Brighton's £3m star Kaoru Mitoma snubbed football stardom for a uni degree and wrote a thesis on the art of dribbling | The Sun

BRIGHTON'S FA Cup hero Kaoru Mitoma is, literally, a student of the game.

The Japanese winger, 25, has been a sensation for the Seagulls – scoring against Arsenal and Liverpool this season.

But, at the age of 19, he doubted his own ability and chose to snub a professional contract in his homeland in favour of a degree.

He enrolled at the prestigious University of Tsukuba, where he studied physical education and learned about sports science and his body.

It was there he starred in the college team, before writing his thesis on the art of dribbling – a skill that has served him well in the Premier League and seen him torture the likes of Ben White and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Not ready physically

Mitoma began training with four-time champions Kawasaki Frontale at the age of 11.

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After impressing coaches, he was offered a professional contract.

However, the teenager admirably turned it down – admitting his shortcomings.

“I just felt I wasn’t ready physically and that I wouldn’t be in the first team immediately,” Mitoma told The Athletic.

“I thought the best step was to get more playing time and get better.”

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Instead, he signed up to do Physical Education at the University of Tsukuba – which is consistently ranked in Japan's top 10 universities.

It not only gave Mitoma the opportunity to understand the human body, it also allowed him to blossom as a footballer.

In the Far East, playing university football is recognised as a higher standard than its European equivalent.

Mitoma was selected to represent Japan at the 2017 and 2019 Universiade tournaments, as well as the 2018 Asian Games and the 2019 Toulon Tournament with the U23 national team.

Playing in the Kanto University Soccer League with Tsukuba, he was also named in the all-league XI in his final three seasons.

He also celebrated winning the Denso Cup in 2019 with his team-mates.

All this while majoring in physical education.

Dribbling wizard

Renowned for his pace and unique dribbling ability, in his final year at university Mitoma was tasked with writing his thesis.

He chose to focus on the art of dribbling – thinking of his own skills and what makes a good dribbler.

"It was the easiest subject for me to choose because I love football and dribbling is what I love to do,” he explained.

“There were no rules on how much to write, but I progressed with it by analysing my team-mates that were good and not-so-good dribblers and trying to find out why that was.

“I put cameras on the heads of my team-mates to study where and what they were looking at and how their opponents were looking at them.

“I learned that the good players weren’t looking at the ball. They would look ahead, trap the ball without looking down at their feet. That was the difference.

“I was one of the better dribblers at that time, but not exceptional.”

Putting his own thesis to practice, he wrote: “I am conscious of shifting the opponent's centre of gravity. If I can move the opponent's body, I win."

He concluded: “The power of my characteristic dribbling has doubled."

Graduation & making it pro

In 2018, Mitoma signed pro for Kawasaki Frontale – finally making his debut in 2020 after the Covid outbreak halted the football world.

Aged 22, in his first full debut season, he hit double figures – becoming just the fifth rookie to score as many in J-League history.

Even more impressively, the midfielder notched 12 assists – more than anyone else in the competition.

A meagre 18 months after he handed his dribbling thesis in – he was signed by Brighton.

The fee – just £3million – appears to be a bargain now.

Last season, he spent time on loan at Union SG in Belgium's top league – where he acclimatised to European football and scored eight times in 29 games.

This campaign, ex-boss Graham Potter thrust the talent into the first team – used initially as an impact player from the bench to bamboozle defenders with tired legs.

The World Cup break also acted as a springboard for the wideman.


Many felt Mitoma was underused by Japan in Qatar – making all his four appearances as a sub.

But, that didn't stop him from playing a major role in the most controversial moment of the tournament.

His cut-back, when the ball was seemingly out against Spain, contributed to his country's 2-1 triumph – knocking Germany out at the group stages.

Like a Shakespeare play, there was tragedy too – when he missed a spot kick in the last-16 defeat to Croatia.

Since then, Mitoma has returned as a man on a mission.

He has mustered three goals in five Premier League games, including a recent stunner against Leicester City in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool were also dumped out of the FA Cup by Mitoma's quick-feet and calmness in front of goal – deep in injury time – as he volleyed home.

With Brighton letting the likes of Leandro Trossard go, and the increasing likelihood of Moises Caicedo leaving one day soon too, it is almost inevitable their new talisman will command a substantial fee.

Expect it to draw in another massive profit on the meagre £3million they paid.

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