Asia 50 Exclusives: Shinji Okazaki

Commencing his career with J-League club Shimizu S-Pulse as a teenager, Shinji Okazaki made two stops in the Bundesliga before arriving in Leicester City, just in time for their unlikely title charge. Today, he stands atop FourFourTwo's Asia 50 as the globe's pre-eminent Asian player and he joined us for a chat...

While naturally thrilled with Leicester's performance this season, and to be named FFT's No.1, Okazaki admits he's not satisfied with his own performances in 2015-16.

SHINJI OKAZAKI

  • Date of birth: April 16, 1986
  • Place of birth: Hyogo, Japan
  • Position: Forward
  • Current club: Leicester City
  • Previous clubs: Shimizu S-Pulse, VfB Stuttgart, FSV Mainz
  • National team: 100 matches, 48 goals

We discussed that and a range of other topics, getting an insight into Claudio Ranieri's management style, relief as the Foxes avoided relegation and the keys to Leicester's success.

FFT: Hi Shinji, firstly congratulations on being picked No.1 in FourFourTwo’s Asia 50! You have moved up one spot from last year’s list, above Son Heung-min. How does it feel?

SO: I was very happy with the second place last year. So I’m pleased that people see me having good performances in Europe. It’s good for me to be in a good position for two years running, then becoming number one.

FFT: You must obviously be so pleased with how Leicester have performed this season. What do you think has been the key to the team’s consistency?

SO: I think it’s teamwork. Every single player knows what they’re supposed to do and everyone engages with each other, which leads to our good performances.

FFT: How do you rate your own performances on a personal level?

SO: This is … well, difficult. Perhaps it would be 5.5 or 6.

Okazaki wishes he'd converted more often this season

FFT: That’s unexpectedly low?

SO: Well, it’s over the course of the season. I want to do more myself. As a striker in the team which is top of the Premier League, I want to get better results. I really want to achieve more.

We secured the target of staying up early in the second half of the season. We released that pressure

FFT: Six goals, five of them in the Premier League, isn’t enough, then?

SO: I’m still trying to get more as we still have some games left. But no, five goals is not enough for a striker at this time of the season.

FFT: What were your expectations ahead of the 2015-16 season, both for the team and for you personally?

SO: Leicester City can see the title now and everything is in our hands. We are also in a good position where we are able to get straight into the Champions League group stage. But the most important thing is to maintain the performances we have managed this season until the end. This is our first priority.

For myself, I have to get good results. I want to do my best to help us get results and improve.

He didn't win there this season, but Anfield is one of Shinji's favoured grounds

FFT: Leicester have picked up some great wins this season against many of the Premier League’s typically stronger sides – including Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Is there one game that stands out as the best?

SO: It’s very difficult to choose one – it’s like every single game was a turning point. We came from behind to win several times in the first half of the season after improving in the second halves of games. As we managed to hang in there back then, we secured the target of staying up early in the second half of the season. We released that pressure on the relegation battle and it shifted our confidence gradually.

That’s why we didn’t get relegated, even though people might have thought we were finished after losing the Arsenal game [5-2 at King Power Stadium in September] in the first half of the season.

FFT: How hard is it to stop yourself from dreaming about winning the league or playing in the Champions League?

SO: I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s not too difficult because I’m not satisfied with my results. There is no player who’s satisfied in my team either. Of course, there are our supporters too. What the supporters want to watch is us fighting the whole season.

Training and clear roles have been key this season

FFT: Apart from King Power Stadium, which is your favourite football ground to play at in the Premier League?

SO: To be honest I really don’t remember others! [laughing]. Apart from here it’s difficult to pick one. We lost at Anfield but I like Liverpool’s stadium. And Newcastle’s is also good. The atmosphere in those stadiums was great.

FFT: What does Claudio Ranieri ask of you every game? What things does he speak to you about?

SO: He gives us a day off after every match-day. Then he always has a meeting and definitely talks about our defence. Then he says we should forget what passed by and focus on the next game. He’s very thorough.

The routine makes us better and better, I believe. He jokes a lot, although sometimes he does get mad. He also really watches our training and notices players who are in good form. I think it’s quite fair and that’s why we want to work hard in training.

Continued next page with life in Leicester and the differences between German and English football