Why is Maya Yoshida still shackled to the past? With what many would have labelled as a shaky first season in England’s top flight, Yoshida has since come on in in leaps and bounds – Yet that season 3 years ago continues to haunt the Japanese International. Why is this the case when others who had also struggled in their first season – most notably Jose Fonte and Jay Rodriguez – are now free of their past?
On the 30th August 2012, Southampton announced the signing of Maya Yoshida from Dutch Eredivisie side VVV-Venlo for a fee in the region of 3 million. At the time it seemed an impressive signing, Southampton had acquired a Japanese international who came with a reputation as one of the best centre back’s in Holland; at only 23 years old he was showing great signs of promise for the future.
At least that is what we thought… The start of his Southampton career was, to be said, a train wreck. He made his debut during a 6-1 mauling at the hands of Arsenal, coming on after 28 minutes to replace Dutchman Jos Hooiveld. To say that he was out of his depth wouldn’t even begin to describe Yoshida’s first showing in the red and white stripes. On more than one occasion, he was shown up – his poor positioning and apparent lack of pace was instantly clear to fans. A loss of this magnitude did not help to adhere Yoshida to the Saints fans and neither did the 1-1 draw with Swansea. Yoshida produced an under-hit back pass to rookie goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, which allowed former saint Nathan Dyer to equalize. Two vital points had just been thrown away and the Northam end did not take kindly to Yoshida’s misgiving’s.
The season came to an end and Southampton survived through the skin of their teeth thanks to Maurico Pochettino, the Argentinian took the club to a 14th place finish. However it must noted that steady improvement started under Nigel Adkins, due to Maya Yoshida being replaced in the team by Jos Hooiveld.
He did not have the maiden season in the premier league that many had expected and the Southampton fans were not keen on the Japanese International. Yet he was not the only player to have a poor first season in the Premier League. Club captain Kelvin Davis was simply shocking, being replaced by Artur Boruc. As for the now Portuguese international, Jose Fonte was continuously in and out of the side, making costly mistakes and errors that proved he was not ready for the Premier League. Then their was new signing Jay Rodriguez, who only managed six goals in the premier league (although he showed great improvement under Mauricio Pochettino).
These players have since gone on to become key figures for Southampton, with Artur Boruc solidifying his first team spot for a full season before leaving for Bournemouth. Jose Fonte then became one of the best centre backs in the premier league, as well as taking on the roles of captain, leader and sweetheart of the club. Even Jay Rodriguez progressed in the side, scoring 15 goals in the 13/14 season of the premier league. They’ve all been forgiven for their poor early showings in the premier league… all except Yoshida, who simply cant shake off his unreliable tag.
Like those mentioned, Yoshida has shown steady improvement during his time in the Premier League and to those who can forget that first season, he is now a reliable centre back. Thanks to Ronald Koeman, Yoshida has taken his game to a level that many would have never believed he could reach; he can always be relied upon to step up to the plate when needed and he’s also versatile, plugging in the gaps at left/right back when Southampton have been struck by injury. But most importantly he always gives 100% for the cause and has not once complained, even when being forced to the bench through better competition. When others have gained super stardom and left St.Mary’s, Yoshida has remained faithful. The faith shown by the players who chose to stay at the club during the summer exodus will forever be appreciated by the fans.
When it seemed no one else would stay and that the journey of 6 years was crumbling before our very eyes, Yoshida was working toward the new season. There’s never been stories of Yoshida refusing to train, having disagreements or finding himself in trouble…he’s a saint (pardon the pun). He was one of the few players that Southampton fans knew they could count on.
A testament of his improvement under Koeman is the new deal he signed in January, extending his stay until at least 2018. With Alderweireld deciding to move on to Tottenham and Gardos facing a long spell out with injury, maybe now is the time to finally let Maya Yoshida step up and prove himself that he can be Jose Fonte’s centre back partner.
Hopefully, what ever the outcome, the Southampton faithful will finally realize that Maya Yoshida has flourished into a dependable Premier League centre back.
With a huge opportunity to further showcase his talent with the introduction of the Europa League this season, we can only hope that he will win over that minority of Southampton fans who think otherwise. After all, Ronald Koeman of all people will know a centre back when he sees one.