August 19th, 2011
There are few true fairytales left in the modern game, especially at the top end. Yet Ryo Miyaichi’s rise from high school football in Japan to Arsenal’s first-team is one fit for any Hollywood script, writes Jamie Sanderson of the Young Guns blog.
The 18-year-old was recently granted a UK work permit, thanks in part to testimonials from Arsène Wenger and the Japanese Football Federation. The news capped off a rollercoaster 12 months, which saw Ryo go from a relative unknown to one of the most promising young players in the Premier League.
The story began last summer, when a scout working for Japanese outfit Nagoya Grampus Eight, who Wenger managed during the 1995-1996 season, tipped the Frenchman off about an exciting winger playing for Chükyö High School. His name was Ryo Miyaichi, and he was back at school following a failed trial for German side FC Cologne.
A number of Dutch clubs had also been alerted to Miyaichi, including Ajax, who had arranged a run out with their Reserve team during pre-season. However, Wenger moved quickly, and managed to use his influence to persuade the player to come to London.
Ryo had only been in England a matter of days before being named in the starting lineup for a Reserve team friendly against Borehamwood. He impressed in a 3-0 win, in front of the watching Wenger and chief scout Steve Rowley. Ryo then featured in the next game against AFC Wimbledon, but struggled to get involved. After completing his trial, he went to Ajax as planned.
However, his time there was short lived, after he broked his fibula during a friendly against SVV Scheveningen. Ajax withdrew their interest, and a disappointed Miyaichi returned to Japan for treatment. It seemed to be the end of the road, but out of the blue Wenger phoned Ryo and told him to return to London once fit where a contract was waiting. It was a stunning turnaround.
The quicksilver winger arrived in December 2010 and signed a five-year-contract, with effect from January 1st. The club knew they wouldn’t be able to get Ryo a work permit immediately, so, as part of an unofficial partnership, loaned him to Eredivisie club Feyenoord until the end of the season.
He was expected to go straight into youth ranks, but after one training session, convinced then-manager Mario Been to add him to the first-team squad. A debut against Vitesse followed, where he claimed the man of the match award, before scoring and grabbing an assist against Heracles. Miyaichi finished the loan spell with three goals in 12 games, a number of assists, and the nickname ‘Ryodinho’ from the Feyenoord faithful. Not bad for a youngster who had only recently been playing high school football in Japan.
It wasn’t just his talent that earned respect and admiration. Ryo’s commitment, desire and strong work ethic endeared him to all. He would regularly bring the training equipment in off the training ground, and stay behind for extra sessions. Despite Feyenoord’s desire to keep him on loan for the forthcoming season, an intrigued Arsène Wenger wanted to take another look.
Miyaichi was involved throughout Arsenal’s pre-season program, and proved especially popular when the club toured Asia. Some still doubted his ability, and questioned if Ryo was just there to help sell shirts in the far East, a la Junichi Inamoto. It was quickly apparent this was not the case.
The award of a work permit this week sees Ryo go straight into the Arsenal first team this season. A pacy, skillful and intelligent winger with sprint times that rival Theo Walcott, there may be more chapters written in the ongoing fairytale that is Ryo Miyaichi.
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