When Rafa Benitez stated at the beginning of the summer that he would not be looking at players in the world cup for his recruitment drive. Many of us could be forgiven for watching certain players and thinking they could do a job for the Toon, but Rafa told he wasn’t looking at them, so we trusted his judgement. But as is the way with Rafa, he will keep things close to his chest, as Newcastle would sign 3 players that represented their countries this summer in Russia.
First came South Korean captain Ki Sung-Yueng on a free from Swansea, Swiss defender Fabian Schar would follow from Deportivo La Coruna. But one of the surprise signings was someone who I believe could be our diamond in the rough, in the shape of Japanese front man Yoshinori Muto.
Muto didn’t set the world alight with his performances for Japan this summer, and isn’t what you would call a stereotypical superstar, to the point he wasn’t even included in the Japanese squad for the Panini sticker book. However what he did show, was a willingness to work for his team, a work rate that seemed to go without recognition by pundits, he seemed a very good grafter, in what was a decent and hard-working Japanese side.
It wouldn’t have just been his performances in Russia that would have caught the eye of Rafa and his scouting team, no doubt they had been following him for a while, enough for the club to splash out a reported £9.5m, and bring him in from Bundesliga side FC Mainz, and let’s not forget this is a player Chelsea had spoken to before he moved to Germany in 2015.
His signing probably wasn’t met with the same fan fare as the likes of Dubravka and Kenedy did this summer, and that could have been partly down to the fact that it took almost a week for him to be confirmed, due mainly in part to the fact that a work permit had to be obtained. However there have been signings in the past that have been met with a mixture of optimism and pessimism alike, the likes of Keith Gillespie, Nobby Solano, and even Papis Cisse to a certain extent. But with these signings not being looked at as marquee signings, all three, and there have been many more, all came good for the club when needed. I believe Muto can be classed in the same bracket.
His scoring record at club level is decent, and with him not being an out-and-out front man, more someone to connect the play like Ayoze Perez, a good return. While at his first club FC Tokyo, over a two-year period he made 51 appearances, scoring 13 goals, which works out as an average of a goal 3.9 every games. That goal tally would improve when he made the move to Germany, with 66 appearances for FC Mainz over a 3 year period, scoring 20 goals, which gives him an average of 3.3 games to goal ratio. With the step up in quality the Bundesliga brings, this is a decent return for someone who wasn’t the pinnacle of the Mainz attack.
Having already made 3 appearances for Newcastle, it can only be a matter of time before he bag’s his first goal in the famous black and white, but he offers much more for the team. Since making his debut against Spurs on the opening weekend of the new season, he has looked bright and willing to work, and definitely offers something different to Perez. He has shown his ability to drift across the pitch, finding space in the centre of the pitch, as well as drifting out into the channels, something that led to him winning a penalty late against Cardiff. Although the team’s performance against Forest in the cup wasn’t the best, Yoshi still showed glimpses of the player he can become.
At only 26, he will not be far away from his prime years, and what better manager to do that under, than Rafa. In the past couple of years under the managers watchful eye we have seem improvements in the likes of Lacelles, Diame, Perez and Paul Dummet. Something I can see replicated with Muto. All this while playing with a smile on his face, something that doesn’t seem to disappear even when decisions may not go his way. His willingness to work, his reading of the game, a nd that constant smile, all the while learning from one of the best managers in the game, can only spell good things for Newcastle’s first ever Japanese player. Could Muto turn into Newcastle’s ‘Smiling Assassin’?