Football: Okazaki joins Japanese exodus to Germany
New Stuttgart signing Shinji Okazaki has become Japan's latest football export to Germany, with the Bundesliga pocketing much of the East Asian country's best talent for little or no transfer fee.
The striker is the sixth Japanese to move to Germany after the World Cup in South Africa, underlining not only Japan's status in the global game but also helping to banish old perceptions Asians cannot make it in European leagues.
Shinji Kagawa moved to Borussia Dortmund in July and has scored eight goals to play a major role in propelling the team to the top of the Bundesliga table.
Atsuto Uchida, Kisho Yano, Tomoaki Makino and Hajime Hosogai have already followed in the 21-year-old Kagawa's footsteps.
Dortmund acquired the highly talented Kagawa on the cheap -- for just EUR 350,000.
"The German clubs have learned that Japan has many talented players they do not need to pay transfer fees for," the well-established Japanese sports magazine Number said.
Germany, Leverkusen : Stuttgart's Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki lays on the pitch during the German first division Bundesliga football match Bazer Leverkusen vs Vfb Stuttgart in the western German city of Leverkusen on 20 February 2011
Stuttgart waited for Okazaki's contract with J-League side Shimizu S-Pulse to expire at the end of January before they swooped for free.
"I have nothing to lose and I'm confident of playing well. I feel pleasure much more than pressure," the striker told reporters before leaving Tokyo's Narita airport on Friday.
"Stuttgart's coach told me to move well and get behind the defenders with plenty of movement as well as to score goals eventually," the 25-year-old said. "First of all, we'll try to stay in the top league. I must score goals to do that."
Okazaki scored three times in Japan's 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia at the group stage of the Asian Cup last month. It was his third hat-trick for the Blue Samurai.
Dortmund's bargain capture of attacking midfielder Kagawa owed much to "player power".
In January 2010, he extended his contract with Cerezo Osaka by one year on condition that he be allowed to move to any foreign club for nothing. Yano had a similar deal with Albirex Niigata before moving to SC Freiburg.
The token sum Dortmund paid for Kagawa was described by Japanese media as a "tip" to Cerezo Osaka in the name of aid for cultivating talent.
German clubs also picked up bargains in defender Makino, who went to FC Koln for free, while Hosogai was snapped up by Bayer Leverkusen for nothing after both players' contracts with their J-League sides expired.
Wolfsburg also took on Japan captain Makoto Hasebe earlier -- again for nothing.
In Uchida's case, Schalke paid JPY 150 million (USD 1.8 million) to compensate his former club Kashima Antlers for the defender's breach of contract.
If the German clubs decide to cash in, they can expect to make a spectacular profit.
Germany, Stuttgart : German first divivsion Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart new Japanese signing Shinji Okazaki attends a press conference at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart, southern Germany, 30 January 2011
Kagawa's current transfer fee is estimated at more than USD 12 million, but Atletico Madrid and Manchester United were rumoured to have offered twice as much for him.
Kagawa injured his right foot in Japan's penalty shootout win over South Korea in the Asian Cup semi-finals and underwent an operation that means he will miss the rest of the season.
Former Dortmund midfielder Thomas Kroth, executive director of the agency Pro Profil, has played a key role in the transfers of Japanese players, Number magazine said.
Kroth helped former German international midfielder Pierre Littbarski join Kashiwa Reysol in the inaugural J-League season in 1993.
Kroth has since taken Naohiro Takahara, Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono and Yoshito Okubo the other way.
AFP/ Hidenori Fukuo/ Expatica