Almost four years since Gordon Strachan persuaded a work permit Appeal Panel that as a player of immense potential and huge technical ability, Koki Mizuno’s move to Celtic should be ratified, the Japanese winger is currently part of a successful club side whose stock is most definitely on the rise.
However things have certainly not gone according to plan for 25 year-old Mizuno. While he may be part of a successful team, he is not playing in the hallowed footballing continent of Europe as he had hoped, and indeed has become very much a bit part, squad player as he works himself back from injury playing for Kashiwa Reysol back in his homeland.
Following a patient wait and being continually and curiously overlooked after some very promising performances in his first competitive outings, Mizuno returned to Japan with Kashiwa Reysol in the summer of 2010 after playing only 12 games in Scotland.
Dropping to the second tier of Japanese football, hoping to kick-start his career, in a crushing blow, young Mizuno tore knee ligaments within ten minutes of his Reysol debut. In his absence his teammates have gone from strength to strength under the leadership of veteran Brazilian manager Nelsinho Baptista.
Aiming to recapture their form of mid to late 90’s when superstar players like Careca and Hristo Stoichkov donned their colours, Kashiwa Reysol won Division 2 last season and are sitting top of the J-League with eight matches played so far this term.
Injury free Mizuno now aims to get more game time, get back in the starting eleven, and get his career back on track.
He said: “When I found out the extent of the injury, at first it was a big shock, I had just come to the club and I was brought in as a reinforcement to help win promotion, so I felt like I had let the team down.
“I got injured last season and was only able to play one game, so I want to win my place in the team as soon as possible.
“Having just come up from J2 it will be a hard season, but last season we were able to establish our style and we are aiming to make progress.
“I had injuries in Scotland, and the hardest aspect of it is how it affects you mentally. How you deal with it is the most important thing, and you have to make sure you keep your motivation up.
“Playing for Celtic with Nakamura helped me a lot off the pitch as well as on it. To be able to play with a player like that and get advice from him is something that can only make me a better player.
“I went over there (to Scotland) and didn’t really show what I could do and I still haven’t got back to the level that I was at before. I wish I had been able to show my strong points, but that is what I am aiming to do here.
“If I had gone over there and given it more, then I think I could have made it, and that’s something I regret but that will spur me on to improve here.
“Playing in the Old firm Derby for Celtic was amazing — unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it was something I really enjoyed, and to be able to take part in a game like that is the biggest achievement of my career. I want to work hard and improve here so that I can sample an atmosphere like that again in the future.”
Meanwhile 53km south west of Kashiwa, Mizuno’s former team mate and a man who certainly savoured the big match atmosphere at Celtic, Shunsuke Nakamura is definitely more of a central figure on his return to Japan.
Having started all but one league game so far this season which he missed through minor injury, captain Nakamura, always the consummate professional, has performed well but not quite at the scintillating heights he did in his first spell for hometown side Yokohama Marinos, or indeed in his explosive spell in Scotland with Celtic.
With his technique, quiet influence, and now vast experience; it was expected that Nakamura would drive Marinos back to challenge for the title after eight years completely out of contention. And indeed on his second debut for the club, he scored a trademark long range strike signalling he might do just that.
Offering quite the opposite in terms of success that Mizuno suffered on his immediate return to their home country. Despite being an integral part of every starting line-up, Nakamura has not consistently dominated games in the way that had been hoped scoring only four more goals in over 30 games last season, only taking them to a lacklustre eighth position on the J-League.
This season has seen Nakamura’s side fair far better, currently in third place, only three points from the top, and the Marinos faithful with be hoping their captain can add a patented free kick or five to his solitary strike this term to help them overthrow his old pal Koki Mizuno’s team from top of the league.
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