Newcastle United have struggled to find a forward as prolific as the sheet metal workers’ son and all time Premier League goal scorer Alan Shearer since his retirement. The forwards that have donned the famous black and white since then have been a mixed bag. The loss of popular figure Mitrovic captures the very essence of that, immensely talented and yet his time at St James’ Park can only be described as a failure.

Step forward one of the latest arrivals, Yoshinori Muto. The 26 year old Japanese forward is an exciting transfer, a bit of an unknown to followers of English football as well as a far cry from the French market transfer policy of the Graham Carr days. Here are a few of the hard facts about him

Vitals

  • Position: Forward – Primarily a CF, but versatile enough to have also played  RW,LW and the 10 position in his career so far
  • Age: 26 ( Born 15 July 1992)
  • Height: 1.79 m
  • Preferred foot: Right
  • Club Career record: 133 Apps, 49 Goals
  • International Record: 25 Caps, 2 Goals

 

Career so far

Beginnings in Japan

Muto honed his skills with FC Tokyo, having been part of their youth setup since childhood. Despite being at a top-level football club, Muto declined their offer of a professional contract. He left the club to study at Keio University, specifically at their Faculty of Economics. He would go on to play for the football team whilst studying, eventually winning their Rookie of the Year award.  FC Tokyo still wanted him to play for them during his student years. He was given ‘Special Designated Player’ status in order to play for them which was unique in that division. It meant that Muto could play without a professional contract. However, he only played in 1 match during this arrangement.

Launching his full time professional career in 2014, Muto scored 13 goals in 33 appearances in his first season, equalling the J.League record for a debutant.

Big time move to Germany

Japanese players and German football go together extremely well. From trailblazer Yasuhiko Okudera, who became the first Japanese player to play in Germany when signing for Koln in 1997, to notable stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui and Makoto Hasebe – part of Wolfsburg 2009 title winning side – it has been a history of success. Many have remarked that the reason for this is Japan’s philosophy of football mirroring that of Germany’s in focusing on the technical aspect of the game, as well as being highly professional and disciplined in their approach to training and playing.

Muto earned himself a move to Mainz 05 in May 2015. In 3 seasons with the German outfit  he has netted 6,7 and 10 goals in all competitions across each campaign. The 10 goal campaign being his most recent, during a season in which he impressed enough to receive a call up to the Russia 2018 World Cup with Japan, playing a total of 82 minutes in the tournament.

 

Style of Play

Newcastle fans will have a very good idea of the type of player Muto is at the end of the campaign. Given the lack of UK coverage for the Bundesliga and Muto’s prior days being in Japan, much of the information gathered on his playing style will be through what respected journalists and coaches have had to say about Muto, before the eye test allows those of Black and White affiliation to assess him as a player.

Italian coach Massimo Ficcadenti deployed Muto as a left winger in a 4 3 3 formation as well as a second striker (the number 10) in that same set up, due to the versatility and work rate of Muto. When playing on the left his preferred move is to cut inside onto his preferred right foot, which gives a different option to Kenedy and Atsu on that side who would hug the line more often as they’re left footed.

Muto is a tireless worker who will graft all game. Such is his workrate that FC Tokyo listed him as a midfielder during one of his seasons with them.

Another aspect of the game he is comfortable with is using either foot in general play. Although predominantly right footed, he isn’t averse to switching to his left when dribbling as well as when shooting.

 

Quotes on Muto

“His potential was amazing, I didn’t see for a long time such an intelligent player like Muto. He’s a different guy, he’s not such a usual player. Muto is something like a noble. He has something different to all other players because he comes from a good family, he has good education, he was at university. A very smart, intelligent guy. He has something which you cannot learn.”
*Ranko Popovic, the manager who gave him his professional debut, said in 2013.

 

“He’s not a striker that stands still and waits for the ball. Yoshi, with his engine and his passion, did what [Shinji] Okazaki was doing for us before he left,”. “I was delighted with his performance. He was relentless in irritating and pressuring the opposition, and, in a way, was our first line of defence, perhaps even the most important. By working so hard, he took a lot of pressure off our defenders.”
*Martin Schmidt, ex Mainz manager, speaking in an interview following giving Muto his Bundesliga debut.

 

Advanced Stats

So how does Muto come across when looking at the numbers beyond the goals? We take a look at some of the figures provided by Understat.com

  • Muto registered 2.04 shots per game in 15/16, that compares with 1.60 in 16/17 and 1.74 in 17/18. It should be noted that Mainz finished 6th in 15/16 and only stayed up by 3 points in 17/18, alluding to them struggling in matches which has lead to this decrease for Muto.
  • Muto’s xG numbers make for interesting reading when compared against his goal tally. In 15/16 his xG was 8.98 but he only scored 7, marginally underperforming against it but nothing to criticise. However things get a lot more impressive when looking at this 17/18 figures. His xG was 4.82 yet he scored 8 goals, showing that he was able to score difficult chances on top of his presentable opportunities.
  • He’s much more of a danger inside the box than out of it. In his 3 seasons in the Bundesliga, 61 of his efforts have been inside the penalty area, 15 inside the 6 yard box and only 13 shots from outside the box.
  • The aforementioned versatility is not just about his starting position, but also his attacking range. He has a healthy mix of 32 left foot shots, 33 on his right and 24 headed attempts across those 3 seasons.

 

Let’s compare some of those stats with loaned Newcastle forward Dwight Gayle

  • Whereas Muto outperformed his xG in 17/18, it was the opposite story for the Newcastle number 9. With an xG of 9.67, Dwight only managed 6 goals
  • However Gayle did manage 2.61 shots per 90, which suggests Newcastle were a more creative side than Mainz last year, something that Muto could benefit from with his superior xG output

 

Wrap up

Newcastle United fans love a forward. Muto may not don the number 9 shirt but his work-rate should endear him to the Newcastle fans pretty quickly. Whilst his numbers are far from elite, there are plenty of encouraging signs about his all round game that should see him adapt to life well in the Premier League. Given Rafa Benitez’s coaching methods and Muto being at an age where most strikers enter their prime, there is plenty to look forward to as far the Japanese forward is concerned. Let’s hope it’s a successful spell for him on Tyneside.