A contingent of Japanese imports are playing crucial roles on and off the field for title-chasing Hoppers Crossing in the Football Victoria men’s state league 2 north-west.
Reds coach Shaun Barbara says the trio of Shuhei Hasegawa, in his second season, Junya Takabatake and Takuya Yoshimi, in their first seasons, have made big impacts since their arrival at Grange Reserve.
Barbara likes his squad to be multi-cultural because “you can learn a lot from each other and different cultures”, but the Japanese influence is a little closer to his heart.
The shoe was once on the other foot for Barbara, who was an exchange student in Japan and played for one of their local sides.
“I developed a love for what they’re about as players and people,” he said.
Off the field, Hasegawa, Takabatake and Yoshimi have all bought into the club culture.
Instead of forming a sub-division amongst each other, the trio have embraced and enhanced the one-team ethos.
While English is their second language, it has not stopped them from setting the mood of the changing room.
“They get along with everybody really well and they embed themselves in the club culture,” Barbara said.
“They’re really funny and their banter within the group is really good.”
The commitment of Hasegawa, Takabatake and Yoshimi is second to none.
Often they catch a bus together from the city to be the first players on the training track and they are usually last to leave.
It is their passion for the game above all that it reflective of their approach to life at the Hogans Road club.
“They just bring a lot of discipline and they’re self-motivating players,” Barbara said.
“The boys are really respected members within the group because of their attitude and their respect to others.
“They are all so polite.”
Hasegawa, Takabatake and Yoshimi are vitally important on-field cogs for Hoppers Crossing.
“They’re just really easy to coach,” Barbara said. “They’re always willing to put themselves out there and really give something a crack.
“The way we like to play, they certainly enhance and add a lot of value to the squad.”
Hasegawa has been damaging in Hoppers Crossing’s front third for the past two seasons, offering a bit of unpredictability.
“He’s quick off the mark, dangerous in one-v-one situations and can really be potent anywhere in the front third in terms of creating or goal scoring himself,” Barbara said.
“He gives you that dynamic pace and a little bit of trickery.”
Takabatake has played the least amount of games with Hoppers Crossing, but that was through no fault of his own.
On debut, Takabatake suffered a fractured leg in a crude challenge, but instead of throwing in the towel, he got back to full fitness and returned to be a key member. “If we want to talk about the level of commitment the Japanese boys have, Junya actually flew back to Japan and got himself sorted with the Japanese doctors and he’s now back playing again, all that in about an eight-week turnaround,” Barbara said.
Yoshimi has slotted into a defensive midfield role. Not as flashy as Hasegawa and Takabatake, but he is no less important to the team structure. “His work rate is absolutely through the roof,” Barbara said.
“The other boys have a few tricks up their sleeve, but ‘T’ really lets his football do the talking.
“A really good team player, he does everything for the team.”
Hoppers Crossing remains three points clear on top of the ladder after a nil-all draw with second-placed Corio on Saturday.