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Long read: Tomiyasu's road to north London

Takehiro Tomiyasu playing against Leicester City

Takehiro Tomiyasu’s instant acclimatisation to life at Arsenal should perhaps come as no surprise – after all, adapting to new cultures and surroundings is nothing new for the Japan international.

Tomi was still a teenager when he took the decision to leave his home in Fukuoka, Japan’s second-largest port city, and head for Europe. His destination was Limburg, home of Belgian top-flight side, Sint-Truiden.

Moving at such a young age can be a daunting experience – especially across continents – but Tomi was steely in his determination to make the move work. After all, he had a dream to realise.

“I want to become a special player in Belgium,” Tomi explained to HVBL.be shortly after joining Sint-Truiden. “I do dream of playing in the Premier League one day. I played against England Under-18s with Japan. That match opened my eyes. That’s when I realised I had to move if I wanted to get to the next level.

“Communicating is the hardest part. Everyone is nice to me, but I only understand a few words. It’s difficult to understand what is being said in training but, actually, the training sessions are more difficult for me than the matches, but I’m taking English lessons.”

Fast-forward a couple of years and Tomi’s English is near-perfect. It speaks volumes for our defender’s application, attitude and willingness to learn that, in the intervening time, he also picked up Italian during his stint with Bologna.

Takehiro Tomiyasu playing for Bologna

By the time he was 22, Tomi had already realised his Premier League dream – via stints in the top division in Japan, Belgium and Italy.

As a child, Tomi initially looked set to follow in the footsteps of his older sisters and join a swimming club. But that all changed when schoolteacher, Kanji Tsuji, visited the apartment blocks in which the Tomiyasu family resided.

Tomi was playing in the hallway, where he was spotted by Tsuji. His speed left the teacher stunned. Tsuji urged Tomi’s parents to take him to a local football club. They obliged, sending him to Sanchiku Kickers’ school programme, where Tsuji was a coach.

"There was probably no-one in Fukuoka who had the legs to catch up with him."

“It was a running style that I had never seen before,” Tsuji told Sponichi. “It was like the wind. I had a hunch that maybe he would grow taller... when I let him dribble, there was probably no-one in Fukuoka who had the legs to catch up with him.”

Tomi shone under Tsuji’s guidance, his speed and composure on the ball already setting him apart from the rest. Even at such a young age, Tomi’s ambitions for the future were clear. When asked to describe his dreams for the future at his elementary school graduation, the answer came almost instantly. “I want to become a professional football player,” he responded emphatically.

“I always wanted to win every game,” Tomi explains to the matchday programme. “I wanted to beat my opponent every single time I faced them. It was always an aim of mine to be a professional football player but for me it was just about winning every duel and each game.

Takehiro Tomiyasu lining up for Japan in 2018

“I don’t think I was a special talent or anything like that. I was just a regular, normal player. But my focus was on winning each duel and each match.

“My parents helped me a lot when I was young, especially when it came to football. If you want to play football, you need to have that support. When I went to matches, they would always be there, watching and supporting me. Plus they would take me everywhere and always bring me home, too. I had a lot of support from them and, when I look back on it now, that made a very big difference for me.

“When I was young, I learned a lot of things. If you want to be a great footballer, you have to be a great person – also away from football. You need to be humble all the time and you need to learn from your team-mates as much as you can.”

Tomi’s parents were an inspiration for our No 18 from a young age. And now, another positive influence is helping to shape his career in England.

“Mikel Arteta is the best manager I’ve ever had,” Tomi says. “He’s done a lot for me – on the pitch and off it too. Of course he helps me improve my game, along with the rest of the staff. He’s such an intelligent person. He knows absolutely everything about football and the game’s structure. He gives you a really clear picture of what you need to do – and I’m really learning a lot from him.

Takehiro Tomiyasu and Mikel Arteta in training

“He’s helped develop my game but I really appreciate how he has helped me away from the pitch, too. I was so disappointed when I got injured last season, but Mikel spoke to me a lot and helped me through that time. 

“Sometimes you have tough times in football – and being injured is always really difficult. It was a tough period for me but having support from inside the club made a big difference. It wasn’t just Mikel – my team-mates were there for me and so were the coaching staff.

“When you get that level of support and love it really inspires you to give your absolute best for the club. Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in the world and I think everyone is determined to be a success. It’s a good environment here as a player.

"Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs around and I know I’m going to grow a lot here"

“When I received the offer from the club last summer, I didn’t really think about it before deciding to join. I didn’t really speak to my family or friends before making my decision. I had zero doubts – Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs around and I know I’m going to grow a lot here. I’m really happy to be at the club and I hope to stay for as long as I can. This year I just want to make sure I’m available all season to help the team as much as possible.”

Having the support of the Arsenal supporters has acted as an additional motivating factor for Tomi. “When you play well, the crowd really respond to that,” he says. “You can feel their excitement and that makes it important to give them our absolute everything from the first minute. We respond to them and they respond to us, so it works well.

“Emirates Stadium is my favourite stadium to play in. I also really like Best Denki Stadium. It’s the ground of Avispa Fukuoka, the club I started my career with. I grew up there and have a lot of really good memories in that stadium too. It’s pretty different from the Emirates but is also a special place for me. The atmosphere there is always top.

“When I play at the Emirates, I always feel our supporters behind us and they really give us a lot of energy to take three points in every game.”

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