Deadline-day signing Takumi Minamino explains how a last-ditch phone call to former Southampton favourite Maya Yoshida made up his mind to continue Saints' Japanese legacy...
Takumi Minamino has revealed the part played by former Southampton favourite Maya Yoshida in his decision to join Saints on loan.
Minamino, a deadline-day loan signing from Liverpool at the start of February, admits he was not expecting to leave his parent club, and knew nothing of Saints’ interest until the 11th hour.
With little time to weigh things up, he called Yoshida, his Japanese international captain and Saints stalwart of more than seven years, to help point him in the right direction.
“It was the last day [of the transfer window], after training – around five o’clock, I think. Some guys called me, and it just happened,” he said of the deal, which was officially confirmed two hours after the deadline.
“I didn’t expect it at all, so I was probably the most surprised of anyone when I got the call.
“It was a good feeling. For me it was a good opportunity, and I was getting a positive feeling. I wanted to take this chance, and I came here.
“Before the deal was finalised around midnight, I had around 30 minutes to chat to Maya. I asked him about the team, the manager and the players.
“He told me everything, he explained some positives about this team. I spoke with Maya a lot.”
Minamino, 26, has a decent understanding of English but admits he is not the most confident speaker, and conducts around half of the interview in his native tongue.
“My English is not so good!” he laughs. “When I speak with some players, I say every time, ‘please, to me, speak slowly.’”
With his new manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, the pair communicate mostly in German, with Minamino having spent five years in Austria prior to joining Liverpool in January 2020.
With the boss having managed RB Leipzig and his newest recruit having played for RB Salzburg, the forward was coming into a way of playing that was already familiar, and clearly suits his talents.
“Both Leipzig and Salzburg are in the Red Bull group and they have a very similar playing philosophy, so I understand it and the manger understands it,” he explains.
“I understand how the manager wants the team to play, but I am still learning my part and how to put it into practice on the pitch.
“I feel a real positive energy from the team. I feel a good connection to the rest of the players and the manager, so I am really enjoying it here.”
Scoring in two of his first three matches, against Newcastle and Chelsea, Minamino settled quickly.
He namechecks Nathan Redmond, Ryan Bertrand, James Ward-Prowse, Danny Ings, Moussa Djenepo and Jack Stephens as those who went out of their way to ease his transition into the squad.
“Everyone in the team was really good and helped me. As players and as people, they were all incredible,” he says.
On the pitch, having featured for Liverpool in the third round, his Emirates FA Cup exploits are already over.
With Saints producing their best football in the competition, Redmond recapturing his best form and Theo Walcott back from injury, Minamino faces a battle to start games in the Premier League.
Once the holder of an unusual Guinness World Record – the most high-fives in a minute – Minamino is determined to play for 90 minutes at a time and make his mark on the run-in.
“For a football player, playing is the most important thing,” he says of his desire to start more often – his biggest motivation for leaving Champions League football behind.
“Playing more is helping me to get more confidence back as a player. I want to play more; the more I am helping the team and contributing to wins, the more my confidence will grow.
“Playing in the Premier League has been a dream for me since I was a child. I am really enjoying getting the chance to play in the Premier League.
“I only have a few months left to help the team but I want to work hard and use my full abilities to make sure the team do well and climb up the league as much as possible.
“I just want to help the team by scoring and assisting as much as possible. I am an attacking player so it is my responsibility to score and assist to help the team. That is where I am focused.”