Meet Takehiro Tomiyasu.. the Spurs target that wanted to be a swimmer, idolised Mascherano and rejected Barcelona
TOTTENHAM are in talks to sign Japanese star Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna.
The defender may be little known in England, but is a rising star that has already had brushes with Europe's elite.
From marking Zlatan in Serie A to rejecting Barcelona as a kid, Tomiyasu has pedigree as a shrewd potential acquisition.
SunSport exclusively revealed last week that Spurs are confident of signing the 22-year-old – despite having had a £15.5million bid turned down by the Serie A side.
With Tottenham set to keep pursuing Tomiyasu, how about we get to know Nuno Espirito Santo's possible first recruit a little better?
Growing up in Fukuoka, a prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu, a young Tomiyasu, known affectionately as 'Tomi', wanted to emulate his sisters in joining a swimming school.
At the age of six, as revealed by Sponichi, Tomi was all set to take up swimming as his primary passion – before a chance encounter changed everything.
The youngster was playing in the hallway of his apartment, when teacher Kanji Tsuji came over to visit his parents.
Tsuji, also general manager of an elementary school's football set-up, was blown away by Tomiyasu's speed, and was convinced that he should try his hand at the beautiful game.
Recalling the meeting, he said: "When he dribbled, probably no one in Fukuoka had a leg to catch up with him. He was horribly fast."
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Upon Tsuji's recommendation, Tomiyasu's parents enrolled him in Mitsuzuki Kickers' school programme, which he took to like a duck to water.
With dreams of swimming ditched, Tomi became obsessed with football, with Tsuji adding that he was always 'earliest to practice'.
He had a new dream to devote himself to now, being a professional footballer.
BARC TO THE DRAWING BOARD
At the age of 11, upon the recommendation of his coach, Tomiyasu attended a trial at a Barcelona Soccer Camp in Japan.
And such was the impression that he made, that the LaLiga kings offered him a place in their academy.
The decision was much to agonise over, but ultimately moving 9,000 miles to a different continent proved to be too much to ask of a boy so young.
Tomiyasu turned down the offer, but his opportunity to move to Europe would come around again.
By this point Tomiyasu had nailed down a role in his youth team, playing as either a defender or a holding midfielder – with aggression a key asset in his game.
While he hadn't signed for them, Barcelona were still an important influence on Tomiyasu, as he modelled his game on Javier Mascherano's – admiring the dogged Argentine's ability to move between midfield and defence.
Oh his experience with Barcelona, Tomi told Soccer-King in 2019: "The environment is completely different from the team I belong to. The level is high and it was very inspiring."
At 11, he signed for his local J2 League side Avispa Fukuoka, and began his ascent through the ranks, eventually debuting for the first team aged 16 in October 2015.
After spending the 2016 season in and out of the side, Tomiyasu became a regular the following season, attracting attention from Europe once again.
He joined Belgian top flight outfit Sint-Truiden in 2018, while he also earned his first senior caps for Japan.
Upon winning Sint-Truiden's Player of the Year award in his first full season in Europe, he showed his willingness to keep working hard once again, writing on Instagram after thanking the fans: "I will do my best to improve even a little without being satisfied with this award!"
Sadly for the Belgians, these improvements would come in Italy, with Bologna paying £8million for his services in the summer of 2019.
Under the wily Sinisa Mihajlovic, Tomiyasu began to be utilised as a defensive right-back – an experience that could serve him well ahead of possibly playing on the right of Nuno Espirito Santo's back three.
Tomiyasu has been coached hard by Mihajlovic, even in the finer details.
Tomi said last October: "He is also giving me lots of advice on how to move my arms, but above all Mihajlovic insists a lot on defence inside the area."
A post shared by 冨安健洋/Takehiro Tomiyasu (@tomiyasu.t)
After just one year at Bologna, Tomiyasu could have been on the move, when AC Milan came calling last summer.
But they refused to sell, with sporting director Riccardo Bigon saying at the time: "For him, we refused offers because he is important for us and because we believe he can have a higher evaluation than that proposed by Milan."
And the man himself, no stranger to turning down some of Europe's biggest clubs, said: "I am a Bologna player and I want to play for Bologna.
"I must admit that I am happy to have been associated with some of the most famous clubs in the world. It motivates me."
SPURS IN A MOMENT?
Milan's loss could be Spurs' gain this summer, with Tomiyasu appearing to fit the perfect profile of signing for the North Londoners as a young, up and coming defender with bundles of potential, adding versatility and quality to Tottenham's creaking back line.
He will miss a chunk of pre-season, however, as he is set to compete in his home Olympics for Japan.
Tomiyasu already has plenty of tournament experience in the bank, having played at the AFC Asia Cup in 2019 – even scoring the winning goal against Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals.
He also played at the Copa America later this year, after Japan were invited as a guest nation by Comnebol.
After his Olympic adventure, Tomi could be the perfect addition to a new young core at the back for Spurs, already featuring Joe Rodon and Japhet Tanganga.
Even though I play as a central defender, I also like to build up attacking plays from the back
As well as his defensive and physical capabilities, he can help Spurs build attacks from the back.
In a feature with Serie A's media team, he said: "Even though I play as a central defender, I also like to build up attacking plays from the back, by making the first pass.
"My strengths are that I can play with both feet, and that's something I've developed even more since playing for Bologna."
A post shared by 冨安健洋/Takehiro Tomiyasu (@tomiyasu.t)
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