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Hirayama shows big improvement in Holland

30 Jan 2006(Mon)

January 27, 2006: Ask 10 Japanese fans to name their favourite striker and, in all probability, you'd get 10 different answers.

Unlike in defence, with Nakazawa, or in midfield, with Hidetoshi Nakata, Nakamura and Ono, Japan does not have one outstanding forward who immediately springs to mind.

This is why World Cup places are wide open for the forwards, and why there is a movement growing for Sota Hirayama to be given a chance.

Hirayama, of course, is now in Holland and scoring goals for Heracles Almelo.

I must admit I have noticed a big improvement in the lanky striker since he moved to Europe, compared to the raw and awkward version from Japan's Olympic qualifying and Athens campaign.

He looks much more coordinated and much sharper than he used to, and is scoring goals in the air and on the ground.

Despite the ridiculous media hype that surrounded him during the Olympic qualifying campaign -- with TV stations guilty of focusing on him constantly, even when he was on the bench -- I always reserved judgement on his ability and his potential.

In all honesty I did not think he was ready for the Olympics, as he lacked the experience at such a high level against seasoned professionals.

He would often be penalised for handball or for offside, and would look clumsy at times, so his decision to go to Tsukuba University rather than turn professional with a J.League club appeared to me as the beginning of the end of Hirayama's brief career.

This is why I was pleased to learn he had signed with Heracles, and the benefits of this professional environment are there for all to see. Training every day under coaches and alongside players in the Dutch league is really improving his all-round game, and he looks to be a firm favoruite with team-mates and fans alike.

At the time of writing he has scored seven goals, and if he keeps on going there is a strong possibility that Zico might have a look at him soon, for example when Japan play Bosnia in Germany at the end of February. After all, he's not too far away and it wouldn't do anyone any harm just to have him involved in training, so Zico can check him at close quarters.

The only thing that would worry me about a Hirayama call-up would be the media spotlight shining brightly on him again. That would be hard to watch!


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