Feature | Football

Kubo says playing for Japan at Tokyo Olympics a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity

Kubo Takefusa came through the Barcelona academy before joining Real Madrid, now this football prodigy might just explode onto the world stage at the Tokyo Games

By Ken Browne ·

Kubo Takefusa can't wait to play football at his home Olympics.

Now 19, the Japanese wonderkid is playing on loan from Real Madrid at Getafe in Spain's La Liga and looking forward to a chance to light up the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer.

"It's a unique opportunity being the hosts of an Olympic Games," he told the Getafe club press team, speaking perfect Spanish.

"It's something that might only happen once in a lifetime, or for many it might never even happen."

Nicknamed 'The Japanese Messi' at Barcelona's famed 'La Masia' academy which he joined at eight years of age, Kubo has since played J1 football in Japan's top tier before returning to Spain with Real Madrid.

The teen promise has been learning his game and growing in experience at Mallorca, Villarreal and now at Madrid-based side Getafe.

If I am selected to play then on a personal and collective level we have to give it our all. - Kubo

Asked about the Olympics he says he's going to be in top shape and ready to play.

"Safety is the most important thing so now we have to wait, but I think that as athletes we have to be ready and in form to give it our all whenever it's possible to play."

"If it is possible to play the competition then what the fans want is us at our top level, and as hosts even more so. If I am selected to play then on a personal and collective level we have to give it our all."

Tiki-Take

With the way that Kubo plays the game it's hardly any surprise that he's chosen Spain to hone his craft.

Bags of skill, serious pace, 'Take' as they call him in Spain plays a quick, technical, passing game where he likes see a lot of the ball.

Perfect then for a country famous for its 'tiki-taka' style of possession-based football.

Kubo often plays on the right side of a front three from where he can cut in and employ that wand-like left foot, he is famous for his lightning-fast attacks and has a dribbling highlight reel that would keep defenders up at night.

But all the spectacular stuff puts the other parts of his game in the shade: tactically astute and technically gifted, Kubo is a team player who associates well with teammates, and while sparks fly whenever he gets on the ball, he works as hard as anyone to win it back.

Kubo can play on the right, as a creative number 10 drifting and dominating a game, or as an attacking midfielder, and is familiar with different formations and systems.

Now he's adding experience and understanding to all that raw talent.

Take Kubo: From Barcelona to Real Madrid

Kubo has travelled a unique path through both Barcelona and Real Madrid Academy systems.

At Barca the Messi comparisons came when he scored 74 goals in 30 games for the Under 11s.

But his time there was cut short and he had to return to Japan from Barcelona at 14 years of age when it was ruled that the club had violated FIFA's international transfer policy, meaning Kubo was no longer eligible to play.

But he picked up where he left off at home in Japan.

Take shone in Japan's top J1 league becoming the youngest ever debutant and youngest ever goal scorer at just 15 years of age with Tokyo Verdy.

When he turned 18 and could legally return to Europe the big clubs were queueing up.

So why did he choose Real Madrid when he had already played as a kid at their arch-rivals Barcelona?

“I really liked Real Madrid's goal in a sporting sense, the plan they had for me for the next few years, and what they thought about me for the future,” Kubo said at the time.

“Real Madrid were clear that they wanted to sign me. They showed me the plan they had for my career and I really liked it. That convinced me.”

Kubo at Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe

To gain experience he played at Mallorca for a season, dazzling with the ball at his feet in 35 games where he notched four goals and five assists.

Mallorca were relegated that season but the Kawasaki-born footballer took away important lessons.

Then there was a lot of excitement about his move to Villarreal at the beginning of the 2020/21 season where it seemed the style of football at the 'Yellow Submarine' would suit him. but things didn't work out.

Manager Unai Emery gave him just two starts in 13 league appearances and often played him in an unfamiliar position on the left side of the pitch.

He did start all five games of Villarreal's Europa League group stage encounters, scoring one goal, but didn't break into the first team.

In January 2021 Kubo was on his way back to Madrid to play with one of the cities more workmanlike clubs: “I chose Getafe because they were the team who had the most interest in me,” he said.

Another reason might have been the chance to link up with another Barcelona youth product Carles Alena who joined Getafe at exactly the same time.

Both made impressive debuts for the team helping 'Los Azulones' to a 3-1 win away victory at Elche on Monday 11 January.

Kubo came on with 30 minutes to play and looked dangerous every time he got on the ball.

The Japanese starlet had a hand in two goals that secured the win for the team, first a Jaime Mata strike that came about as a result of Kubo's shot parried by the Elche keeper into Mata's path, and then his cross that led to a penalty.

30 minutes were enough to get Getafe fans excited by what's to come from Kubo.

Kubo Takefusa established in the Japan team

At 19 he is already an international regular, his first call-up to the Japan senior squad came at the age of 18 for the 2019 Copa America, making his debut against El Salvador.

Take was the second-youngest player to debut for Japan’s national team at 18 years and 5 days, and is expected to be one of their main goal threats at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Who qualified for football at the Tokyo Olympics?

As hosts Japan qualify automatically for the football competition, so who might Kubo and the 'Blue Samurai' play in the Japanese capital?

16 teams will play for medals in Tokyo with 14 already qualified:

France, Germany, Romania, Spain, New Zealand, Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Argentina, and Brazil.

Two more teams from CONCACAF (North, Central American and Caribbean region) will qualify to complete the line-up.

As the groups have yet to be drawn Japan do not yet know their opponents, but the will be the top seeded side in Group A.

When the Games roll around, keep an eye on Kubo, Japan's rising star who's ready to take on the world.