19 December 2019 12:31
Those are the words Manchester United's commercial director, Richard Arnold, underlined when the club announced the signing of Borussia Dortmund's Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa in 2012. Nevertheless, hysteria greeted Kagawa's arrival at Old Trafford and he quickly became the most popular player in Japan and his return to Dortmund three years later saw 5,000 shirts sold in just a day for the German club. Kagawa had earned his move to Manchester United on merit - he was a key ingredient in the consecutive Bundesliga crowns picked up by Dortmund ahead of his transfer - but United undoubtedly stood to benefit from the resulting increased focus from their vast Asian fan base. All this has parallels to the tale of Takumi Minamino, the Japanese international who earlier this month was playing against Liverpool and has now sealed a switch to Merseyside when the January transfer window opens in three weeks. Minamino is one of the best players in what is a very good Red Bull Salzburg side, scoring at Anfield in October and again in Genk a fortnight ago as the Austrian side secured a place in the Europa League Round of 32.
A survey by Japanese broadcaster J Sports from earlier this decade showed the club was head and shoulders the most popular team in the country. Manchester United saw their popularity in Asia swell following the signings of Chinese forward Dong Fangzhuo in 2004 and, to a far greater extent, Korean international Park Ji-sung in 2005. Park quickly proved some suggestions that he was bought to sell shirts wrong, becoming a key player for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, and Liverpool stars such as Mohamed Salah are some of the most popular players in the Far East. That being said, Minamino's popularity in his home country will train more eyes on Liverpool at a time when the club are looking to expand their fanbase in the Far East, as alluded to in the trial over the Reds' next kit sponsor. Minamino's rise coincides with a surge in talent coming out of Asia - spearheaded by Takefusa Kubo at Real Madrid, dubbed the Japanese Messi inevitably.
An Asian player - especially one as talented as Minamino - would cement the club's legacy in the continent. Liverpool have completed the signing of the Japan attacker Takumi Minamino from Red Bull Salzburg for £7.5 million. Minamino arrived on Merseyside yesterday while Liverpool's first-team squad were in Qatar for the semi-final of the Club World Cup and successfully completed a medical. Minamino said: "It has been a dream, my dream to become a Liverpool player.