• AFP-JIJI

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Japan youth international Jun Nishikawa said Friday he heard through friends Barcelona was interested in signing him but denied there had been any contact from the Spanish giant.

The 17-year-old attacking midfielder, who has represented Japan at the under-17 and under-20 World Cup, told local media his main focus was on nailing down a place at J. League club Cerezo Osaka.

“I read the news on my phone yesterday morning and my friends told me about it, but I didn’t think anything special,” insisted Nishikawa, who won’t become eligible to move overseas until he turns 18 next month, paving the way for a possible summer transfer.

“I’m just thinking about earning a regular place and playing for Cerezo.”

Barcelona has been linked with Nishikawa by Spanish media after spotting him while keeping tabs on another Japanese youngster, Hiroki Abe, who has impressed for the B-team since joining the Catalans from Kashima Antlers last summer.

Asked what he would do if a concrete offer came from Camp Nou to further boost Japan’s presence in Spain, Nishikawa added: “At that time, I’ll make a decision depending on how I feel. Right now, I’m playing for Cerezo.”

Nishikawa has only made a handful of appearances for Cerezo, but after losing out last year in the race to sign 18-year-old sensation Takefusa Kubo, dubbed the “Japanese Messi,” Barca appears determined to not let the same thing happen again.

Kubo opted to join bitter rival Real Madrid despite being invited to Barcelona’s youth academy as a scrawny 9-year-old where he earned his nickname for the dribbling skills that made him a YouTube hit.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain were also linked to Kubo, who has been playing for La Liga rival Mallorca on a season-long loan by Madrid in order to gain experience.

Kubo marked his full Japan debut last June in a 2-0 friendly win over El Salvador, coming on as a second-half substitute for Takumi Minamino.

Nishikawa, who has made no secret of his desire to play in Europe, has reportedly received glowing references from Cerezo’s Spanish boss Miguel Angel Lotina, former manager of Villareal and Espanyol, helping to convince Barca of the player’s potential.

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