"If you're small, youshould improve your technique." Sota Kitano from Cerezo Osaka. The origin and the current location of competing in J1 as a teenager
When I was 3 years old, I followed my brother
I found myself kicking the ball
It is said that he played in elementary school clubs even before he entered elementary school due to the influence of his father and older brother. A talented player who started kicking the ball at the age of 3, he now plays for the top team of Cerezo Osaka at the age of 18. He was selected by Akio Kogiku as managerand made his debut in the J1 opening match of the season and scored his first official match in the Levain Cup in March. The score at the age of 17 years, 6 months and 17 days broke the club's J1 youngest score record held by Takumi Minamino.
"Cerezo Osaka, the Power of the Academy". The first series interview will focus on Sota Kitano. He talks about his studies at the academy since his Wakayama days, his thoughts on Takumi Minamino, and his own future vision.
Sota Kitano Cerezo Osaka
Born August 13, 2004. Born in Arita City, Wakayama Prefecture. His position is FW/MF. He is 172 cm tall and weighs 60 kg. He grew up at Cerezo Academy from U-15. With his 2nd class registration, he will make his J1 debut on February 19, 2022 against Yokohama F Marinos in the J1 League Round 1. He signed a professional contract on the 25th of the same year and has been playing for the top team ever since. He was also selected as an NXGN candidate by GOAL Global. He is a young attacker who graduated from Cerezo Academy, which is attracting the attention of the world.
- Please tell us how you started playing football..
- My father used to play football, and my brother who was three years older than me also played football. That was when I was about three years old, and I joined the team when I was four or five years old.
- Is that club Arterivo Yuasa?
- No, before that, I joined a club team in elementary school. So I went to 4th grade, and when my older brother started junior high school, I moved to Arterivo Yuasa.
- You played for Arterivo Yuasa from 4th grade to 6th grade, and then joined Cerezo Osaka U-15. How did that come about?
- In the summer of 4th grade when I moved to Arterivo, there was a prefectural tournament in Wakayama, and there I was scouted into the elite class of Cerezo's school. That led me to play for Cerezo, which led me to join the U-15.
- In parallel with the activities of Alterivo Yuasa?
- Yes, it is. Because the activity in the elite class was once a week.
- When you became a junior high school student, you entered Cerezo Osaka U-15.Did you come from Wakayama?
- No, I moved. Only my father remained in Wakayama due to work, and my brother was also selected to attend a high school in Osaka at the same time, so my mother and I moved to Osaka.
- Do you remember when you first played for Cerezo Osaka U-15?
- The speed wasn't that slow, but I think the physical difference was big. My surroundings were huge and I was very small. However, the coach at that time told me, "If you're small, you should improve your technique."
- Were you have a good technique sinceelementary school?
- I was the type to compete with speed and technique, not power. I was pretty confident with my technique.
- Do you have any memories of Cerezo Osaka U-18? You're still U-18 in terms of age.
- When I was in high school, I only remember running all the time. However, I was able to play in a number of matches, and being able to play in the J3 (with the Cerezo Osaka U-23 team) was a big deal. In my second year of high school, (Yahiro) Kazama-san (as Cerezo Osaka Sports Club technical committee chairman) came and changed my view of football. It was a difficult year, but it also helped me grow.
- Has your approach changed in many ways?
- You've changed. I was particular about each trap, and I thought, "Football is so different."
- Were you thorough about the often-said ``stopping part and connecting part''?
- Yes. Even in practice, I was doing it all the time. Even with traps, I was told that I hadn't stopped even though I thought it was "stopped" until now. It seems that the concept of "stopped" up to now has been overturned. (Last year) was a big year for my football career.
- Is your position always aggressive position?
- Basically yes. Last year, there was a time when I played a little DF.
- Do you have the attitude to challenge even if it is a little far away, such as a loop shot?
- When I feel that I can hit the ball intuitively, I try to hit it without getting scared.
- Did you instinctively have a goal-oriented mindset when you started playing football?
- It was great to meet so many different instructors. Every coach told me that one of my strengths is “playing towards the goal”. Also, the things my father taught me have impcted me. I think my father played MF, but he was quite knowledgeable about football and taught me how to score goals.
- Are there any coaches who influenced you at the Academy?
- In the case of U-15, it would be Kin-san (Terumasa Kin). I saw it when I was in junior high school. Kin-san was also a scorer during his active career, and was strictly coached. We met again in the second year of high school, and at that time I was coached by him as a coach.
I don't mean to be a "guest"
I thought it was a big chance
Although he is in his teens, as long as he is a professional, he is not afraid. Currently, even though he is competing in the J1 stage by skipping grades, he clearly says, "There are parts that pass."
At the same time, of course, I am aware of the issues I notice because I am fighting among older professional players. Furthermore, in the international tournament where I played as the U-19 Japan national team in early summer, I felt the "difference with the world" again. All of thisis fuel for Kitano's growth.
- This year, you are playing for the top team instead of U-18.
- Playing in the top team as early as possible will help me grow, so I'm glad I was able to reach the top. Compared to players of my age, I think it's great that I've been able to experience the speed of the pros earlier.
- I think that appealing at the Miyazaki camp was a big factor in signing the professional contract.
