Interviews

“I wanted to be a footballer, not a salesman": Albirex’s 'De Rossi' chases childhood dream

Albirex Niigata skipper Shuto Inaba turned down a job offer at a prestigious advertising firm in Japan on the half-chance that he would be offered a contract by a Japanese club. Little did he know he would one day be playing for one in Singapore

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At the tender age of six, the man some Albirex fans call the 'Japanese De Rossi' - after Italian World Cup winner Daniele de Rossi - had already decided he wanted to be a football player one day.

“In Japan, many children want to be football players when they grow up. My father was a referee in the J2 League and he was very supportive,” Inaba told FourFourTwo.

When he was 12, Inaba tried out for Gamba Osaka’s youth team, but did not impress enough to get selected

But Inaba's road to success would be litterred with numerous challenges.

At 12, he tried out for Gamba Osaka’s youth team, but did not impress enough to get selected and ended up playing only for his neighbourhood team.

But Inaba had a glimpse of success in high school, when his team made it to the semi-finals of the national tournament two years in a row. Inaba's side finished third on both occasions and his performance in the 2011 tournament earned him a call-up to Japan’s under-18 team.

Inaba was cut after training with the national youth set-up for a week, despite his best efforts, but the training stint was enough for Fukuoka University to offer him a spot in the college and on their varsity team.

Inaba (second from left, top row) represented his region in the Denso Cup. Photo: Supplied

His college education left him with not only first-class honours in Sports Science, but also two silver medals from the national university tournaments, plus a spot in the Best XI in Japan when he represented his region in the Denso Cup in 2015.

But along with the accolades, he also received a job offer from Dentsu Inc, which he had no qualms turning down.

I remember him saying he liked my style and he needed me in his team to be champions in the S.League

- Shuto Inaba

"I wanted to be a football player, not a salesman," said Inaba. "So I decided to reject Dentsu and wait for an offer."

And true enough, that offer came, but from a rather unexpected source.

Albirex Niigata Singapore chairman Daisuke Korenaga had watched a few of Inaba's games in his university tournaments and called him two weeks after to offer a contract.

“I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember him saying he liked my style and he needed me in his team to be champions in the S.League," said Inaba.

“He also said if I came to Singapore, he would give me the chance to come back to Albirex Niigata Japan, so of course I said yes.”

[NEXT: Playing for Albirex abroad]