The recruitment of Brighton & Hove Albion has been exceptional in recent years, with their ability to sell and acquire adequately being much lauded by many football fans. Behind their transformative success as a football club has been their owner, Tony Bloom. The data-led approach has been the competitive edge for a club solely focused on development, being able to compete in a division like the Premier League.
In the summer, Brighton lost a couple of ley members in their squad; Neal Maupay, Marc Cucurella and Yves Bissouma all left to respective Premier League clubs — Brighton raking in £103 million. They were also raided for their manager in September; Graham Potter, his backroom staff, and Paul Winstanley, their Head of Recruitment, departed to join Chelsea.
But in typical Brighton fashion, they had a replacement plan for both situations. With Yves Bissouma leaving for Tottenham Hotspur — a pivotal man to Brighton’s success — Moisés Caicedo was ready to fill the void. Similarly, when Potter left for West London, Brighton was quick to secure the services of Roberto De Zerbi.
As we head into February, the Seagulls are soaring high in the Premier League, sitting in sixth in the Premier League, having just knocked holders Liverpool out of the FA Cup to progress into the fifth round. And that Liverpool game in particular, like much of this season, was the latest display of Japanese sensation, Kaoru Mitoma.
Kaoru Mitoma – Background & player profile
Mitoma, 25, has been an instant fan favourite on the South coast but has gained an even larger fan base, from his clear deep understanding of the game, from the most avid football fans. The Japanese wrote a thesis on the effectiveness of dribbling when he was at the University of Tsukuba. It’s quite a unique story, a student who gradually became a master of the skill he looked to preach.
A story that has been widely appreciated across social media.
Mitoma’s remarkable qualities as a thinker and player of the ‘beautiful game’ were evident back then. He was a player offered a professional contract with the first team of Kawasaki Frontale, his boyhood club, but he turned it down to pursue his academic studies.
A choice that would be greeted with a great amount of shock in Europe and the American area of the world. In Japan, it is an expectation. Education places a high priority in Japan, and Kawasaki Frontale understood and was patient enough to wait for Mitoma to join in 2020 — when his studies finished.
Taking that leap
Fast forward to the present day, his decision has served him well. Brighton was quickly alerted about his progression in the J1 League, and in August 2021, they acted upon their interest — £3 million was enough to get a deal done, and he was immediately loaned out to the Belgian side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise — a feeder club of Brighton.
Once again, Mitoma was excelling, this time in Belgium. Brighton was eager to look closer at their unearthed gem, but the loan could not be terminated mid-season, so Brighton would have to bide their time.
Mitoma has often shown in his career that he takes one obstacle at a time. This season, he had the biggest obstacle in his career to face — adapting to the biggest league in the world — he has flourished so far.
His confidence in his abilities has grown under De Zerbi’s guidance. He didn’t spend much time under Potter, but the former and his controlled chaos system have taken him to a new level. This current Brihgton system allows Kaoru Mitoma the isolation he craves against his opposite number and has caused menace to many Premier League right-backs up and down the country.
When watching Mitoma, the eyes tell a story, and the numbers justify it.
This season, his underlying numbers for the Seagulls have been awe-inspiring for his first campaign in the English top flight. Averaging 0.28 xAG/90, ranking him in the top 94th percentile amongst attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s top five, according to Fbref, emphasising the creative responsibility he has taken on under De Zerbi.
Despite Brighton ranking 4th in the Premier League for % of possession, they have an aggressive approach to their off-ball duties. Mitoma is pivotal to that approach, averaging 3.24 defensive actions per 90.
The Japanse shone for his nation at the Qatar World Cup, and he was one of the many shining stars for Japan in their promising group stage run to the knockouts.
Mitoma returned from the global tournament with an “I’m him” aura around him. He brushed away any pain from Qatar that would’ve been suffered from the loss on penalties to Croatia, and as you would expect, he was a wanted man — seen as a more attractive figure on and off the pitch.
Stepping into tomorrows
Brighton has just gone through a January window where they lost one player to the league leaders in Leandro Trossard and were fighting the closing deals to keep one from repeating the same action in Moisés Caicedo.
Brighton & Hove Albion are used to it. They know the value in their players and the interest the “big clubs” show in them time after time. Any potential approach for the Japanese will be met by put-back from Brighton.
The same will go for Mitoma, but as Brighton has shown in the past: they will only sell on their terms.
Kaoru Mitoma’s focus has always been football and improving himself as a footballer. We’ve seen that from when he was writing a thesis back in university to now when he’s coming up against the most illustrious of teams — progression is vital to him, and right now, the comfort of Brighton is where he sees that best, for now.