you take it one step at a time. I won those awards without realising. I hope I will be able to play in the same manner, meaning that I will not look too far ahead and take things as they come.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima only started winning league titles after you’d arrived, and then won three times in four seasons – the supporters must love you there! They supported me a lot and I could feel what they expected of me. But I wasn’t the reason we won these titles – it happened because each player did their best and committed 100 per cent. Everyone at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, including the manager, works in the same way and that is the key strength of the team. That was what I learnt from Hiroshima and I really appreciate it.
You won the J-League’s Young Player of the Year award in 2015. How did you feel about it? I think a lot of famous players have won the award… Takashi Usami, for example. Players who have won the award before are also those who are trying to play in Europe and they tend to be doing well even now. I feel young players should aim for this award. It was one of my goals to achieve and I worked so hard for it. To win it gave me more confidence.
Did you always want to come to Europe? And do you think your style of play is suited to the Premier League? I always wanted to come to Europe since I turned professional. I felt that to play football at a higher level would be a good thing for me. So, yes, I always had that ambition in mind.
Have you ever come to the UK before? No, this is my first time!
Your first professional club was Sanfrecce Hiroshima but you moved 500km to join them. How did that come about? I joined their training session at one point and when I got an offer from them I felt the club was a good environment in which to improve. The players were very nice and warm, the supporters were very nice too, and my instinct told me to play for the club.
Arsène Wenger coached in Japan in the past, so how is he rated back at home? I never saw him in Japan but I feel fortunate to be able to play under such a great manager.
Do people still talk about Arsène Wenger in Japan? Sure, his name is still often heard in Japan. I’m not the sort of player who knows the football world inside out yet even I knew his name from a very young age. For the Japanese it’s something to be proud of. A manager who used to coach in Japan is now the manager of this great club, so I think we have special affection for him.
You now play for Japan at senior level. What have you learned from the experience?I had only played in the J-League but, after being part of the national team, I realised I could play among those who play at world level. I could feel the challenging environment they must be in. When I looked at those players I could feel their toughness, physical strength, pace and everything else at first hand. It made me realise that I need to be better.
What are your goals at Arsenal in the short term and long term? Firstly, I will need to try my best every day to get the chance to play in first-team games. But just playing in the first team is not the goal, scoring goals and contributing to the team winning is my goal. As a team, I hope to win the league title and I also have a strong desire to win the Champions League. I will do my best to try to achieve these goals.
More quizzes coming soon!
Copyright 2022 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.