Yutaro Oda: The excitement but realistic expectation over Hearts new boy, versatility, Meshino and microsite
Not only was the player met at Edinburgh airport by an assortment of press and photographers, not to forget to the club’s then assistant boss Austin MacPhee, who boasted impressive Japanese language skills, there was also the introduction of a microsite (essentially a slimmed down Japanese version of the club’s official website). If anything, it was forward thinking. A relatively high profile and highly-rated talent who would attract plenty of interest. After all, journalists from the player's homeland were a common sight at Tynecastle Park as they are at Celtic with their array of excellent Japanese stars.
While the transfer promised much and started brightly, it ultimately failed to deliver, the 24-year-old perhaps epitomising the season which ended in relegation/demotion (delete as applicable) to the Championship.
Three years later, Hearts have returned to the Japanese market with the addition of forward Yutaro Oda from Vissel Kobe on a three-and-a-half year deal. Sporting director Joe Savage has made little secret of the club’s interest in exploring certain markets around the world, including Australia, Japan and South America.
“He’s got a lot of great attributes but the exciting thing is that he’s still young and there will be more to come from him, so we’ve got a huge part to play in developing him,” Robbie Neilson told the club's website.
Guide, refine and develop
This should be viewed as a far more exciting signing for the club but one where patience and understanding is required. Meshino was thrust into the spotlight as a player Manchester City had spent seven-figures on and, in turn, viewed as an individual who would be a key attacking presence for the team. There was an element of development but more so for the Premier League side lending him to Hearts. With Oda, he is the club's to guide, refine and develop. With a three-and-a-half year deal there shouldn't be an immediate expectation, the player should be allowed time to breath and adapt.
It is not to say he can't come in and have a positive impact straight away in the first-team. It's just that he doesn't have to, especially if the club get the deal for Garang Kuol on loan from Newcastle United over the line. Not only is it is young player, just 21 years of age, moving across the world and adapting to a new culture, on and off the pitch, but his game time for Vissel Kobe should be considered. Since making his debut as a 17-year-old, he has experienced the J1 League, playing in the same side as Andres Iniesta, the Asian Champions League and international exposure with Japan’s youth sides. Yet, in 60 club appearances, he has started 25 and completed 90 minutes five times.
Versatile in attack
The environment at Tynecastle is currently ideal for Oda. The team, and club, is in a very positive moment, there won't be a reliance and the system under Neilson should allow the player to express his attacking talents. Hearts are getting a versatile forward. In his last outings, for Japan’s Under-21s against Spain and Portugal in November, he was fielded as a No.9. In such a role he demonstrated his ability with his back to goal, able to hold off defenders and act as a link man. Out of possession, he was keen to play on the last man and look to run in behind using his pace.
It's unlikely to be a position he will play all that often for Hearts, certainly in the beginning. For his club he was more often used in a wide right position. Oda is wiry, has good strength and even better pace. He would be someone who could cause plenty of damage coming off the bench and running at opposition defences when games become stretched. There is a willingness to run in behind when team-mates have the ball. When he receives it in deeper positions he is more likely to drive in field and commit opponents.
In his own words: “I see myself as a very speedy and sharp player. I am also good at dribbling and with the ball at my feet.”
Oda is a signing for the medium term. The next five months allow him to dip his toes into Scottish football, demonstrate the talent he has when given the chance before likely emerging into an important first-team star in the coming seasons. And perhaps it could lead to a relaunch of the microsite.
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