In early 2014, RB Salzburg’s blueprint of unearthing young players with high ceilings that largely escape the attention of Europe’s elite directed them to a port city in the Japanese island of Honshu.
There was a teenager at Cerezo Osaka – technically gifted and tactically superior to his more experienced teammates – worth doing due diligence on. The Austrian champions were alerted to Takumi Minamino, who is due to join Liverpool in January, sixteen months before they eventually signed him in the winter of 2015.
Their extensive dossier on the Japan international took a year’s worth of work and went beyond his obvious football talent.
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“He played at Osaka, he was 18 and already in the first team there which is a good sign,” Christoph Freund, Salzburg’s sporting director who was in the process of succeeding the esteemed Ralf Rangnick in the position back then, explained to The Independent.
“We followed his games closely, also with his national team’s Under-20s. We read a lot of reports about him and spent a lot of time learning everything we could. Our scout then spent three weeks there to focus on everything around him and I went over for a week to meet him personally.
“It was an interesting project for him and he’s been here five years in what has been a very special story. What is very important for us is the mentality and character of the player. In fact, for us, it is more important than the talent so before we sign any player we gather a lot of information about how he is as a person.
“How is he away from football? How is he in training? How is he in the group environment and when he has to do things on his own. How does he deal when things get difficult for him? Everything told us we had to sign him.”
Salzburg’s homework revealed Minamino to be a character who thrived in adversity and had an insatiable appetite for advancement.
The “outstanding player with an outstanding personality” encapsulates one of the club’s main mottos: ‘Talent bringt dich an den start. Einstellung ans ziel’ – Talent brings you to the start. Attitude takes you to the goal.
For all the understandable headlines and hype around Erling Haaland, Minamino is considered the standout star at Salzburg.
Described as modest, warm and engaging, he initially was homesick in Austria, but it never showed in his performances. He would often treat his translator, Yuki, to days out in Munich so they could sample the Japanese cuisine there.
Minamino is extremely popular with the dressing room and staff at Salzburg for his excellence on the pitch and his humility off it. In almost 200 appearances for the club, he has produced 64 goals and 44 assists, with 18 of those contributions coming in Europe.
Minamino is able to operate as a playmaker, as a progressive No 8, off either flank or as the focal point of the attack. To add to his versatility, he possesses an incredible engine and has hardly suffered injury in his career. His lengthiest sideline spell was an absence of 10 games in 2017 due to an intra-articular ligament issue.
So then, to summarise: he is a quick, skilful, robust player with a supreme workrate that can cover all attacking positions and is decisive in the final third, who stars in a high-pressing and aggressive side.
At 24, he is at the perfect age to further progress and has the mentality to ensure he does. If he sounds like he is built to be a Jürgen Klopp player at Liverpool that is because he soon will be.