The globalisation of football is a fact of life. We watch multi-national teams that somehow manage to sign who they want regardless of any labour laws. The UK’s major clubs have been spreading their wings for years, embarking on money-spinning tours that enable, for example, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, to build their “brand” in Asia Pacific.
Yet there have been only 23 players from China, Japan and South Korea to have played in the English Premier. Not many have been successful, possibly because of the physical demands of the EPL, but not necessarily because of technique. Culture may have something to do with it.
Only six have come from Japan: Junichi Inamoto (Arsenal, Fulham, WBA); Shinji Kagawa (Man.United); Ryo Miyaichi (Bolton, Wigan, Arsenal); Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton); Kazuyuki Toda (Tottenham); and Maya Yoshida (Southampton).
The news that Chelsea are interested in FC Tokyo’s Yoshinori Muto comes just a month after the Blues announced a new shirt sponsorship deal with Japanese tyre manufacturer, Yokohama Rubber. The deal is worth £ 40m a year. Coincidence, eh? The 22 year-old Japan international striker has started the new J-League season in good form, scoring three goals for FC Tokyo in four games, including two on the opening day of the season against reigning champions Gamba Osaka. He has promise and he’s versatile.
But what chance Muto? If he moves to Chelsea, how will he establish himself in a squad that already includes players struggling to make the breakthrough. There is talk that he will go straight out on loan to Chelsea’ Dutch “satellite”, Vitesse Arnhem. What’s the point?
The cynics will suggest that Chelsea’s move is all about commercial opportunity. If Muto relocates to London, even if it is the part of London in the Netherlands, interest in Chelsea will rocket in the world’s most intense consumer market. The “brand” will gain fresh impetus. Muto has just graduated from Keio University with an Economics degree. He may understand this better than most!
Japanese football fans take a great interest in their overseas-based players, so expect shirt sales to shift and TV rights to soar. And if that happens, the signing of Muto – at £4m – will be a snip.