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Many Japanese players want to play in the Bundesliga because of Shinji Kagawa, says Ritsu Doan

The Japanese player scored in the World Cup against Germany and Spain.

Sometimes referred to as the “Japanese Messi”, Ritsu Doan started playing soccer at the age of four and joined Gamba Osaka Academy at the age of twelve. He says coaches never praised him, instead encouraging his ambition to improve while providing him with opportunities to climb the ladder. Having scored against Germany and Spain to send Japan to the 2022 World Cup as group winners, he is now keen to improve his tally at Freiburg to secure his side’s top spot in the Bundesliga table.

Read the interview here:

How is your name pronounced correctly?

“It shines. Because the Japanese can’t pronounce the “R,” so we pronounce Ritsu like “Lits.” So, you don’t need to say “Rits”, you can say “Lits”. This is better.

Where are you from in Japan

“I’m actually from Amagasaki and I was born in Hyogo. I started my career in Gamba Osaka. Everything is close together, so when people ask, I always say I’m from Osaka. Most people know Osaka and it’s the biggest city in the area.”

How many siblings do you have?

“I have two big brothers. They made me cry all the time when I was little! When we were playing football together, I didn’t want to lose every time against them but of course they were better, so I cried a few times. Now we still keep in touch, we call each other.” Some a few times, so they are very sweet brothers to me. I love them.”

When did you start playing football?

“Since I was three or four years old, I started going to soccer school twice a week, like a hobby, like fun. Then, at 12, I started going to Gamba Academy Osaka. It was serious, and in At that time I was thinking that I wanted to be a footballer, so that was a very big turning point for me.”

How did it feel to join Gamba Academy Osaka?

“When I was 11 years old, they called my mom, so I was very happy about that. She was very happy because my second brother went to rival club Cerezo Osaka, but my second brother also wanted to go to Gamba Osaka because we knew that Gamba Osaka was better than Cerezo Osaka in That time. Now he’s a little over 50-50. So when I got the chance to go to Gamba Osaka, my mother said ‘Yeah, you have to go.’ It was a very nice time, I was very happy.”

Looking back, how would you describe your development as a player part of the academy?

“I played, but I wasn’t the most important player. I was one of the 11 players in the squad. But after two or three months, I was already playing for the Under-15 first team, despite being 13. So, I grew up quickly at that time. It was a good time.”

Do you remember any coaches from that time?

“Yes, one of the players in my head now was Mr. Kamogawa coming from Gamba Academy Osaka, he was the coach of the U-15 team. He always told me to never be satisfied: “You think you are the best but you are not! Someone is always better than you, you have to see the world, so never be complacent, never stop training, always try and stay hungry to grow to be a better player! That’s what he always said to me. He never gave me compliments like “Good job!”. So, in the World Cup, for example, I could see a lot of players who were better than me, so Mr. Kamogawa’s words were always in my heart and in my head. I met him during the holidays after the World Cup and talked to him. That was nice. We talked like I was a kid, nothing special. He never said ‘good job’ to me after the World Cup either! But I hope he says that one day because he asked to take a picture with me “.

Do you remember when you moved to the first team?

“Yeah, when I was 16, and the first team was having training camp, two or three of their players were injured and they needed substitutes to play 11 against 11. So, they called the academy asking, ‘Who’s the best player? in the academy? And someone else, not Mr. Kamogawa, called me and said, “You have a chance to play there, go and show your skill!” So I went. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to get into the first team after this camp, but I played very well, and then they called me saying, “Hey, you need to sign up as a professional footballer.” I was surprised, but it was the best moment for me and my career.

How did you feel at the training camp?

I wasn’t afraid at the time, and I don’t know why. Normally a youngster who plays for the first team is scared, thinking ‘I don’t want to lose the ball’, but at the time I was totally myself and showed my quality. It was a great moment after the training camp when they called me, and my mom was so happy.”

Have you been dreaming of playing football in Europe?

“I had a dream as a kid to play in Europe. I went to the FIFA U-20 World Cup at the time, thinking I wanted to show the world that I deserved to play in Europe. Then a club from Groningen in the Netherlands called my agent saying they wanted me. It was good to negotiate with them, and I was very happy to talk to them. I played there for two seasons and had a great time there.”

How did your parents react when you got the chance to play in Europe?

“It was the hardest moment for me for the first five months because I told my parents I wanted to go and they were crying. They wanted to stop me, but I said ‘Stop talking, I want to go!’ and I went. But honestly, I was in my heart.”

Cry too. I don’t usually cry, and I couldn’t show it to my parents because I told them I wanted to go! It was a bit difficult time for me, but my colleagues were very kind, they helped me a lot, so it was a good decision for me. After five months of being alone, I asked myself, “What do you really want?” I talked to myself every day, there was a lot of tension in my mind at the time, but when I look back now, it was such an important time for me. During that half year I got stronger.”