- The day after I decided to go, it was canceled once. I was so depressed at that time. But the next day, I decided to go, and I thought, "That's great!" (laughs). I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been able to go. I was lucky.
- From the first day, you appealed by scoring goals in mini games.
- I didn't mean to be a "guest", and I intuitively felt that it was a big opportunity, so I'm glad I was able to make it happen.
- In the opening match of J1, you suddenly entered the bench and played as a substitute. Did you feel more of an opportunity than a flinch?
- At that time, I was just excited. Rather than a chance, just enjoy it. It was my first game, so I played to have fun.
- Shortly after that, you scored your first professional goal against Kashima in the Levain Cup. After actually playing in J1, how do you perceive the challenges and common areas?
- I think there are many common parts. My speed is surprisingly good, and I feel that my opponents hate my quick movements that make the most of my youth. However, there are still issues in terms of the quality of each play and how much difference can be shown in high intensity. I'm working on it consciously from practice.
- Under such circumstances, you participated in international tournaments (the 48th Maurice Rebero Tournament, formerly known as the Toulon International Tournament) in France as part of the U-19 Japan National Team in June. Japan finished 6th and did not advance to the final tournament. How did you feel about the international match?
- I think that the difference with the world has become clear. It was a frustrating tournament. Before I went, I thought, “I'm going to do great.'' So, in fact, even if they were strong or fast, I knew that foreigners were physically strong, but I was keenly aware that they were good at soccer.
- I think Japanese players are probably better at stuttering play, but I think they are good at basic football, such as positioning and the technique of not losing the ball without doing that.
- By experiencing the difference, did you have a stronger desire to play in future international competitions such as the U-20 World Cup and the Paris Olympics?
- Of course, we are also aiming for the Paris Olympics, but first of all, we have a strong desire to win through Asia in our generation and get a ticket to the U-20 World Cup. I want to win Asia with this team. The fact that the U-17 World Cup was canceled due to the influence of Covid-19 is also a big factor. I only played in the first round of the Asian qualifiers, but there were no final qualifiers or the U-17 World Cup... I don't want to experience the World Cup, so I have a strong desire to participate in the U-20 World Cup.
Minamino is conscious and also a goal.
But someday I want to catch up and overtake
There are many players from Cerezo Osaka Academy who play in overseas clubs. The reason for this is, of course, that the coaches are teaching from the perspective of "in order to play an active role in the world." Kitano himself says that one of the good things about the academy is that he always teaches with an eye on the world.
Currently, it is probably Takumi Minamino (Monaco) who graduated from the academy and is active on the front lines of Europe. Kitano is now renewing the record of "the youngest player in the club" set by Minamino. It can be said that this is also the “power of the academy” that continues without interruption.
- Please tell me again. Whatis driving force in your engine to play as a football player?
- The most important thing is giving back. I was able to come this far thanks to the support I received from many people. I caused a lot of trouble for my family, such as moving, so for the sake of those people, I have a strong desire to go higher. Of course, it's the same for all the supporters, and I've been indebted to the club a lot, so everyone who has been involved so far is my driving force.
- Did your family congratulate you when you signed the professional contract?
- At first, I told my mother over the phone, but my mother was surprised (laughs).
- Please tell us about the good points of Cerezo Academy from your point of view.
- It's about always looking at the world and guiding them. I think it's a good thing about this club that you can aim high in the world with good rivals under the best instructors in the best environment.
- What is the most memorable match in your football career so far?
- The first thing that came to mind was the match against Kashima, where he scored his first professional goal. Until then, I couldn't decide even though I had a chance. I was very happy that I scored in that match.
- It became the youngest official game record of the club.
- Frankly, I'm happy (laughs).
- The record before that was Takumi Minamino (Monaco), but what kind of person is Minamino for you?
- I am naturally conscious. It is also a goal, and I can say that he is the player who represents this club the most. But there is also a feeling that "someday I will catch up and overtake."
- If you score the youngest goal in the J1 club, you will surpass Minamino. Want to get it this year?
- I want to get it.
- Minamino seems to be aware of your existence, but have you ever met or talked to him?
- I never talked. However, I was happy to think that he knew me because he followed me on Instagram (laughs).
- Did you have any kind of message?
- No, nothing (laughs).
- Do you have a future image of yourself, “I want to be a player like this” or “I want to build a career like this”?
- Ultimately, my goals are to be selected for the Japan National team, play in the World Cup, and play for the biggest clubs in the world. But the first thing is to get good results at Cerezo. I want to go abroad while I'm still young, but if I can produce good results with the team, I think there will be offers from overseas, so I'd like to play an active part in the team and step up.
- What kind of image do you want to show to your academy juniors who are aiming to become professionals?
- I want to be a player who is loved not only by my juniors in the academy, but also by everyone watching me. I want you to look at how I am always aiming for the top, how I play unrefined, and how I score.
- That kind of figure will also become a goal for children. Finally, what advice would you give to current middle school and high school students?
- I think enjoying football is the best. I myself have made steady progress with Cerezo, but there have been many difficult things. I would like you to play without forgetting the feeling of enjoying football at any time. After all, I think I'm playing football to have fun, rather than going back to the beginning. From now on, even if I face a difficult situation, I will never forget the feeling of enjoying football.
Cerezo Osaka, the power of the academy
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