Cerezo Osaka star and Japan international Yoichiro Kakitani spoke of his enthusiasm on his recently-announced move to Basel in a press conference on Wednesday. Afterwards, one of the Samurai Blue's most exciting attackers spoke exclusively with Cesare Polenghi, chief editor of Goal Japan, about the new adventure that awaits in Europe.
Cesare Polenghi: How old were you when you started thinking about playing overseas?
Yoichiro Kakitani: When I was in fourth or fifth grade. I'd watch Real Madrid on TV and thought that European football was incredible.
Polenghi: Basel are a great club. They've won five straight domestic titles and are constantly appearing in the Champions League. They've beaten Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the past. Why did you choose to go there?
Kakitani: Last year they beat Chelsea home and away as well. They're clearly a top club, yet some ask why I should go to Switzerland instead of a more well-known league. I'll be able to play in the Champions League, and I don't have any doubts about joining a club looking to win their sixth straight title.
Polenghi: You've already visited Switzerland once, what was your impression of the place?
Kakitani: It happened to be raining which was disappointing, but everyone was very kind during my medical check and it felt very at home.
Polenghi: In Italy it's said to be a good omen if rain falls when something begins, like at a wedding or in a player's first appearance. It might be a good sign! What were your impressions of the club?
Kakitani: Since making the decision I've researched the team's players and also the style of play in the league. Of course the important thing is that Paulo Sousa will manage Basel this season. Those around my age are familiar with him; I think he'll create an even more attractive team.
Polenghi: Did you meet him?
Kakitani: He was very stylish! He's got short hair these days and he looked cool. He talked about his style of football and how he wanted the team to play, and that he didn't want to play defensively just because the opponent was stronger, and that resonated with my ideas.
Polenghi: What languages does he speak?
Kakitani: He spoke in English, Portuguese, Spanish... apparently he knows five languages.
Polenghi: He's also played in Italy and managed in England. And you speak...
Kakitani: [Western Japanese dialect] Osaka-ben!
Polenghi: How do you plan on communicating?
Kakitani: I want to learn English, not just to use while playing but also so I can make friends with my team-mates. I want to speak English as well as I speak Japanese, not just basic conversation. I'm being assigned a daily private tutor, and I'll ask my interpreter to speak to me in English as much as possible.
Polenghi: Have you received any advice from other Japanese players who are playing abroad?
Kakitani: I've been told that I'll understand just how convenient Japan is. Things I've come to take for granted won't be there anymore and I'll have to deal with some tough situations, but once I get used to that I'll enjoy playing the game. They've said I'll finally be able to show my potential.
Polenghi: Is there anything you're particularly worried about, or looking forward to?
Kakitani: I'm not worried about football. If anything driving will be intimidating. They drive on the opposite [right] side of the road, so I'm most concerned about that! I'm looking forward to playing at St. Jakob-Park.
Polenghi: [Young Boys attacker] Yuya Kubo has played in Switzerland for the past year; have you talked to him?
Kakitani: Not yet. We played against each other [in the J-League's second division] when I was at Tokushima Vortis and he was with Kyoto Sanga. I hope I'll get a chance to talk to him soon.
Polenghi: Have you talked to other Japanese players in Europe about your physical upkeep?
Kakitani: Everyone's got bigger, so I'm going to have to bulk up too.
Polenghi: What responsibilities do you feel as a J-League player?
Kakitani: It's up to J-League players to help make the league more exciting, so part of me feels bad for going overseas at a time like this. But I made this decision because it's my dream to play at that level.
Polenghi: J-League fans are very kind and almost feel like family; are you afraid of European supporters?
Kakitani: No, because I'm from Osaka (laughs) Cerezo and Gamba supporters are the scariest! I'm shocked at some of the shouts I hear in Kansai-ben!
Polenghi: What about pressure from the media? Japanese media rarely ask negative questions, but foreign journalists are quick to criticise and name names.
Kakitani: I'm not afraid of that; I'm almost looking forward to hearing what they'll say.
Polenghi: Some called you immature when you were younger; do you think you've changed?
Kakitani: I don't think I've changed that much. I've become more responsible, and I've got better at understanding my situation, but back then I simply loved playing football and I haven't forgotten that. I am what I am now because of what I was then.
Polenghi: You improved tremendously after you returned from Tokushima Vortis.
Kakitani: I enjoyed playing for Cerezo my first year back. Last year was my best season yet.
Polenghi: You've struggled this season; how has that affected you?
Kakitani: The last six months have had a lot of negatives, but I've personally experienced many positives as well.
Polenghi: Have you thought about coming back to Cerezo after you've won some trophies in Europe?
Kakitani: Of course, I want to come back and lead Cerezo to a championship. I want to become the kind of player who can change this team.
Polenghi: Do you have a message for your new supporters in Switzerland?
Kakitani: I've received the No. 14 shirt, it's apparently a very popular number among Basel fans and it shows the club's expectations. I already consider myself part of Basel, and I want to gain the trust of my team-mates and help win a sixth straight Swiss title and progress further in the Champions League. I want to join the fans in making the club even better than before.