Miyaichi set to become big hitter
In The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso ended up winning the All Valley Championship thanks to guts, hard work but mainly the guidance of Mr Miyagi. At times, however, Daniel doubted the teachings of the Japanese janitor, growing disillusioned with waxing on and off, painting fences and sanding floors. Little did he know it was part of the master's plan to take the title. Some Arsenal fans are no longer sure about Arsene Wenger's methods after a cruel summer that just got worse with the departure of Cesc Fabregas, but they may get a glimpse of the future this weekend if 'Mr Miyaichi' makes his bow against Liverpool.
LaRusso was a whiny teenager from New Jersey who landed in California and then landed a beautiful blonde girlfriend way out of his league, only to be dumped at the start of the sequel. Ryo Miyaichi is 18 years old with an attitude to work that would make Miyagi grunt with satisfaction, and his only trouble with blonds is likely to come when Nicklas Bendtner decides not to pass to him, and playing for a club out of his league? The Japanese starlet is ready to prove that he has what it takes to shine for one of the best teams in Europe.
More than any other club in England, the Gunners know the value of looking to the Land of the Rising Sun. Wenger came from Nagoya Grampus; Miyaichi comes from nearby. He officially joined Arsenal from high school in December 2010 and then went straight to Feyenoord - on the recommendation of Robin van Persie - in order to get a work permit.
Big English clubs sending flying Asian wingers to the Low Countries to get the correct visa has a precedent that doesn't encourage. Manchester United signed Chinese winger Dong Fangzhuo, loaned him out to Belgium only to realise three years later as he moved to Old Trafford that he didn't have the necessary talent. Don't expect to see Miyaichi playing in the Armenian Premier League anytime soon though. He has the permit but also has the skill - now he is just waiting for his big chance.
"We got the work permit for Miyaichi because he is an exceptional talent," Wenger said. "Overall we are very happy because he is one of the players who can have a big impact this season. He will play as a striker, right or left. He is a winger type and he is very keen."
He was keen to join Arsenal, turning down Ajax. If missing out on Miyaichi wasn't bad enough for the Amsterdam giants, they had to watch him revitalise the season of bitter rivals Feyenoord. Three goals and five assists in 12 games made him a fan favourite at De Kuip. As ESPNsoccernet's Ernst Bouwes pointed out in March, with Miyaichi, the Rotterdam club took 11 points from his first five appearances after taking 20 from 20 prior to his arrival.
All are sorry to see the player, nicknamed Ryodinho, go. The club wanted him for another season for their own ends of course, but also many felt that his development would be better served by more time in the Eredivisie. As Lee Young-Pyo told ESPNsoccernet recently, "Dutch clubs teach youngsters how to play football; in England, the focus is on winning", though perhaps the former PSV and Spurs star would give Arsenal the benefit of the doubt.
Upon Miyaichi's arrival in the Netherlands, his talent was immediately apparent but so was the fact that - naturally at the age of 18 - he is raw, drifts out of games and can suffer from lapses in concentration. Feyenoord felt they could have developed him further and have a happy history with Japanese players, winning the 2002 UEFA Cup with the impressive but ultimately injury-prone Shinji Ono. Arsenal's experience with Junichi Inamoto was less memorable, with the midfielder playing only in the League Cup. If Miyaichi does feature this weekend, it will mark the return of Japanese players to the Premier League for the first time since 2006, when Inamoto was relegated with West Brom and Hidetoshi Nakata hung up his boots as a Bolton Wanderers player.
It has been said that Japanese players are not suited to the Cobra Kai-like aggression and physical demands of English football. The last look I had at Nakata in club football in January 2006 certainly suggested that he would rather be anywhere else as he left the pitch at a freezing and wet Blackburn Rovers after receiving a red card in the first half of a dreadful game. But Japanese stars have proved their talent time and time again - with even the World Cup-winning women's national team showing earlier this summer that it doesn't matter how big, strong or aggressive the opposition is if you have the technique.
According to Wenger, Miyaichi has that and more and is ready for Arsenal. "Ryo has natural technical ability. He has good balance and phenomenal pace, and his passing and crossing is consistently of a high quality," Wenger said, and he keeps in contact with the goings-on the J-league thanks to former player, former student and perhaps future manager of Arsenal, Dragan Stojkovic. Miyaichi grew up watching the Serbian - currently Nagoya head coach - star for the club in the '90s
He has the dedication too, coming back from a broken leg sustained while on trial at Ajax last summer. Despite the injury, Arsenal quickly offered him a deal, and the experience in coming back and then his time with Feyenoord can only help in the season ahead.
Other Asians are showing that having a little European experience under their belts can help lay the foundations for a successful season. Son Heung-Min is the same age as Miyaichi and is starting his second campaign with Hamburg - and in some style, too, scoring a stunning goal against Hertha Berlin last weekend. Koreans have high hopes for Son. Compatriot Ki Sung-Yueng had a reasonably good first full season for Celtic last time round but has started the current campaign on a different level, with the Scottish club fighting off Premier League interest. Shinji Kagawa was on fire for Borussia Dortmund in the first half of the previous campaign before being hit by serious injury. He is straining at the leash.
Japanese fans have quickly become accustomed to seeing their boys star in Germany and Italy but would love to see one of their own become a hit in England. Arsenal fans are crying out for a new hero. It adds up to a fantastic, if slightly dangerous, opportunity for any player, especially one so young, but if Miyaichi can have the same impact in the red and white of Arsenal as he did in the red and white of Feyenoord then the sequel to the first part of his career will be a good deal better than Karate Kid, Part II.