Spain and Barcelona striker David Villa is never in shortage of fervent fans, but few of them will openly, and with a dose of realism, set a target of becoming his team-mate. However, this lofty ambition is a clear goal that Japan U-17 forward Takumi Minamino has set for himself.
"Villa is my idol and Barcelona are my favourite club," the 16-year-old told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "I want to play for them one day and become a key member of their line-up."
Ambitious thought that target is, Minamino's goal cannot be dispelled as false hope when his eye-catching displays at last October's Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship are taken into account. The Cerezo Osaka hopeful struck five times to finish the tournament as a joint-top scorer alongside Australia’s Jesse Makarounas and Uzbekistan's Timur Khakimov as Japan booked their qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 with a last-four finish.
He opened his account in confident fashion, scoring in each half in Japan's 6-0 dismantling of Vietnam in the opener. And with coach Hirofumi Yoshitake resting several key players in a match against Timor Leste, Minamino saved his under-strength side from dropping three points with a goal three minutes from time.
After staying on the bench in their goalless draw with Australia, the Japan No9 continued his prolific form in the quarter-final match against Iraq, netting his second brace of the competition to steer his side to a 3-1 victory. Despite failing to score in a 2-1 semi-final loss to eventual champions Korea DPR, Minamino proved beyond doubt that he is one of Asia's most promising stars at youth level.
He always works hard towards his objective and is one of the role models for other team members.
It was not only his phenomenal tally, but also the way he scored that left audiences in awe. He best showcased his genius with a winner against Iraq. When running onto a pass inside the box, Minamino played a one-two with Yuto Horigome, before cutting through the opposition defence to slot home.
"I’m good at getting in behind the back-line," he said. "I also like to receive the ball and finish inside the penalty area. To improve my skills I watched how the star players scored via video so I can model my own play on them. I practice this myself prior to and after the team training."
A proven goalscorer in Asia, Minamino has now set his sights on translating his successful form to the global arena. "I want to finish top scorer at Mexico 2011 and for my team to become champions," he added.
Leading by example
Through his excellent performances Minamino has established a talismanic place with Japan, something which coach Yoshitake pointed out. “He always works hard towards his objective and is one of the role models for other team members,” the Japan coach said. “On the pitch, he is a lethal weapon always hungry to score goals.”
A coach who usually stresses teamwork rather than individual displays, Yoshitake is proud that his side exudes diverse qualities. “It took us two years and three months to qualify for the U-17 World Cup and in the process a host of young talents have come up through the ranks. Minamino heads the attacking line, Reo Mochizuki drives the midfield. Takuya Iwanami bosses the back-line, while Kosuke Nakamura takes care of the goalkeeping.”
Boosted by the emergence of these burgeoning stars, the Japan coach has set his sights on making history. “We aim to be the finalists,” Yoshitake concluded. "I hope the players can believe in themselves, fully enjoy the competition and to go to the final match."