Born in the shadow of the classic symbol of his homeland, an 18 year old from Fuji City may be destined for fame on a level approaching that of the most quintessential of Japanese mountains. Hideki Ishige will shortly be joining up with training at Manchester City, but who is he, and what inspired the Sky Blue billionaires to make space for him amongst their international superstars?
The Shimizu S-Pulse midfielder may still be in high school, but is well into his first pro season and has been turning heads far beyond his native land. Some standout performances and three goals helped Japan through to the quarter finals of the U17 World Cup in Mexico last year, and those efforts didn’t go unrecognised. In early 2012 he was named Asian Youth Player of the Year.
As the second Shizuoka born player to win the honour, he follows in the footsteps of former Japan regular Shinji Ono. While Ono, like Ishige, went to school down the road from S-Pulse’s home ground, upon graduation he upped and left for Urawa Red Diamonds. A successful career in Europe followed. Shimizu were not about to let another one get away, and Ishige was signed on professional terms at the end of March. Not wasting any time, manager Afshin Ghotbi made him the club’s youngest starter by awarding him a debut on April 4th in the J.League Cup. He ended the competition in the final, and while his team had to settle for runners up medals, he claimed the young player of the tournament award, becoming the youngest to win it.
In head coach Afshin Ghotbi, the Shimizu number 32 has the perfect mentor. The former Iran boss, and assistant at South Korea under Guus Hiddink, is extensively travelled and boasts experience in most corners of the globe. It was through his network of connections that the Manchester City hook-up came about. Ghotbi believes it essential for his young players to spend time surrounded by the very best in the game to realise their full potential. When the J.League season wraps up at the end of December, that is what Ishige will be doing in England’s chilly north west.
So what can Mancini expect from the youngster? Ishige is a slight 166cm and to western eyes may look younger than his years, but he has a maturity and a football brain not unlike his Shizuoka senpai Ono. He has growing to do, both physically and mentally, but he displays precocious vision when spraying the ball around from the centre of the park. He may easily have topped off his debut with a goal when instinctive movement gave him the half yard needed to dart through the defence. Through on the keeper, had he just belted it he may have had the perfect end to his debut, but he’s a player of deft touch and subtlety. His attempt to curl it home was narrowly denied, but spoke of a measured and careful style characteristic of his play.
After his debut, he has gone on to make 12 league appearances this season, predominantly from the bench. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, is an overused adage, and his gradual integration into the starting XI is doing him no harm, either in development on the pitch or popularity off it. He comes across a smart and level-headed kid, and having worked his way through the S-Pulse youth system, representing Japan at every level from U15 to U19, to test himself in a bigger pond is the only logical step. The Premier League champions couldn’t be a better opportunity and Ishige is fortunate to be at a club in a position to make that happen.
When the news first broke, some quarters of the Japanese press over-excitedly talked in terms of a transfer, but Ghotbi moved quickly to discredit such rumours. The goal right now is the continued honing of the youngster's talent and the broadening of his footballing horizons. Any player his age still has a long journey to establish themselves in the game, and he will have to make a first team starting spot his own before talk of a transfer to England can be seriously considered.
So Hideki Ishige is focused on playing football, and with the right mentality and a support network to provide opportunities like the one at the Etihad, we will surely see him make giant strides towards that end. One thing is clear, when an offer does come in, Shimizu S-Pulse will not stand in his way.
Barry Valder is a long time Shimizu S-Pulse supporter. He runs the ukultras.co.uk S-Pulse blog and is a regular contributor to J. Soccer Magazine.
Follow Barry on Twitter: @spulseukultras
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