Insights from Asia: One step at a time
Takumi Minamino’s journey from Japan to Merseyside has, on the face of it, been relatively simple. Starting his professional career at Cerezo Osaka in his native Japan, it has only taken two transfers to find himself part of a Liverpool team rated as the strongest team in the world by almost everyone, including 21st Club’s World Super League model. It is a journey that showcases football’s global meritocracy, enabling a player on one side of the planet to traverse to the other propelled predominantly by his talent.
It is true that football is perhaps unique in its ability to create pathways for talented players of any nationality, but football pathways are not so effective that talent makes success inevitable. So what can we take from Minamino’s story?
A key to Minamino’s journey has been his time at Salzburg, a fact acknowledged by Minamino himself. As a stepping stone, Salzburg is an attractive club. First, because they are willing to sell players on – as highlighted by Sophie Tomlinson last week, they are one of a number of clubs, generally outside of the ‘Big Five’ European leagues who utilise the transfer market as an opportunity to generate revenue – and second, because it is a club that is investing in their performance and is on the rise. On their watch, Minamino himself went from being a hot prospect from the J-League to an attractive signing for the world’s best team. This is a reflection of the environment at the club, the quality of the coaching and the quality of the recruitment itself.
But as important as the club itself is the size of the step between the stones. At the time of Minamino’s move, we rated Cerezo Osaka at around 431 on our World Super League compared to around 708 for Salzburg, the equivalent of around 9 league places in Austria. It was a big enough leap to push him to improve, but wasn’t so big that he struggled to get into the team. This is also borne out by our player ratings, where we estimated that Minamino was already performing at a level comparable to the average Salzburg player, despite playing in a weaker team.
Taking his Liverpool move, the step up in team strength is broadly comparable – Salzburg are currently rated as about as good as Arsenal, meaning the step up is likely to be around 5-6 Premier League places. However, we currently estimate that Minamino is performing at a level well below the average for Liverpool’s players – Minamino is one of Salzburg’s best players, but not by quite the margin he was at Cerezo. This suggests that he may find it harder to make an impact at Liverpool given the quality of the competition he will face for playing time, and may have to improve further to become central to their success. Either way, he has come to the right place – in Jurgen Klopp, he has found a coach who has a knack for making his players better.
Whatever the outcome at Liverpool, and this suggests that it is far from certain, Minamino’s time at Salzburg was clearly a success and has played a vital role in his journey from Japan to the summit of club football. His experience shows that making the step up to a stronger team can be successful, although understanding the extent to which the player is also making a leap is key to avoid making it a step too far.