Youth aspirants across the world draw inspiration from Lionel Messi from afar, but Japanese youngster Takefusa Kubo has the rare opportunity to actually play against the iconic Argentine. Dubbed the “Japanese Messi”, the young attacker’s first contact with the Argentine legend dates back a decade when he was signed by Barca Aleví C, namely Barcelona’s U-11 youth team. Having spent five seasons there learning his trade, Kubo returned home to join FC Tokyo. Three years later, however, he made a high-profile move to Real Madrid and thus began his career in La Liga playing on loan for the likes of Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe. It was from there that Kubo, who has long regarded Messi as his all-time idol, had the opportunity of playing against the Argentine superstar. Notably, he impressed in a league match between Mallorca and Barcelona in 2019, where he earned plaudits despite being on the wrong end of a 5-2 scoreline. “In the past, I was just watching him (Messi) play on TV,” the 20-year-old winger told “But now when I have the opportunity of playing against him on the same pitch, I can see up close how great a player he is. I really wish I can become a player like him, a player that every single person can watch and admire.” How far away Kubo is from such a lofty ambition remains to be seen. Having spent the past two seasons in La Liga, however, the progress he has made is evident. “One of the reasons why La Liga attracts me so much is because I feel I can express my strengths in Spanish football,” he continued. “The pass just comes to the right space when I start thinking I want it, and we’re sharing the same vision and ideas. “The competition is of a high level and there’s a lot to learn. It’s thought-provoking football, and I feel that by playing hard here, I’m developing day by day.”

Takefusa Kubo fact file Date of birth: 4 June 2001 Current club: Real Madrid (Getafe on loan) Honours: FIFA U-17 World Cup Round of 16: 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup Round of 16: 2017 UEFA Europa League: 2020/21 UEFA La Liga Revelation Team of the Year: 2019/20 International emergence Kubo’s form at international level is all the more impressive. He burst onto the scene in Asian qualifying for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, managing to score four times to propel Japan into the global showpiece. He went on to excel at India 2017, scoring once as Japan reached the second round. That year also saw him achieve a rare double by also playing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic as Japan again made the Round of 16. Two years ago, Kubo earned his first senior cap against El Salvador. Last November he joined Japan’s training camp in the Netherlands and impressed in a pair of friendlies. Most recently, he was selected into Japan’s squad for the Man’s Olympic Football Tournament. “I feel proud to be able to play for my own country, when I play against the strongest opponents from around the world. I will fight and try my best.”

Olympic goals Kubo showed a glimpse of his genius in a recent friendly against Argentina’s U-23 side, providing two assists as Japan ran out impressive 3-0 winners. Japan went on to rout Ghana and Jamaica 6-0 and 4-0 respectively in results that suggest the home side will be a major threat at the fast-looming Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. “We feel we are making progress during our preparation for the Olympic Games,” he said. “As a team, it is good that we have made our defence solid and kept cleansheets. This allows us to perform well in attack through good combinations.” With Tokyo 2020 just around the corner, Kubo has a notable role model in swimming icon Kosuke Kitajima, who won breastroke gold medals at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. “I watched the Olympics on TV as a child and there are many athletes who have vividly remained in my memory, such as Kosuke Kitajima. Looking at their feats I would like to think again the meaning of being part of the Olympic Games. “For me, first of all, it’s important that I contribute to the team’s winning. I also want to keep good results individually and at the same time, I want to make a good support so that the players around me can perform well. We will prepare well for the first match and hopefully finish the tournament with a big smile.”

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