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

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Once he accepted the offer, Inaba was given only two weeks’ notice before making the move to Singapore, just in time for the 2016 S.League season.

“My father was totally OK with everything because he was happy I was finally realising my dream," said Inaba.

My mother and my girlfriend were very upset. My mum just didn't want to let me go

- Shuto Inaba

“But my mother and my girlfriend were very upset. My mum just didn't want to let me go. Two weeks is too short, they said. It took me a while but I eventually convinced them to let me go.”

The transition to life in Singapore proved relatively straightforward for the combative midfielder, as he had welcoming teammates and Inaba grew to like the country.

The only problem was the climate.

"When I played my first friendly match against in Tampines in pre-season, I could only last one half because I was too tired," Inaba said.

Kawata impressed for the White Swans and earned a move back to Japan

Fast forward one-and-a-half seasons and six trophies later, Inaba is clearly at home and is even on track to follow in forward Atsushi Kawata’s footsteps.

Kawata played in Singapore for Albirex in 2015 and 2016, filling a vital role in their quadruple last year. The 25-year-old scored 20 goals for the White Swans in all competitions and went on trial with Niigata Japan halfway through the season.

In Singapore, I try to elevate my standard during training and matches, always giving my best

He ended the 2016 season by bagging the S.League Player of the Year award and was subsequently signed by the Japanese side. He has made five appearances and scored twice for the J1 outfit so far.

Inaba himself only recently returned from his trials in Japan at the start of September.

He traveled to Niigata prefecture during the international break with defensive stalwart Yasutaka Yanagi and the duo participated in a week-long training stint with his parent club, in which they trained with the first team and played in a training match against Iwaki FC, a non-J League team.

“When I was selected for the trials, I felt very excited as it was what I had been waiting for, and it is a very good opportunity for me,” said the 1.72m-tall player.

“In Singapore, I try to elevate my standard during training and matches, always giving my best. All my hard work was in preparation for these trials.

Inaba is focussed on ending the season well

“I felt like I adapted well to the training (at Niigata J) and I could play good football. They are very technical players, compared to in Singapore where they are more physical. But still, I felt like I prepared well for it."

While the outcome of his trials is still up in the air, Inaba remains focussed on the remainder of this season, where Albirex could once again claim another clean sweep.

"I will play with one hundred per cent for this current team to be champions again," said the 24-year-old. "If I keep playing like that, I know that God will reward me." 

Photos: FAS unless stated