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Maya Yoshida moved to Southampton to grow as a player in the Premier League
HE may have had a baptism of fire in his earlier-than-expected debut at Arsenal on Saturday, but any Saints fans who caught a Japan match at the London Olympics will have reason to believe that in signing Maya Yoshida the club have completed an astute piece of business .
As well as being the main man at the heart of defence for the full national side – who are well on the way to qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup finals and have conceded just once in their four games in the final stage of qualifying – Yoshida was also selected as an over-age player and entrusted with the captain’s armband as Japan finished fourth at this summer’s Games.
Speaking after his country’s 1-0 victory over Iraq in Saitama last Tuesday, the 24- year-old was eager to get acquainted with his new teammates as quickly as possible.
“I’m really excited to play for Saints in the Premier League, but first I have to know what I should do and how the team are going to play,” he said.
“I’m already a little late to join the team so I need to communicate well with my teammates.”
Jos Hooiveld’s injury in the opening half-an-hour at the Emirates Stadium meant Yoshida was thrown straight in at the deep end, and there can’t be many tougher games to make your first appearance in.
In the longer-term, though, the former Nagoya Grampus player shouldn’t have too many problems with communication, as he speaks excellent English having spent two years in Holland with VVV Venlo.
He agreed that his time in the Eredivisie had helped on that front, although is a little concerned that the difference between the lowlands and south coast versions of the language may differ slightly.
“I think I’m too used to speaking Dutch English, so I’ll have to study native English again,” he said with a grin.
Yoshida has sounded out his compatriot Lee, pictured left, who missed the end of last season and start of this due to a broken metatarsal but is now available for selection again, about anything and everything ahead of the move.
“Of course, I asked him many things: about housing, the teammates, the coach and the culture,” Yoshida said.
“Southampton is a very nice place.
“In the south, not far from London and I think I can buy Japanese food. And nearby there’s a port, so there will be a nice view, I think.”
Japanese players moving to England are often wary of the local cuisine, but Yoshida is keen to embrace all aspects of his new surroundings and is confident that it may actually be an improvement on his diet for the last couple of years.
“I will try, and I hope English food is much better than Dutch food,” he said. “I think many people say that English food is not so good but [that’s true of] Dutch food as well.”
On top of his advice from Lee, Yoshida has also received words of encouragement from Japan’s star player Keisuke Honda.
The CSKA Moscow player’s career has followed a similar path to that of Saints’ new defender, and having left Nagoya for Venlo and then moved onto bigger things the bleached-blond midfielder is sure his countryman has what it takes to be a success in England.
“I think he has the confidence to play in the Premier League and I think he’ll play well,” he said during Japan’s recent training camp.
“The most important thing is that he should have confidence.
“He shouldn’t change anything, he should just believe in himself.”
There should be few concerns on that front, and Yoshida himself is well aware of what he needs to do to help Saints achieve longterm success back in the top flight.
“I think the Premier League is a much, much higher level than the Eredivisie, so I have to get used to the speed and physicality,” he said.
“That’s why I chose the Premier League and I think I will grow up more – for myself and for the World Cup in Brazil.”
As well as focusing on what he needs to do personally, the 6-foot-2-inch defender also made sure that he knew all about his new club before his arrival, watching clips of their games and swotting up on some recent history.
“I saw highlights [of the Manchester United match],” said Yoshida. “Of course they conceded two goals right at the end of the game but before that they played very well, I think.
“The Saints came from the second division but [previously] they stayed for a long time in the Premier League.
They had a financial problem and went down to the third division but two years later they came back to the Premier League – they have a lot of ambition.”
He is hopeful that he can now help the club complete its recovery and once again become a top flight mainstay.
“There are new owners and they have good ambitions, and I have also,” he declared.