'Captain Tsubasa' dreams of playing for Samurai Blue
It is no surprise that Tsubasa Sano, Albirex Niigata's new addition this season, has been likened to Captain Tsubasa in the famous Japanese manga, anime and video game series.
Staying true to the comic hero's motto of "the ball is my friend", the striker's performances for Albirex in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League this season suggest that he was born to play football and there's nothing he can't do with the ball at his feet.
Since joining the White Swans this season, the 23-year-old Japanese has wasted no time in stamping his mark, scoring 16 goals in 11 matches to top the scoring charts, two ahead of Home United hotshot Stipe Plazibat.
The two marksmen will go head-to-head in a highly anticipated S.League clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
Asked if Captain Tsubasa is a fitting nickname for him, Sano quipped: "I think the character Hyuga Kojiro is more fitting to the kind of player and striker I am."
Kojiro, a recurring character in the Captain Tsubasa series, is a talented footballer known for his strength and his determination to score goals.
The Albirex No. 9 opened his S.League account with two goals in the 5-0 rout of the Garena Young Lions in March and bagged a whopping five goals in the 8-0 thrashing over the same opponents last month.
He also scored in the 2-2 draw with Home in April - the only blemish on Albirex's record this season.
Sano's love affair with football started at the age of five.
His parents enrolled him in a kindergarten football academy in Japan, and he subsequently joined his high school's football team before playing for his university team.
"The more I played football with my older brother, the more I fell in love with it," he told The New Paper in an interview.
"I have never once in my life thought of doing something else. It was always football."
Before joining Albirex, Sano graduated with a degree in sports health from Juntendo University.
He admitted that he misses his family and also the fan support back home.
He said: "The fan support in Japan is different. Everyone comes down to support you.
"Here, the support system is smaller. I really hope more Singaporeans will show their support for their teams in the S.League."
For now, he is firmly focused on helping Albirex retain the S.League title.
But he is hoping that his scoring exploits in Singapore will one day help him realise his dream of representing the Japanese national team - or the Samurai Blue as they are known.
"I still have a lot to improve on, I want to become an all-rounded player instead of just being a striker," said Sano.
"Hopefully, I can represent Japan one day."
Albirex will organise their annual Pokemon Day from 6.30pm today, before their match against Home.