Take Kubo is thrilling all of LaLiga, except those who overlooked him

Most of you will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that at the tender age of 22, Takefusa Kubo is already with the eighth club of his fledgling career.

Just about any footballer with that kind of career will likely be a journeyman, forced into a nomadic lifestyle because of a cursed or problematic attitude, persistently failing to fulfil potential or by bouncing around the bottom end of the transfer market where clubs barter for guys like kids used to swap bubblegum cards. Not Kubo, though; anyone who’s been watching him these past 13 months will already know he’s pulling on the blue and white kit of the club in which he was born to perform.

Second top of LaLiga‘s scoring charts; six man of the match awards this season, more than anyone else, including the mighty Jude Bellingham; as confident and technically adept as anybody in Spain; Real Sociedad‘s most important player; scorer in the Basque derby win at the weekend; and the single clearest, most exciting icon of La Real‘s thrilling playing style. Last month with Japan, he became the youngest player ever to give register two assists against Germany in an historic 4-1 away win.

This 5-foot-6 dynamo of skill, daring and energy is, without question, very special, but here’s his list of “been there, didn’t last” clubs: Barcelona, FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos, Real Madrid, Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe.

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Sure, the reasons for him being underplayed, undervalued and even undermined vary — with current Aston Villa manager Unai Emery, when at Villarreal, being one of the main culprits — but the hard fact is that when Kubo reached the beautiful Basque city of San Sebastian in summer 2022, his mind was dominated by anxious, gloomy thoughts. “The club told me that they’d scouted me for quite a long time and so I thought I probably wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms given that I’d chosen to go elsewhere,” he told Noticias de Gipuzkoa.

After being presented as a Real Sociedad signing, he was asked by a local radio station, “When you’re not playing football, what’s your favourite thing to do?” The witty Japan international replied, “I like to talk!”

By the time he finished his first season with the club last June (a campaign in which his nine goals ten assists earned La Real UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in ten years), he did talk. At length … to the local radio station when they gave him their listeners’ player of the season award.

Kubo admitted that he’d given himself a really stern talking-to last summer and decided to regard his move to Spain’s most beautiful city and the glorious Anoeta Stadium as his last chance to make it at a big club in Europe. “I told myself that this was the ‘last train’ and that I had to catch it,” he said.

Well … job done. His “last train” has turned into one of Japan’s famous bullet trains — spectacular, going in the right direction and often awesome to watch.

Not only is he making his €7.5 million transfer fee look ridiculous, but he’s making his €60 million release clause look comically low. Any one of a dozen Premier League clubs could afford that, and there’s not one club in any of Europe’s top five leagues that wouldn’t be improved by his presence.

Perhaps the best thing of all is that Kubo is not only crystal clear about where his improvement is coming from, he’s intent on maintaining the upward trajectory.

“The way this team plays isn’t just attractive for people who love football, it’s very advantageous for me and my fellow strikers,” he told local radio station Cadena SER. “You’re guaranteed three or four goal chances per match because we’re so attacking and so creative.

“Not all of them will be gilt-edged chances, but one will be very takable and the others will be opportunities of varying quality. My task has always been to finish more of them more regularly; to be clinical and cold-blooded about both my goals and my assists.”

It’s a back-to-the-future scenario, although, again, too few are conscious of this. While he was at Barcelona, having been spotted and incorporated into their youth academy before a badly thought-out FIFA ban forced him to return to Japan, he once scored 74 goals in 30 matches in a team containing both Ansu Fati and Eric García.

Back in the day, Kubo was already a natural scorer. It’s a notion that a wide variety of coaches — Vicente Moreno, Luis Garcia and Javier Aguirre at Mallorca, Emery at Villarreal and Jose Bordalas at Getafe — either didn’t know, didn’t trust or simply didn’t invest enough time and effort to discover. Clubs spend many hundreds of thousands of euros — sometimes millions — on scouting, youth recruitment and development, but each of those teams would give their eye teeth to have a sensational, immensely professional, difference-making starlet like Kubo on their books right now — as he was in each of the past two years.

That inability to identify the huge talent within their grasp, allowing him to slip through their fingers, was possibly partly due to the fact that he was on loan from Madrid. Here, Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti gets a free pass for two reasons. The manager walked in the door, a surprise recruit from Everton, just as Kubo was also returning from a loan at Mallorca, and there weren’t enough non-European Union spaces in the squad to accommodate the prodigy born in Kawasaki, 20 kilometres south of Tokyo.

The reason I highlight Emery’s folly is that he often spoke disparagingly about Kubo, with the implication being that playing him would leave Villarreal more vulnerable on the counterattack. It’s nonsense. “When you’re on loan, the coach can have one set of plans, you can have a different set, and the two can clash,” Kubo said to Noticias de Gipuzkoa. “It’s that simple.”

This shining star for Japanese football — followed everywhere by dozens of media from his homeland, who broadcast his every move and who were filming Kubo when his relentless pressing and tackling so annoyed Athletic Club left-back Yuri Berchiche that the 33-year-old twice slapped the La Real No. 14 in an attempt to get him to react violently and be sent off — loves to tackle and defend. He’s a guy who lives for the team, not a star who thinks the team should play for him.

“(Real Sociedad manager) Imanol [Alguacil] praises me but then immediately warns me ‘don’t relax, don’t drop your work rate or I’ll drop you,'” Kubo recently admitted. He also said he’d revelled in the raucous, aggressive way Getafe’s Bordalas had hammered home his “tackle, press and tackle again” mantra when Kubo was on their books: “A coach who made me much stronger mentally and defensively.”

Kubo is also someone who admits that if there were a pitch near his house, and he were allowed to, he’d head out there on his days off, desperate to be in a game with neighbourhood youths, just to get “on the ball.” That’s how much he loves his sport.

It’s part of why you should love Takefusa Kubo. Watch him whenever you can, he’ll thrill you — promise.


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