Sato’s Mexican dream

Sato’s Mexican dream

By Paul Williams

When you ask a Japanese footballer which current Japanese player they look up to, you expect you’ll get a response along the lines of Endo, Kagawa, Honda or the like.

Reiji Sato during the first leg of their Copa MX clash with Veracruz

One name you certainly don’t expect, with all due respect, is that of Yuto Ono, the little known Japanese midfielder with second division Mexican side Veracruz.

But for 19-year-old Reiji Sato that is exactly the case.

“He keeps getting good results in Mexico and is always playing as a key player of the team. It’s my goal to be like him,” he told Asian Football Feast.

Little is known of Sato, who found his way to Mexico as an 18-year-old after enjoying his time in the country with the national under-16 team in 2010.

Born in Kitakata-shi in Fukushima prefecture, Sato was attracted to football after seeing his older brother play the game.

“It looked fun,” he recalls.

A winger, Sato remembers looking up to his older brother and wanting to be just like him. He started playing with local sides Takasato SSS and Aizu Santos.

“The team didn’t have many kids, I was practicing with older kids and always wanted to catch up with them,” he said.

His talents were soon recognised and he was involved in the under-16 national team program, being named in a squad to visit Mexico for the Copa Chivas tournament. Little did he know at the time he would be back in Mexico a few years later on a more permanent basis.

When the opportunity came to move to Mexico he didn’t hesitate to take it up, signing with first division side Monarcas Morelia.

“I thought I could develop as a footballer and person by playing and living in a tough environment when I was still young,” he admitted.

“It was hard because I hardly understood Spanish. I had to sleep in a 10-man room at the dormitory.”

It is tough for anyone whenever they move to a new country and so it was for Sato as he adjusted to life in Mexico, but he embraced the move and tackled every challenge that came his way.

Having Ono also play in Mexico was a big help and the two have developed a friendship away from football.

“I keep in touch with him and he gives me advice,” Sato said.

Sato speak to the media after his debut for Monarcas Morelia

Sato believes that his time in Mexico has helped him develop, but still knows there are areas of his game he needs to improve if he wants to take his game to the next level.

“(I find it) hard to keep the ball because I’m not good at using my body,” he admitted to Asian Football Feast.

While he has spent his time in Mexico playing for Morelia’s under-20’s team, he has developed to such a level that coach Rubén Omar Romano had no hesitation in naming him in the starting XI for their recent Copa MX games against Veracruz, although unfortunately his good friend Ono wasn’t in the Veracruz outfit for either leg.

“It was great that I was given an opportunity at this early stage and could experience the atmosphere of first team,” Sato told Asian Football Feast just days after the match.

It would get better for the youngster the following week in the return leg, when he not only was named in the starting XI once again but he scored his first senior goal, and what a cracking goal it was.

Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, his exquisite first touch took his past his defender and into the box and still with plenty of work to do he fired home past the keeper to equalise for Morelia.

See Sato’s goal below (2:30 into the video)

Sadly an own goal in the second half meant Morelia lost the game 2-1, but with the next round of Copa MX games just two weeks away Sato will surely be looking forward to more game with the senior team, giving himself more chances to impress the Romano and stake a claim for a regular spot in the first team squad.

“It made my goal clearer, so I think I can stay a part of first team if I keep grabbing the chances I will be given,” he said.

That goal is “to be a regular in the Mexican top flight”, and if he keeps performing as he has in his first two games then that goal may become reality a lot sooner than even he expected.

Perhaps then it will be Ono looking up to him.

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