More than a super-sub

Tottori: December 20, 2020. It’s snowing hard; therefore this match must be postponed a couple of hours. And it’s going to have a special meaning, because the home fans are ready to witness not only the final game in the 2020 season of professional football (the delay created this special chance), but Gainare Tottori are using this chance to homage their symbol, the no. 10 and captain, Éldis Fernando Damasio, also known as Fernandinho.

The Brazilian will go down in history books as a legend, especially for the work he has done in Tottori. But there’s another small detail flying under the radar: Fernandinho scored and became the oldest player to do so in J3 history, but the truly last goal of 2020 came from the guests. Roasso Kumamoto have lost another match to close a terrible run in the second part of the season, but we’re interested in the man behind the curtain.

Maybe Hayato Asakawa was expecting something different from his effective sophomore year (he became a pro in 2018, but never played one minute in that season). After making waves with a YSCC jersey in Yokohama, he joined Roasso Kumamoto to feature in an offensive-minded squad and gain more experience at the top of the league. Instead, he had limited chances and struggled to find minutes on the pitch.

Nevertheless, that goal under the heavy snow is his eleventh in 2020. Fun fact, though: he scored one goal every 97 minutes, because head coach Takeshi Oki has fielded him mostly as a “super-sub”, hoping to change the flow of certain games, when Kumamoto was in need. It partially worked, but we were wondering if he was going to stay after such few minutes compared to his main rival in the role, rookie Toshiki Takahashi.

Now that he stayed and there’s the certain news of Takahashi missing the first few games of the 2021 season, Asakawa can see a major chance appearing before his eyes: it’s time to take the stage for himself, confirming all the good he showed throughout these two seasons in the third division. Scoring 24 goals in two radically opposite environments in terms of ambitions and attention – like YSCC and Roasso – is no accident.

Made in YSCC

Class ’95, Asakawa attended the Toin University and then joined YSCC Yokohama for the 2018 J3 season. Unfortunately, the head coach back then, Yasuhiro Higuchi, didn’t count on him: the young forward made the bench just three times, without playing at all. In that year, the club featured Kenji Kitawaki as the main striker (seven goals), putting back J3 legend Masao Tsuji (six goals) on the field, once he recovered from a dreadful injury.

While Kohei Shin and Daisuke Kitahara had their chances throughout the season – now featuring respectively for Thespakusatsu Gunma and Tochigi City FC –, Asakawa had to wait. Higuchi left to join FC Ryukyu in J2 and newly appointed head coach, Yuki Stalph, opted instead for a different approach. Tsuji left as well and signed for Gunma, while Shin and Asakawa were promoted to starting spots.

It worked: YSCC had their best season ever in pro-world and the attacking pair – both born in 1995, one month apart – put together 28 goals. Shin scored 15 and booked a ticket for J2 in 2020 by signing with Gunma, while Asakawa – fourth per minutes played with YSCC in 2019 – joined Roasso Kumamoto after 13 goals.

Coping with a new reality, a different situation and the COVID-19 pandemic, Shin scored just two goals and featured in 30 matches with Gunma: in 17 occasions, he came in from the bench and he never played one full match. Especially at the beginning, he had to play as a side midfielder, a role which doesn’t suit him. It will go way better for his partner in crime.

The (not so) secret weapon

Asakawa had performances on the rise throughout 2020. Here’s the impressive stat: the forward played 1700 minutes less than 2019, but scored almost the same number of goals (11). How is that possible? Surely the striker fits the offensive style proposed by Takeshi Oki in his first year as a head coach in Kumamoto, but on top of that Asakawa seems to possess and embrace a natural “poacher mentality”.

The forward took for himself every little chance that he had. Another excellent signing like Kaito Taniguchi was fielded as a left-wing in the 4-3-3, but Asakawa quickly realized that Toshiki Takahashi – a rookie brought in from Kokushikan University – would have been the first choice. In fact, Asakawa didn’t play any minute in the first seven matches. And he wasn’t injured: he was on the bench, waiting.

The chance appeared in the eighth match, when he came in against Gainare Tottori. In the following two games, Asakawa suffered the same faith, but scored in each match against Fukushima United FC and Blaublitz Akita. It’s not like Takahashi wasn’t good enough (he bagged nine goals in 32 games), but he featured 900 minutes more than Asakawa on the pitch to reach that goal.

September 19, 2020: Roasso Kumamoto clinch an unexpected win with just 10 men for almost a whole half in Fujieda, thanks to this mental prodigy by Asakawa… who played just 13 minutes plus injury time.

Meanwhile, Asakawa played as a starter just five times. Out of his 11 goals, 10 were scored as a substitute. His goal per minute/ratio is unbelievable: he’s eleventh all-time in J3 and the 10 goals as a sub from last season put him at the top among the players who scored at least once from the bench in J3. An incredible rise, to which Oki must give a real chance in 2021.

Last stop

In our view, we could apply to Asakawa the same words we wrote for Kaito Taniguchi a few months ago. Taniguchi is currently featuring for Albirex Niigata, but if Asakawa can have another year like this, he’s not gonna stay in J3 any longer. He seems destined to bigger things, so it’s just a matter of understanding if Roasso Kumamoto can follow him in the next step by getting promoted to J2.

And it’s not like there aren’t any ties outside the pitch with his roots: born in Chiba, Asakawa spent some time in the U-15 team of JEF United, met with his childhood hero Hisato Sato a couple of times and just signed a partnership deal with Hummel. It doesn’t look like a player with no margin of further growth in the immediate future.

As we mentioned before, we don’t rank Roasso like a contestant in this year’s run to the promotion, since they lost some key-pieces and the replacements don’t look super exciting. But they could become one if Asakawa will be able to repeat this numbers and drag the team with him, a little bit like it happened with Leonardo and Tottori in 2018. That’s just another step of the ladder he has to climb.

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