It surprised many football fans when 21-year-olf Ryo Miyaichi’s name was left off of the roster when Japan’s Olympic team was announced, especially since he was named to the Japanese national team in May. The Olympics, with their 23-year-old age limit, seem to be tailor made for somebody like him. He easily falls into the age category and is signed with Arsenal of the Premier League making him a well-known player. Is there more to it than meets the eye though?
Olympic football’s not too shabby when you consider the likes of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo have played in previous tournaments and this year’s Brazilian squad features many of the country's national team as well as its manager. Japan’s manager Takashi Sekizuka said he carefully evaluated the players’ performances as well as their positions and it was a hard decision to make, but he could only take 18 players.
One has to wonder if Arsenal swayed his decision and if they had anything to do with his omission or if that’s simply the way the cards were dealt. With the young forward missing the Olympics he’ll now be able to focus solely on pre-season training and tournaments with the Gunners. This is important since he needs to have an excellent training camp to make the squad this season.
If Arsene Wenger has already made up his mind about Miyaichi and plans to loan him out or use him as a spectator, it definitely would have been more advantageous to the club and player if he were taking part in the Olympics and gaining valuable experience. Missing out on the Games could work out well for him though if he impresses Wenger during pre-season.
After loan spells at Feyenoord two years ago and Bolton last season, Miyaichi said he doesn’t want to go out on loan again this season and he doesn’t want to sit on the bench for Arsenal. But he knows it’s up to him to make the team.
Miyaichi started in the Arsenal reserves last year and then played for the first team in Carling Cup matches against Bolton and Shrewsbury. He must have impressed Bolton manager Owen Coyle quite a bit as Coyle made a move for him in the January transfer window after he missed most of November with an ankle injury. It didn’t take Miyaichi long to become a fan favourite at Reebok Stadium with his energetic and creative performances on the wing.
He ended up playing 12 league games with Bolton, but failed to score. He did manage to find the net against Millwall though in one of two FA Cup matches with the team and also played a couple of Carling Cup games. In total, Miyaichi played two Carling Cup games with the Gunners and eight reserve matches, with a goal in the reserves. He then played 16 games with Bolton.
Miyaichi said he was happy with his season and felt he improved as a player. He said he doesn’t expect to just walk into the first team at Arsenal and it will take a lot of hard work and good performances to earn playing time. He added that just training with some of the world’s best players is a good thing and will help him develop.
However, while he started off like a house on fire at Bolton, his play tailed off a bit towards the end of the season. After scoring an excellent goal at Millwall in February Coyle said, "He has more than just one strength. He has pace and two great feet. He has football intelligence for such a young man and he's driven to be the best he can be.”
Miyaichi continued to shine on the left wing in March and played five more games for Bolton in April and another in May. He didn’t score again for the rest of the season though and Bolton was relegated on the final day of the campaign. He’ll definitely miss out on the Olympic experience and hopefully that won’t stunt his development. A good tournament at the Games could have given him a lot of confidence for the upcoming season.
There’s nothing wrong with staying with the Gunners though as he’ll now have the opportunity to play his way on the team. Wenger will be able to rate his training and game performances on a daily basis. It’s a huge training camp for the youngster from Japan and we’ll soon see if he has what it takes to stick with the team or if he’ll be loaned out again to gain more experience and playing time.