A few days ago Leeds United had, according to Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) reporter Phil Hay, signed a deal for rising Japanese star Yosuke Ideguchi.
Hay said at the time that the YEP “understands that an agreement for Ideguchi was struck last Friday,” going on to state that the Whites have “lined up their first January transfer.”
Signing Ideguguchi as just a player
The rumour that Leeds United were interested in a Far East signing came via a Facebook Live chat with Leeds United Director of Football Victor Orta, with Orta mentioning at the time that the club had a big surprise for fans.
Orta’s replied to a question asked by a Leeds fan, and was more than clear in what he said with the Spaniard stating: “…perhaps he arrived Pawel Cibicki of Malmö in the Sweden league and we are near to sign a big surprise from Asia.”
It is a ‘signing’ that is in essence a ‘non-signing’ in that the capture of the Blue Samurai’s rising talent won’t be an immediate one. The problem is that Ideguchi won’t qualify for a work permit, due to him not having played the requisite 75% of Japan’s international games over the previous two years. Japan are outside the top 50 in the FIFA rankings, meaning that a transfer is not straightforward affair – work permits coming in to play. The Whites are banking on the young mifielder starring in the 2018 World Cup to rack up the needed appearances.
To get around this temporary hitch, Japan’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup should see them break FIFA’s top 50. Leeds United will sign the exciting Yosuke Ideguchi and then loan him out to another, non-English club. That’s the current thinking that’s being applied, and it does make sense. Many are speculating that this club could be Cultural Leonesa, a La Liga 2 side that the Whites have ‘an agreement’ with.
— Chris Taylor (@LUFCDATA) December 11, 2017
More than just signing a player for the Whites
Signing the rising star from the Land of the Rising Sun in Ideguchi will cost Leeds United £500,000 according to a tweet by Phil Hay on his Twitter feed. Peanuts, or pinattsu in Japanese, for a player who is seen as an exciting hub that the Japanese national set-up could feature around in years to come. It is safe to say that Leeds fans think that they have a bit of a steal in Ideguchi, and they are willing to tell you about it too. But is this all it is about – Leeds United bringing in a rated J-League youngster and bona fide Japan international midfielder, or is there more?
Other factors outside of capturing such a fantastic talent also need to be considered as well. Factor in Leeds’ capture of former Japan star Toshiya Fujita, and there you have another perspective to consider. Fujita joined the behind-the-scenes structure at Elland Road and was given the title of ‘Leeds United’s Head of Football Development in Asia’. So what some ask, coincidence others say. Possibly, possibly not.
Upon signing, and when asked about his role in an article carried by Yahoo Japan, Fujita said that it will be to work on the “front side” and help “in the strengthening of the coaching staff and team.” He says that the position arose from part of an earlier discussion with Radrizzani, a discussion that happened before the Italian became owner of Leeds United.
Radrizzani, of course, has a big presence in the developing football market of Asia through his previous work for M&P Silva, a sports and media rights company he founded. He also is a man who realises the importance of getting placement in the right markets. In essence, Andrea Radrizzani is the skillful epee and thrust that Leeds United fans had been crying out for at the helm at Elland Road. This, of course, contrasts entirely with the rattling sabre of former owner Massimo Cellino, who is now back on familiar soil and teamed up with Nicola Salerno at Brescia in Serie B.
Tapping into a rich market
There’s always going to be money is football as a driving force, that’s inevitable and unavoidable – something that fans have to grit their teeth and front up about. The money in football at the moment is in the Far East, and it is filtering in to English football all the while.Gone are the Russian oil barons and oligarchsand their roubles; in are the Chinese consortiums and their renminbi.
Then, and think for a moment, why would Leeds United be over in the Land of the Rising Sun chasing a possible poster boy of Japanese football? Obviously at £500,000 Ideguchi comes in as more than a bit of a bargain, but there’s also the untapped potential and money that Leeds United could very well focus on in capturing him. Premier League clubs are already aware of the appeal of English football to the Far East and places such as China, Malaysia and Singapore.
As the Daily Mail pointed out in an article from earlier this year, south-east Asia is “the most populated region in the world” and is “mad about English football.” In the hallowed arena that is the Premier League, overseas rights bring in an excess of £1billion a year to the EPL’s coffers.
Whilst that is of course all referring to the Premier League, that does not mean that the Football League and, by extension Leeds United, should miss out. The EFL already has its own broadcast service in the recently launched iFollow platform with this platform viewed favourably by overseas fans. Leeds United don’t subscribe to that service, the Whites having their own, in-house digital service provider in LUTV.
Last year representatives from Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal took part in the Sports Matters conference, a four-day event that was held in Singapore. Manchester City’s Tom Glick said, “It’s impossible to understate the importance of the sport of football in Southeast Asia.”
Whilst Glick is talking about South-East Asia, that region comes under the wider umbrella term of the Far East. It is a region that Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani knows well, it is also an area that he’s obviously keen on exploring. To that end he’s got boots on the ground in Toshiya Fujita, as well having experience of operating businesses in the region – a region that gave his MP & Silva company 40% of its total revenues in 2015.
Yes Leeds United fans should rightly laud the exciting capture of a rising star of Japanese football. Yes they should also be rubbing their hands together in glee that he could be the spark that ignites the Whites next season when he ‘should’ arrive at the club.
However, they might also want to keep their finger on the pulse to see if the link with Japan and the Far East develops along other lines such as those mentioned above.