Maya Yoshida’s story was published as the Japan side he captained reached the knockout stage of the 2018 World Cup and at one stage looked set to pull off a seismic shock against Belgium. The satisfaction of having played their part in one of the matches of the tournament will be scant consolation to Yoshida and his team-mates but his own stock is high. He’s a hero in his homeland and, to a large degree, in Southampton. This book appears to be aimed at his followers in both groups but Yoshida admits that his publisher requested that he adopt the persona of a samurai warrior to tell his story. It sounds contrived but Yoshida doesn’t need to twist the analogy too much, as he attributes his success to the mental resilience he developed – hence the book’s title.
Yoshida is one of only three Japanese players currently signed to Premier League clubs and eight who have ever played a Premier League match. Japan has an academy system not unlike the European model and Yoshida signed for Grampus Eight when aged 12, moving away from home to do so, and transferred to Venlo in the Dutch Eredivisie at 21 before having won his first full cap for Japan. He was still a relative unknown when switching to Southampton in 2012. Since then he’s been in and out of the side, sometimes a first choice, noted more for his powers of recovery than his ability to snuff out danger before it arises.
Nevertheless he has become respected as a loyal and reliable squad member and popular among the fanbase. As a footballer in Japan, his every need was taken care of, in marked contrast to Europe – on arriving at both Venlo and Southampton he was largely left to fend for himself off the pitch. Yoshida to some extent bemoans the Japanese character which has made him more polite and honest than the archetypal rugged Premier League centre-half and caused him to focus on learning tricks of the trade in order to be more competitive.
The most striking aspect of this book is that it is all about him. Few of the personalities who have managed or played alongside him – outside Japan at least – get much of a mention. There is no score-settling but plenty of self-analysis and detail of how he identified what he needed to do to improve as a player. If coaches played a role beyond his formative years there is little mention of it but it is consistent with the independent spirit that caused him to move away from his family at the age of 12.
Yoshida comes across as intelligent, likeable, determined and enthusiastic with the occasional smattering of humour and barely a bad word for anyone – even the managers who would leave him out of the Saints team following a good display. It’s the type of story you would expect from a player who’s made an unlikely journey to the highest level.