News Singapore Premier League • October 5, 2018
Wataru Murofushi, the Albirex midfield marvel who took a detour to Singapore
The 23-year-old had planned to continue his career in the States before finding success here
Wataru Murofushi has been arguably the best player in the league this year.
SINGAPORE, 5 OCT 2018 – Wataru Murofushi does not speak it fluently, but he never once shies away from responding in English during this hour-long interview.
After all, mastering the language was a major reason the midfielder left Chiba Prefecture to sign for Albirex Niigata FC (S) at the start of the year.
The Juntendo University sports science graduate had aspirations of heading to the United States to play football, with a possible second career in sports medicine or management if things did not work out.
“Since I had many injuries during high school and college, there was a chance I couldn’t be a big success as a player,” he told the Singapore Premier League (SPL) website.
“I wanted to go to America first but last December, Chairman Daisuke Korenaga called me and asked me to join (Albirex). It was totally unexpected… (but) since my goal was to play overseas and the first step (for that) is to speak English, and Singapore is English-speaking, so I thought ‘why not?’”
It is a detour that has paid off – at least in terms of accolades – for Albirex have swept all before them so far this year.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s men racked up 21 wins and three draws to become the first ever SPL team to go a season unbeaten, as they marched to a third straight league crown.
They look odds on to win a fourth consecutive Singapore Cup title as well and only Brunei DPMM FC stand in their way in the final on 6 October.
“I want (us) to be champions in the Cup; I want to win all the games,” Murofushi declared. “We have not lost this season, so I want to keep it that way.”
He downplayed his role as captain, humbly adding: “Of course I am happy – that’s all, really! I am captain (in name) but every player is like a captain – before the game, I just tell everyone to focus and that is (about it)! We’ve done well because of the leadership of Coach Yoshinaga…the team wants to win because of him.”
Murofushi will be seeking new pastures after this season.
But that is a disservice to the buccaneering Albirex number eight, who has been heads and shoulders above everyone else in the league.
The 1.71m midfield general has missed only two matches and is odds-on to pick up the Player of the Year gong, having racked up 11 goals and three assists in 26 games as he dominates the centre of the park week in, week out.
He is “always the one making the team work” with his ability to dictate play, while possessing that uncanny knack of never losing possession.
“Football is not an easy sport, you have to use your brain and you also need physical (attributes), technique and tactics, so I like it,” said Murofushi, whose football journey started at seven and includes a national high school championship title with Ichiritsu Funabashi.
His playing style has been likened to that of Steven Gerrard but that notion is quickly shot down.
“I am not good at kicking like him; he is very good at shooting!” Murofushi said. “There is no player I look up to (in particular but) I love Andres Iniesta, he’s one of the best players in the world.”
In the SPL, he rates Home United FC’s Song Ui-young as the pick of the lot and admitted that the level of football here is higher than he expected.
“It’s not (been) easy to win for us,” he asserted. As to why the local teams struggle to match Albirex, he said: “They are trying their best but they cannot continue (keep it up) for 90 minutes, but in Albirex there’s perhaps more discipline (in this aspect).”
Watch Murofushi net a brace against DPMM.
There is praise for his Singaporean team-mate Adam Swandi, who has established himself as a first-team regular in his maiden season at Albirex, along with encouragement for the 22-year-old to play at a higher level.
“Adam has technique and his delivery (of the ball) is good,” Murofushi said. “Adam is really talented and I believe he can be a way better player, but to do so I think it will be good for him to go abroad.
“The first step, he’s already made by joining Albirex, so the next (step) he should try to go overseas; that way, he will have more opportunities to improve. I told him, ‘you can play in J2 League’ but not J1 – not yet!”
He gets along well with “nice guy” Adam, who is “kind” as “he speaks slowly” when they converse in English.
“Some Singaporeans speak so fast, it’s very difficult (for me to understand)!” said Murofushi, who started taking lessons from English Central – an online language portal that Albirex have tied up with to provide free lessons for their players – when he first arrived in Singapore.
After their daily training sessions in the morning, Murofushi will take lunch and a short nap before studying English. Sometimes, he goes to a coffee-shop near the condominium – he shares an apartment with Riku Moriyasu, Daiki Asaoka and Hiroyoshi Kamata – to have his favourite dan dan mian (spicy minced pork noodles) as he takes his lessons.
“English is very important in the world, many people speak it and it’s pretty much mandatory in any kind of job globally,” he said.
Murofushi is now confident enough to field interviews in English and is eager to seek new playing opportunities after the end of this season. He names the US, Australia and the Philippines as possible destinations “because they (the people there) speak English”.
With his drive to succeed – there’s always something to be better in, he says – it would not be a surprise to see Albirex’s Captain Marvel prosper wherever he chooses to go.