Spotlight on... Japanese Footballers in the English Premier League

Our spotlight returns with a double interview with Japanese international footballers Tadanari Lee and Maya Yoshida who currently both play for Southampton FC in the English Premier League. Lee joined The Saints part-way through their campaign to join the Premiership last season, and Yoshida joined at the start of this season after the team was promoted.

In the last 10 years we have had footballers from Japan come to play in the Premier League, such as Inamoto, Nakata, Toda and now Kagawa and you both. What attracts Japanese footballers to England?

Lee: I think that English football is more powerful and fast-paced compared to Japanese football. I have to work hard to make a good contribution to my team. But I hope that if I work hard and play well, it might make it easier for other Japanese footballers to come to the UK in the future.

Do you think a lot of Japanese footballers want to come to the UK?

Yoshida: I think it’s not only Japanese footballers but footballers from all over Asia.

Maya Yoshida and Tadanari Lee (L to R)
Most countries in Asia now have the TV rights to show Premier League matches so more and more people want to come and play in the Premier League. Of course the football is of a high level and it’s not easy to get to play but if people like Lee and I can achieve good results in the Premier League, as Lee said, it would hopefully make it easier for other guys – especially strikers and defenders to come here. I want to be a pioneer.

Lee: We both do!

Yoshida: We would like to keep in mind the ambitions of other Japanese footballers. We have a responsibility to them and I’m very proud of my job.

The English Premier League is known for its fast tempo and high degree of physical contact. Have you found this to be true?

Both: Yes! Of course yes!

Yoshida: After every game I have many scratches or injuries!

Lee: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to play any matches in the Premier league yet due to injury, but I played for Southampton in the Championship last season. The quality of the football in the Championship was much better than I had expected.

What has the reception of the British fans been like?

Yoshida: I like the moment when a goal is scored – especially in our stadium, St Mary’s. It’s really wonderful. I hope I'll be able to score myself.

Lee: Me too - as soon as possible.

Yoshida: Yes, I’d like to see that!

What are the differences between training in Japan and the UK?

Yoshida: I think training here is harder and there is more physical contact. Japanese training sessions are more technical – more passing. Here there is more one-on-one practice I think. We have to fight hard – even in training! Of course the standard of football here is very high – so that’s why.

How do you think Japanese football has progressed in the last 10 years?

Lee: I think it has improved, considerably.

Yoshida: Many players can leave Japan to play abroad since the standard has come up in Japan.

Lee: But still I think English football is completely different from Japanese football. Football is culture in itself in England, in Europe as well, but in Japan it’s still one form of entertainment. I hope it can progress from that.

Yoshida: The quality is getting better in Japan though. Many of our footballers who play in Europe also play on our national team – so we are getting better results at the international level. Our national team getting good results is the most important thing for Japanese football, but we also need to show our quality all over the world.

How has your experience of living in the UK been?

Yoshida: It’s very different from Japan, but I lived in Holland for two and a half years before coming here so I have some experience of living in Europe. Of course Holland isn’t the same as the UK, but I’ve found it easier to adjust than Lee I think.

Lee: I’ve been here about eight to nine months. I feel very comfortable here, but English is very difficult!

What has been your most memorable moment so far?

Yoshida: I played away against Arsenal for my first match in the UK. Although we lost that match 6-1, it was my first experience of an English stadium. It was really good and I really felt like I had arrived in the UK at that moment, so it left a big impression on me.

Lee: For me it was when I scored for the first time. I felt very good because I really wanted to score in front of lots of Saints fans. I could feel the support of all the Saints fans together.

What is your favourite British food?

Lee:  The most difficult question! I’ve tried fish and chips – it was good but I think Japanese food is more healthy and delicious. I like eating lamb now. I didn’t like lamb when I was in Japan but since coming to the UK I've come to enjoy eating lamb very much.

Yoshida: Apple crumble and custard – it’s delicious. I’m not a fan of baked beans though!

To follow the progress of Lee and Yoshida and for more information about Southampton FC, check their website at http://www.saintsfc.co.uk/