Hajime Hosogai has earned just five full caps for Japan, but the Blue Samurai star has already seen and done more than some players manage in a century of appearances. The 24-year-old was part of the Asian aces’ historic 1-0 victory over Argentina in October 2010, and then exploded onto the world scene in January 2011, playing his part in Japan’s triumph at the AFC Asia Cup in Qatar, scoring a maiden goal for his country in the semi-final.
"As a Japan international, I’m proud we won the Asian championship. I learned a lot from the experience," the defensive midfielder exclusively told FIFA.com, not attempting to conceal his continuing joy at the highlight of his career to date. However, the success in Qatar is just one element in an eventful few months for the Japan player.
Hosogai left top Japanese outfit Urawa Red Diamonds in December 2010 for German Bundesliga high-flyers Bayer Leverkusen, who immediately sent him out on loan to second division FC Augsburg. "Urawa Red Diamonds is where I started out as a professional, and I played there for six years. It was the only club I knew, and I thought I’d keep on developing there. But I think moving abroad, especially to somewhere where I’ve not yet learned the local language, will bring me on both as a player and a person."
The story of Hosogai’s first few hours in Europe is that of a man proverbially thrown in at the deep end. He flew to Germany immediately after the AFC Asia Cup, landing in Augsburg in the early hours of the morning and reporting for his first training session the same afternoon. "I had no time to stop and think, but there’s good Japanese food available in the area, so it actually wasn’t a massive culture shock."
The style of football is another thing, however. "The difference in the football between Japan and Germany is huge. Japanese players are generally technically better, although in Japan, I’ve often been told I have no skill. The physical dimension is much greater in Germany than Japan. Germans are big guys, and I think German football plays on the physical advantage. Japanese teams concentrate on keeping possession, so I had to adapt quite a bit in the first few weeks."
Hosogai is hoping to help Augsburg achieve promotion to the top flight this term and is convinced the current team is good enough. "I want to play in the Bundesliga next season, with this same team."
From a professional point of view, things could hardly be better for the 24-year-old at present, but sporting satisfaction has understandably taken a back seat for now. The catastrophe in his homeland, following the devastating earthquake and Tsunami which claimed so many thousands of lives, has made a deep impression on Hosogai.
"Obviously, it’s had an impact on my private life. I wasn’t able to contact my family for two full days after the earthquake, and there are people I know who still haven’t been able to get in touch with friends. Just thinking about it causes me real distress, although at the moment, my family and relatives are fine and not having any problems."
Together with three other Japanese players in Germany, Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke) and Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart), Hosogai recently played in a fund-raising friendly between the national team and a J-League XI, generating around €130,000 to help the needy.
A touch of normality returned to the stricken Asian nation last weekend with the resumption of the J.League programme. Making a virtue out of a necessity, Hosogai too has focused his attention on the game. "I have to do what a professional footballer has to do. When I’m out on the pitch, you have to blank out everything else."
Hosogai’s immediate goals are promotion to the Bundesliga and consistently good performances once there, ideally with Augsburg. With a grin on his face, the player revealed to FIFA.com that he has been thinking hard about his weaknesses, "but I’m working on improving. One weakness is that I sometimes want too much all at once. I’ll leave it to others to assess my strengths."
Promotion is a real and present short-term aim, but the midfielder is wasting no time contemplating the prospect of a major tournament in Brazil in 2013. Representing Japan at the FIFA Confederations Cup was “too far in the future to worry about”, he said, an ultra-professional approach and attitude that will surely take him a very long way, both with club and country.