Kosuke Ota – Third Japanese time the charm for Vitesse?
A year and a half after ridding themselves of their Japanese contingent, Vitesse have dipped back into the familiar waters to pull out another talent from the Land of the Rising Sun. Joining the club until 2020, 28-year-old Kosuke Ota has clearly been given a strong vote of confidence by the Arnhem club. And they surely know why. While his predecessors, Michihiro Yasuda and Mike Havenaar, weren’t big failures, they were unable to inspire, whereas Ota should be able to do just that – especially considering Vitesse’s persistent issues at the left back – By Tomas Danicek
An unknown entity in Europe, Kosuke Ota actually boasts some decent pedigree. He made his first professional steps alongside the legendary striker Kazuyoshi Miura at Yokohama FC and even backed up the pioneer Japanese import to Arnhem, Michihiro Yasuda at the 2007 U-20 World Cup.
Vitesse were not the first Eredivisie outfit to take an interest in Ota’s service. FC Twente had come knocking a while ago, when the left back was still with Shimizu S-Pulse and still not at the highest level possible in Japan.
Nowadays, Ota embodies arguably the most dependable and consistent left back in the division, contributing significantly at both ends of the pitch.
“He’s a very good two-way defender,” observes Ben Maxwell, host of J-Talk Podcast and FC Tokyo supporter. “He is not the most robust in the tackle, but good positionally, although he does have a tendency to get caught up the pitch after bombing-on, so will need cover from his left winger at times. That said though, despite being better known for his crossing and set piece delivery, he takes his defending very seriously.”
A diligent worker bee reaching beyond East Asian stereotypes, Kosuke Ota never goes unnoticed on the left-hand side. He’s tenacious, can rely on bottomless stamina, and some fine musculature allows him to take on a few sprint challenges with the ball at his feet every now and then.
Of course, what counts first and foremost in case of an attack-minded fullback is always the end product. Fortunately for Vitesse, that is the prime source of Kosuke Ota’s glaring reputation in Japan. His left foot can produce a true work of art without any sort of exaggeration, and it could easily be compared to that of Shunsuke Nakamura.
All seven league goals Ota has scored for FC Tokyo stemmed from free kicks, and all of those hits were technically flawless. The player himself admitted two years ago that Roberto Carlos was his inspiration. “After eight years as a professional, it has finally become a weapon,” Ota said of his left foot in September 2013. One splendid weapon indeed.
As a creative force, the Tokyo native has been an even bigger beast, topping J1 League defenders in assists in each of the past three seasons following the only serious injury he’s ever suffered in the top flight (a metatarsal fracture in 2012), and is still finding ways to improve himself every year.
At Shimizu S-Pulse, he was being overlooked because of the presence of other left-footed magicians, Shinji Ono and Jungo Fujimoto, who got to take almost all set pieces, but that changed with the move to FC Tokyo where he would hold a monopoly in that department.
As a result, Ota has been able to further sharpen his delivery. Recently, the fullback has stepped up rather dramatically on his potency from dead balls, as he was able to double his 2014 figures this year with eight assists, and his cross from open play now arguably carries greater variety and craftiness than ever before.
Ota appears to always know when the low delivery is the most suitable option, when it’s advisable to look for the near post, or when he’s supposed to hit it early instead of pummeling past his marker on the outside. He simply never closes his eyes the way his main rival for the national team spot and another FC Tokyo alumni, Yuto Nagatomo, often does.
Yet, a poor seven international caps suggest the 28-year-old comes nowhere near to oust the 2011 Asian Cup star – a result of various factors. Compared to the Serie A recruit, Ota is probably less energetic, much less impulsive and doesn’t tend to use his right foot, which all seem to count against him in the eyes of Japan national team managers.
The current one, Vahid Halilhodžić, sadly appears to be no exception since he would even switch the best J1 League right back Koki Yonekura to the left-hand side in order to keep the pattern intact. On the other hand, Ota may have featured more under his guidance, had it not been for his injuries suffered on the eve of this year’s East Asian Cup as well as September World Cup qualifiers.
All that stated, the situation may soon change for better with all the Eredivisie action on the horizon for Ota.
Having just set his best career total in assists per league season (15), ranking among top 3 goal creators in both phases of this J1 League season, Ota has ensured himself of a spot in the official J1 League Best Eleven as the first fullback in consecutive seasons since Atsuto Uchida was dominating the country in 2008-09 just before his move to Germany.
Simply put, Ota is departing his homeland on a high and with the eyes set on strengthening his position within the national team setup. Nagatomo – struggling for playing time with Inter at the moment – is arguably no better player than the veteran J-Leaguer, vast European experience being the strongest card up his sleeve by far, and while it could be a little too late to unsettle him, it’s certainly worth a shot.
That’s also why no one in the FC Tokyo supporters’ camp dares to protest. Instead, as Ben Maxwell testifies, everyone wholly understands and supports Ota’s decision. Always an outgoing fellow and a likeable professional, who received the 2011 Fair Play Award for not committing a single yellow card foul across the full package of league games, Kosuke Ota remains a fans’ favourite no matter what.
In Arnhem, therefore, they have someone to seriously look forward to. No one ordinary, no clumsy Mike Havenaar by any means, but rather a genuine talent at the peak of his career.
Tomas Danicek is a Czech football writer who specializes in Asian football. Tomas is part of the team of the splendid ‘Sandals for Goalposts’, the number one blog in English for Asian and African football. Make sure you follow both Tomas and Sandals for Goalposts on Twitter and keep an eye on the website, as they are currently publishing their list of 100 Asian and 100 African standout footballers of 2015.