Arsenal and Japan defender Takehiro Tomiyasu could have joined Barcelona as a child after being recommended to the club by the head coach at one its Japanese academies.
Tomiyasu was born in Fukuoka, a coastal city in the south west of Japan, in 1998 and Barcelona opened a soccer school there nine year later – one of four sites in the country.
The future Japan international attended sessions there twice a week and played with other future professionals. He impressed coach Ivan Palanco so much that he was put forward for a potential move to Spain and a place at the club’s famed La Masia.
“He had great coordination for his height. He had great qualities. He is one of the three players that I recommended to Barça during my three years [at Fukuoka], but it was difficult to take him to Spain,” Palanco has since reflected on his time working with Tomiyasu.
Speaking to JR Soccer in 2018, Palanco has also said, “It was difficult to bring elementary school students to Spain, and the story fell apart, but that's it. He was a player who had the potential to play.”
Tomiyasu did still get the chance to play in Spain soon after, going with the Barça Academy Fukuoka for a tournament at the age of 12. But his longer-term football career ultimately took a different direction, selected to play for Avispa Fukuoka’s youth ranks in 2011.
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Palanco has always said the talented youngster was ‘well up to playing in more competitive leagues than the Japanese one’ and he got his chance when Belgian club Sint-Truiden took a gamble in 2018.
Tomiyasu was still a teenager at the time and most of his professional experience had been in Japan’s second tier, yet he became a regular in Belgium and was quickly poached by Bologna.
He made the step up to Serie A and only two years after that, Arsenal paid around £17m.