New FC Tokyo striker Yoshito Okubo admits that he feels “anxious” unless he is scoring goals, but the capital city club will be hoping to see him unwind over the coming J. League season as it goes in search of its first title.
Okubo joined Tokyo over the winter after four career-defining years at Kawasaki Frontale, where he won the golden boot for three straight seasons, earned a place on Japan’s 2014 World Cup squad and became the J. League’s all-time leading scorer with 171 top-flight goals.
For all Okubo’s personal achievements at Kawasaki, however, team silverware consistently eluded him. Frontale came close last year after reaching the J. League Championship semifinal and the Emperor’s Cup final, but Okubo decided he needed a fresh challenge and accepted an offer from Tokyo.
Tokyo finished ninth last season despite being tipped by some to win the title, but Okubo is confident that his goals can transform the club into a genuine contender.
“It really feels like it’s all starting now,” the 34-year-old said ahead of Tokyo’s season opener away to champions Kashima Antlers on Saturday. “Now we need to create a strong, stable team that can compete for the whole year.
“I’m up to speed physically and tactically. We’ve been working on our approach in attack. We already had a good defense so now I want to add the final touch in attack. I think the team was lacking ideas going forward and I want to help change that.”
Okubo’s club career was beginning to drift before joining Frontale ahead of the 2013 season, having endured failed spells at Real Mallorca in Spain and Wolfsburg in Germany and a humdrum stint at Vissel Kobe. Okubo came alive with 82 goals in 130 league appearances for Frontale, and now he is itching to get off the mark for his new club.
“I don’t care how the goals go in, how bad they look,” he said. “If there’s a chance, I want to score it. I don’t care what kind of goal I score, I just want to score one soon.
“I feel anxious until I score one. If I get one, that helps me score more. But if I go a while without scoring, I start worrying about it and thinking I’m not going to score again. So I want to open my account quickly.”
Tokyo has been busy in the winter transfer market, bringing in striker Kensuke Nagai from relegated Nagoya Grampus, repatriating fullback Kosuke Ota from Vitesse Arnhem and signing goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi from Sagan Tosu, among others.
Tokyo’s new-look side will be put to the test straight away in Saturday’s visit to Kashima, and manager Yoshiyuki Shinoda admits he is not sure if the team is ready.
“It’s a big game,” said Shinoda, who took over at the helm last July when previous manager Hiroshi Jofuku was fired. “I don’t know if the team will all fit together straight away but this game will be a good indication of what’s to come this year.
“The new players have all assimilated well into the team. They’re not total strangers — there are players already here who know them well, and the atmosphere in the group is good.
“Okubo brings a strong will to win and he shows that on the training pitch every day. He also brings goals that can help the team win, and I’m sure he can score them.”
Shinoda will be hoping for a more positive campaign than last year, where ninth-place finishes in both the first- and second-stage tables condemned Tokyo to ninth place overall. Shinoda was promoted from first-team coach to replace Jofuku five games into the second stage, and the 45-year-old is relishing the chance to start the new campaign in charge.
“Last year I was on the coaching staff at FC Tokyo and now I’m leading the team,” said Shinoda, who also managed Avispa Fukuoka from 2008-11.
“It’s up to me to bring the whole team together and it is a completely different role. I feel an equal sense of purpose and responsibility. I’m really looking forward to it.”
As for Okubo, meanwhile, the fiery forward is raring to go after enduring a punishing preseason that tested his body to the limit.
“The amount of running we were doing was tough,” he said. “We were running up mountains.
“But I feel good. My body feels good and I feel settled.”