Player Insights: Yoshinori Muto

‘Player Insights’ return for the fourth edition, featuring our somewhat forgotten centre forward Yoshinori Muto.

Early Career

Muto was born 27 years ago in Tokyo, Japan, a city not known for producing footballing greats. As a youngster, Muto joined FC Tokyo youth system, in which he attended for 2 years before departing when being accepted in Keio university.

Whilst working on his education, Muto also represented the university team for 3 years. As being part of this squad Muto earned ‘Rookie of the Year’ in his debut season, before continuing to impress in the following season. 

FC Tokyo, the club in which aided the development of the Japanese national then decided to include Muto as part of their roster as a “Special Designated Player” which allowed university students to play for the club without a professional contract. He only made a single appearance for the club, coming on as a substitute towards the end of the season, however the ability which Muto displayed in training sessions encouraged the club to offer him a professional contract in 2014.

Starring for FC Tokyo, Muto bagged 13 in 33 appearances for the club, equalling the top debut goal-scoring record in the Japanese first division. He went on to be included in the J League best XI, attracting interest from overseas, in the form of Chelsea and Mainz.

Muto opted to join Mainz in 2015, a German team playing in the top division, the Bundesliga. When making the move to the German outfit, Muto had also earned a place in his national side squad. In regards to his international career, Muto scored on his second appearance for Japan, notching a goal against a Venezuelan side containing Salomon Rondon. 

Muto enjoying his spell with Mainz in the German Bundesliga

Things were also going well in league football for the Japanese international, scoring his first hatrick for the club, while totalling 20 goals for the club across 3 seasons.

Life at Newcastle United

Rafa Benitez bought Muto to Newcastle United in the summer transfer window of 2018, on a four year contract worth around £9.5 million.

The Spaniard has a reputation for unearthing hidden talents at bargain fees, but the £9.5 million price attached to Muto’s transfer did increase the expectation on Tyneside. This sense of expectation has unfortunately never truly been matched by the Japanese international, scoring just a single goal for the Magpies. 

The goal came away to Manchester United in the league, as part of a breathtaking start for the Magpies, which saw them opening up a 2-0 lead within 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the match ended in a 3-2 defeat for Newcastle, with Alexis Sanchez ensuring the away team left empty-handed, ending his personal goal drought that Emmanuel Riviere would have been proud of.

Yoshinori Muto celebrating his solitary Premier League goal for Newcastle United at Old Trafford

This result was perhaps indicative of Muto’s time in the North East. There seemed to be a sprinkling of potential in the player, but for some reason or another things didn’t work out. 

One explanation could be the effectiveness of the partnership formed between Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez, during Muto’s debut season. With the Venezuelan striker excelling in the ‘Hold up striker’ role Benitez required at Newcastle, Ayoze Perez was working perfectly as the link between the rest of the squad and the striker.

Muto didn’t fit into the playing style of either of these roles, instead being a forward player who liked to press and make runs in behind the opposition defence. This resulted in Muto making a very limited number of appearances, and when he was on the pitch, he occupied an unnatural position, not allowing his to play to his strengths.

An alternative reason as to why Muto could not find his feet in the North East, could be attributed to the departure of  the Champions League winning manager Rafa Benitez. In the Spaniard’s past his recruitment methods were quite exceptional, however there were often scenarios in which the players recruited needed more time than expected to fully integrate into the implemented playing systems. This was the case with Kovacic at Real Madrid, Mascherano at Liverpool, and even Manquillo at Newcastle.

Although, a forgotten figure on Tyneside, Yoshinori Muto is still a Newcastle player. With the current pandemic putting a hold an all football until at least the beginning of May, there appears to be even more limited opportunities for Muto to break into the starting lineup before his contract expires in 2021.

What the future may hold

It looks a certainty that Muto has no future career in the North East, with the current shortcomings in the performances of Joelinton, alongside injury problems impacting both Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll, the Japanese international has still not been able to make a case to the Magpies that he should be starting.

The striker position has been one of a constant struggle throughout the campaign, but Muto is yet to be given a chance to make it his own. It is highly likely that recruitment will be conducted in the transfer window to bolster Newcastle’s striking oppositions, which will only further reduce the chances of Muto forging a career in Black and White.

Due to his successful time in Germany, a move back to the Bundesliga could be what is needed to reignite his career, who would be desperate to play football considering he should now be in the prime of his footballing career.

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