Kubo's Real Madrid move a bitter blow for Barcelona! 'Japanese Messi' finally set to shine in Spain
With a nickname like "the Japanese Messi", Takefusa Kubo has a lot to live up to.
Even more so now, with the one-time La Masia gem having signed for the Catalans' bitter rivals, Real Madrid.
Kubo was picked up by Barcelona at the age of 10 with the hope that he would blossom into a first-team star at Camp Nou, and perhaps even aid the transition into a post-Messi world.
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And yet he has spent the past three years back in his native Japan, largely hidden from the gaze of European football fans after he unwittingly became embroiled in the Blaugrana's transfer irregularities, and was de-registered when they were handed a transfer ban by FIFA in 2015.
"I wasn’t picked to play in games," he recalls of his final months in Spain during an exclusive interview with Goal.. "Although I wasn’t playing in games I still had to go to the matches, just watching my team-mates playing. They were winning the games but I couldn’t be totally happy.
"At first, I really didn’t want to come back [to Japan]," he continues. "I was so used to living there and also felt comfortable in the team, so I wondered ‘why?’.
"I made so many efforts to get used to living over there, and I was afraid that I had to do it all over again. However, despite my worries, I fitted into life in Japan very quickly when I was back, so that was good."
Fitting back into life is an understatement when it comes to football.
Having originally signed with FC Tokyo's youth team, he was quickly promoted to the senior squad. At the age of 15 years, five months and one day he became the youngest player in J.League history. Five months later, he added the youngest goalscorer in J.League history record to his list of honours.
Such records did not necessarily translate to regular first-team football, but an impression had been made.
A spell out on loan at Yokohama F. Marinos in 2018 offered him a further opportunity to train alongside and play against senior professionals, and he has this season become a regular in the FC Tokyo starting line-up.
His performances saw him named in Goal's NxGn list of the top 50 teenage talents on the planet in March and now he is perfectly primed to belatedly make an impact in Spain having joined Madrid.
Goal understands that Barca made a promise to Kubo that they would continue to follow his progress given he was the most talented of those who were forced to leave La Masia four years ago.
However, in a hammer blow for the Blaugrana, he is now bound for the Santiago Bernabeu, where he will initially form part of Madrid's Castilla squad, providing him with the perfect platform to settle back into life in Spain.
Kubo, though, is as ambitious as they come, and is, thus, aiming to establish himself at the very highest level as quickly as possible.
"When it comes to football, I always want to aim at the top," he says. "I am most looking forward to what I will do in the future myself, and intend to spare no effort for that.
"I look forward to seeing my potential, and try to climb up the ladder one step at the time, one by one.
"I am still incomplete. I don’t usually speak like this, but I’m still a 17-year-old player. There is much more to come. I must believe my future is bright, and do my best to grow further."
And while he now hopes to develop at Real, Kubo freely admits that the side he most enjoys watching right now is the one that succeeded the Blancos as European champions earlier this month.
"The team I think play the most interesting football is Liverpool," he admits. "I feel they are awesome when I watch their games. It’s not really to say they are my ‘favourite’, but more like ‘awesome’.
"I like fast and skilful players. All the big teams have these types of players, and when I watch them I feel they are awesome.
"I am not very fast, so I really like players who possess overwhelming speed. I also like Douglas Costa at Juventus too. Those players make me feel ‘Wow, awesome!’."
Awesome may well be the buzzword when it comes to describing Kubo in the not-too-distant future.
Following his transfer to Madrid, the next superstar of Asian football is set to become a lot more familiar to western audiences in the coming years – and not before time.