Such is the striker’s popularity in his homeland, ‘Masa’ has followed Japan’s third-highest goalscorer of all time up and down the country and across Europe during a vibrant four-year spell in England.
Upon his arrival in England from Bundesliga side FSV Mainz, only six other Japanese natives had played in the Premier League, and alongside former Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa, is one of only two players to lift the trophy.
“It’s been really difficult for Japanese players playing in the Premier League,” he said. “I don’t think anyone made a real impact on the league. It’s such a difficult playing style for Japanese players.
“Our football is probably very technical, and we have a kind of mentality to develop skill – that’s our nature. Our football is like PE sports – it’s non-contact and exercising for a long time. Here, it’s a totally different mentality. It’s hard to adapt to Premier League football.
Shinji Okazaki: The Japanese Fox
Shinji Okazaki has played a vital role in Leicester City's recent success.
“Yes, Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick against Norwich, and did other things, but he couldn’t really make an impact. Hidetoshi Nakata for Bolton, his playing style and Bolton’s playing style, he tried, but couldn’t really make an impact.
“Junichi Inamoto showed good signs [at Fulham], but he couldn’t continue because he wanted to be a defensive midfielder, even when he was scoring heavily. But Shinji is a different story.”
Masa believes Shinji’s willingness to adjust his playing style to suit Leicester’s free-scoring stars proved vital during the 2015/16 campaign. While he only scored six times during his first season in England, he was the link between Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, who between then contributed to 60 goals that term.
“Shinji isn’t the most talented Japanese player, but he certainly showed Japanese players can play in the Premier League,” continued Masa. “He developed his own style just designed for that time Leicester. He compromised a lot. He decided to work hard for the other quality players, like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. He did that beautifully.
He came here when this club was struggling to stay in the Premier League. That level was probably a good level to start, but you know what happened! He became a proper leader for the title-winning teamMasatoshi Mori LCFC.com
“He couldn’t play for 90 minutes every single game. He used to joke with people and said ‘my team-mates call me Mr. 60 Minutes!’ Of course, he didn’t like it, but that’s the only way he could be in the starting XI.
“Of course, he has his own ego and he wants to score more goals, but he sees the levels here and he has to find a way to play in the Premier League. He came here when this club was struggling to stay in the Premier League. That level was probably a good level to start, but you know what happened! He became a proper leader for the title-winning team.”
Covering Okazaki’s Leicester career game by game, Masa has many fond moments. He says Saturday 7 May, 2016 was certainly a highlight, while the striker’s double against Southampton in 2017/18 epitomised what he is all about.
Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy
Shinji Okazaki proved to be the perfect strike partner for Jamie Vardy, who scored 24 goals in 2015/16.
“It’s just been an amazing experience, especially in the first season,” he added. “That really knocked me out! It’s really tiring. Every single match was just too much. But it was beautiful all season for every one of us.
“I remember the Everton match, the atmosphere was almost like paradise. You saw 30,000 people sharing exactly the same joy and that was a beautiful place to be.
“This club has proper ambition, proper love for football. I think this tightness should continue. The football world now is sometimes difficult, but I hope Leicester keep on the good track like this. They can be a great club.
“My favourite moment was his two goals against Southampton because at that point, in half a season, he scored six and after he got injured. He wants to continue as a striker, because he still has that image in his head. He wants to develop that point of his performance.”
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