Takumi Minamino is already a big hit with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after the Japan international’s 70-minute debut in the Reds’ 1-0 FA Cup win over Everton on Sunday.
As he prepares to become just the ninth Japanese player to appear in the Premier League when Liverpool visit Tottenham on Saturday, the 24-year-old midfielder could be about to make a huge impression off the pitch as well as on it.
We take a closer look at the impact Minamino’s arrival on Merseyside could have.
‘As popular as Real Madrid and Barcelona’
The former Red Bull Salzburg player is already a big deal on and off the pitch in Asia. The player ‘inspired by Brazil’s Ronaldo’ is one of his country’s top young talents.
His four years at Salzburg brought him 63 goals in 192 appearances and a £7.25m move to Anfield, with an adoring audience watching his every move.
“Definitely, it will boost Liverpool’s popularity here in Japan,” said Yumiko Tamaru, secretary for Japan’s Official Liverpool Supporters Club.
“Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the most popular European football clubs here in Japan, but I think Liverpool will be as popular as these Spanish giants if Minamino flourishes in Liverpool.
“A lot of football fans have already started to contact us asking how they can get Liverpool’s match tickets. I think you will find more Japanese fans at Anfield after January.”
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, describes the Asian market as “probably the biggest international market for Premier League clubs”.
And, with Liverpool having just signed a huge new kit deal with Nike, he believes Minamino’s arrival will only increase the club’s opportunities.
“Liverpool’s front-of-shirt sponsor Standard Chartered and insurance partner AXA are both big in Asia,” said Maguire.
“Japanese fans and media are very keen on the Premier League and whenever a Japanese player signs for a Premier League club there is always a surge in interest, as shown by Shinji Kagawa playing for Manchester United a few years ago.
“Minamino’s signing will lead to an increase in merchandise sales and potential new commercial deals in that market.
“Manchester United historically have had the biggest Asian fan base, but Liverpool and Chelsea are vying for second place.
“Fans and commercial partners in the region always want to be associated with success and Liverpool’s recent achievements in the Champions League and Club World Cup can be used to leverage more lucrative deals with sponsors.”
‘An eruption of euphoria’
Cynics may be quick to mention shirt sales and commercial reasons as key factors behind Klopp acquiring the 24-year-old forward, but Japanese supporters insist he has the talent to succeed on Merseyside.
Tamaru, who watched Sunday’s Merseyside derby from a British pub in Tokyo’s Ebisu district crammed full of Liverpool supporters in red shirts and scarves, said: “I think they signed him purely for footballing reasons.
“We know that Klopp is a manager who doesn’t sign players unless he knows how they perfectly fit within his system.
“He doesn’t use signings straight away until he’s certain that the player understands his footballing philosophy. When he [Minamino] starts to play, he’ll just fit. And he’ll make a big impact on other Japanese players.”
Minamino’s inclusion in Liverpool’s starting XI was met by an eruption of euphoria inside the pub when announced on social media.
Despite a quiet first game for the Reds, Japanese fans were still enthused about Minamino’s prospects at Anfield.
“What’s amazing is that he’s signing for Liverpool right now when they’re the best team in the world. It’s incredible to have a Japanese player play for them,” said one fan.
“Here in Japan, we’re far from Europe. For Japanese players to go there and make a step up and make an impact, like Minamino has done at Red Bull Salzburg, I really admire and respect him,” added another supporter.
The third Japanese player to lift the Premier League trophy?
Despite Japan being one of Asia’s top footballing nations, Minamino will be just the ninth player from the country to appear in the Premier League with few making a tangible impact.
Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida are the only two Japanese players to make 100 Premier League appearances, while the former is the only Japanese player to reach double figures for goals in the top flight.
Okazaki played a significant role in Leicester City’s 2015-16 title-winning campaign, while Kagawa also lifted the Premier League trophy in the 2012-13 season in what was a culmination of a 38-game spell for Manchester United, during which he scored six goals.
However, the likes of Kazuyuki Toda, at Tottenham, and Ryo Miyaichi, for Arsenal, Bolton and Wigan, made less of an impact with just a smattering of top-flight appearances between them.
Liverpool fans will be hoping Minamino can become the third Japanese player to lift the Premier League trophy later this year.
And if that does happen then that Liverpool pub in Tokyo may need to open another branch to accommodate all the club’s new fans in Japan.