Eight Bundesliga players have played in the World Cup for the Japanese national team. Why is the Bundesliga so attractive to Japanese players? What role does Shinji Kagawa play, for example, in this?

“I think it came from Shinji Kagawa. A lot of Japanese players want to play in the Bundesliga because Shinji Kagawa was the best player in Japan at that time. I’m one of them, and it was my dream to play in the Bundesliga as well. When Bielefeld called me, it was like So exciting. In my heart, my decision was so quick: one second, and I said, ‘I want to go.’ It was easy.”

Have you been on the field with Shinji Kagawa?

“I played with him once in the national team. Yes, he’s very professional. I still keep in touch with him sometimes, not very often, but I did go to dinner with him once last year, I think. He’s my idol and I think he likes A lot of Japanese players. He’s also a very nice guy and very stable. When other players talk to me, I sometimes feel like they’re trying to show off by saying “I’m a big guy”. Kagawa doesn’t do that. He always talks the same way. He’s a great professional, I like him.”

Have you been in touch with your Freiburg team-mates throughout the World Cup?

“They asked me how the World Cup was going, and after the Germany game several players texted me saying ‘congratulations on your goal and the win’. Yes, Gunni and Ginter played there, but other players who didn’t play supported me personally from afar, so I was happy when they sent me a text message.”

Have you also spoken to Christian Günther and Matthias Ginter?

“Yeah, we talk, like how was the World Cup, how do you feel, because in my opinion, Johnny and Ginter should have played there, because when I played against them, I felt they were playing well. They played the first half very well of the season, so they were They deserve to play in the World Cup, in my opinion. So, I asked them, why didn’t you play in the national team?”

What do you like to do off the field? Do you have any hobbies?

“During the first half of the season we had a lot of games, so we didn’t have time to go out, but when we have a day off I don’t like staying home all day. I always want to go out. I can go from Freiburg to Basel or Zurich In Switzerland, it’s only an hour and a half away. I like to go shopping, so I go there to buy clothes or something.”

German and Japanese food cultures are very different. How did you deal with change?

“Yeah, it’s hard, honestly. The food culture is completely different. But I hired a chef, a private chef from Japan, so he stayed with me in Freiburg and helped me a lot. He can cook anything. If I want to eat Chinese, he can cook it, and if I want to Eat Italian, he can do that too – anything. I’ll invite you next time, if you want! A beer? No, I only know sausages and chips are the main course in Germany, with beer. I usually don’t drink alcohol during the season, but after it’s over “The season, after the last game, I always drink beer. When I was in Bielefeld and we stayed in the Bundesliga, we drank some nice cold beers. I had very nice colleagues there.”

What do you think is the secret of Freiburg’s current success?

“I think it’s simple, it’s one team. We’re one team. Especially those who don’t play, they’re on the bench, they cheer the players on the field, and when they get on the field they do their job. I’m a new player and, like the rest of the players, I work with the coach.” “So the players know his ideas, and we know each other. We share the same idea, and that’s why we’re doing so well this season at the moment.”

Were you surprised by the success?

“It wasn’t too surprising. Because before I came here, I spoke with the coach and the athletic director, and they told me we would be in the top six next year. So I’m not surprised.”

Has the Japanese fan base grown in Freiburg since you’ve been playing there?

“Yeah, especially after the World Cup. When I score, they want to try and watch the game, so yeah, we have to play well in the second half of the season, otherwise they’ll think ‘Oh, that’s not good!’ So, we have to carry on like it was in The first half of the season, it’s really important.”

How does it feel knowing that people are watching just to see you play?

“I think as a footballer, you like it. If someone watches you, how you play, that’s the best. It’s perfect.”

Where do you think you need improvement?

“I think more goals. I had many chances to score but I didn’t get them. So far I’ve scored four goals in all competitions this season, but I need ten, in my opinion. Six more goals, that’s a realistic target. I’ll do it, I’ll try to do it.” With that, defensively, I’m better now with the help of the coach, so I want to continue this way of defense.”

Do you have a good relationship with Christian Streich?

“The best. I like him. I like his ideas, I like his personality, he’s always honest. If he’s not happy, he shows he’s unhappy, so he knows the player. He doesn’t say fake things. If you play well, he’s very happy, he celebrates with the players, it’s a way Fantastic to celebrate. I like everything, how he focuses on the football on the field, it’s perfect.”

What are your goals after the World Cup?

“For me it’s very important now to stay hungry after the World Cup. I want more, more, more. That’s what I tell myself every day now. I sometimes think that players who have succeeded lose their mental strength. I have to push myself to be better, for the fans and for myself. This is important. ”

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