Driving force in TATSUHIRO SAKAMOTO's engine

No choice but to take on challenge and feel joy of overcome.
Uniform number:17, Position: MF. Finished runner-up in the championship at Maebashi Ikuei High School, he made his professional debut with J2 club Montedio Yamagata in 2019. This season, he moved to Cerezo Osaka and attracts a lot of football fans with his outstanding dribbling technique.
※Interviewed online on May 25, 2020.

Paving the way from the start.

Before the start of the season, lot of attention had been paid to who would fill the position of Mizunuma (currently, Yokohama F Marinos). In the opening game of 2020, at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai, Cerezo Osaka's home, the stadium DJ announced the starting lineup; Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Midfielder, Number 17. Sakamoto successfully contributed to the victory with a sharp shot from dribbling in the second half. In the following J-League YBC Levain CUP against Matsumoto Yamaga, he drew a defender on the right side and played a key role for the score.
In the fierce competition for positions in Cerezo Osaka, he needs to prove himself.
Q:Tell us how ready you are for this season in the J1 League.
I can say I have been trying so hard for everything. When I was a university student, I got a chance from Montedio Yamagata in J2 League as a side-back player. I had never played that position, but I said I would play any position and participated in the training. I didn’t know how to play a side-back position, but I tried to put crosses and played fast balls. I did my best to appeal my skills and finally signed as a member of the club. I thought it was the last opportunity for me to be a professional footballer. From there on, I have been determined to create my own path humbly from the start. I have been feeling like I should play every game as if it is my last one and I want to be selected as a starting position every time.
Q:You said you are creating your own path. What do you plan to do in the league?
First of all, to be listed as a starter in every game, I must improve my play with crosses and through passes, which I am not good at. At the same time, I need to improve my dribbling technique more in order to move up to the next level, that is I've been good at since I was a kid. I want to enhance my technique to dribble past any opponents.
Not only Cerezo Osaka fans, but also all football fans are excited by his overwhelming dribbling technique. His football career may seem to be going well, but even he has faced a big challenge that could have end his career.
If he did not make it to the Kanto Representative Team,
he thought he would never be a professional footballer.
There's a reason for his humbleness. Even his high school won the runner-up in the championship, he wasn’t a star player. He wasn’t selected as a starter until his last year. Even after he went to Toyo University, he got no offers from the club team yet.
Q:Was there a turning point for your football life during your university years?
I wanted to become a professional player, but there were no offers. I wasn't even selected for the Kanto Representative Team until my junior year. If the things hadn't changed in my senior year, I was thinking about getting a job.
To make matters worse, at a time that set my path whether I could become a professional player or not, I got injured and couldn't get back to the starting lineup even after the recovery.
I was so impatient about everything and asked the coach why he didn’t put me in the game. He understood my frustration and he told me not to worry and that he would put me back to the game when I get 100% ready. I realized that I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself. After that, I was changed and decided to play to contribute to the team; and then, things started to go a little better. I was able to score a point in my return game!
Whenever I was overwhelmed or troubled, people’s words always encouraged and brought me back to myself.
Q:When you were struggling and couldn't see a way out, what did you do to get through the situation?
I struggled very much, but I learned from my experience that there is a lot of joy in overcoming difficulties. I've experienced many setbacks in my life; but those experiences made me think I’m capable and I enjoyed the journey. Of course, I can say so because things are going well for me now!
Q:When did you start thinking so positive?
I experienced my first setback in football when I was in junior high school. Not only technically inexperienced, but also I was naive and too nervous to play well in games. How to keep strong mentality had always been my biggest issue, but by going through a lot, I became stronger and the problem seemed smaller after all. Especially after I got the responsibility of leading the team at the university.
I realized that everyone makes a mistake, but if you don’t try, you will get nothing. I am changed not to be worried about a mistake, but rather to enjoy it. Even in the midst of difficulty, it can be fun to think that I am one step closer to my goal. If you enjoy the journey, you wouldn’t mind the distance. I think the same goes for football performance.
Setbacks and agony make people stronger. With his humble attitude, Sakamoto knows that supportive people and finding his role in the team help him grow. We can't wait to see how he will play in Cerezo with Japan’s top players and new trainers.
Let's hear what he is aiming for.
To score in every game.
To be on the Japan national team.
He is known for his rhythmic dribbling. The crowd in the stadium is excited to watch him get past the opponent defenders in a flash. Yet, he had not been selected for the national youth Team.
We asked him what the Japan national football team means to him.
Q:Please tell us what you think about the national team.
I grew up watching Kagawa, Inui, and other national team footballers, whom I had always admired. Like any kid players, I had always dreamed of becoming a member of the team, but I thought it would be impossible considering my skill. Since I was able to perform well throughout the last season, this year I am able to play in the J1 League. Now that I've come this far, I think I should aim for the top. I feel that I should be the player deserved to be in the national team, rather than aiming to be.
Q:What does it take for you at Cerezo Osaka to be a deserving player?
I want to contribute to the team in every game and become a player who leads Cerezo. I want to score as many times as possible. The players in Cerezo are all high skilled, so I learn will a lot from each play. I’m going to take in more and more.
Q:Any message for those who are trying for new things?
There may be a time when things don't go well as you start a new thing. The worst thing is to be stuck in a bad thought. In my case, after reflecting on the game, I go into the next game with positive attitude and new mindset. Rather than talking about a big goal, I’ll be trying out there on the field in each game. I believe that taking the next step is the most important thing, no matter how many times you fail.
Sakamoto wants to be a player who contribute to Cerezo Osaka win the league championship. And he is looking forward to playing for Japan with the national flag on his chest. We can't wait to see him in the national team jersey and fascinate fans with his skill of dribbling to shoot a goal.
Postscript on July 31, 2021
He represented Japan in the AFC 2nd round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification on June 7th, 2021 (vs Tajikistan).