Yuto Nagatomo Looks A Different Player At Inter Milan Under Luciano Spalletti
Yuto Nagatomo, discuss. How those who frequent San Siro would talk into the small hours should you ask them just that question. Why? Perhaps, it is because the Japanese full-back has survived an astonishing 12 Nerazzurri coaches, been played by all, whilst being heralded by the fans as one of the single biggest deficiency of the team. So many have come and gone and yet he has stayed, he has even been promoted to Captain in certain games but now under Spalletti, albeit recently, he has looked like a new player and the full-back he always should have been.
From FC Tokyo to Cesena isn’t the title of many books but for Yuto it is his story. Still, whilst at Cesena he did enough to catch the eye of Inter who signed him perhaps more on the basis that he had an impressive Asian Cup in 2011 with Japan. He became the first Asian player to sign with the Nerazzurri after his loan deal was made permanent and the rest as they always say is history, the Japanese full-back has gone on to make 165 appearances for the club scoring nine goals, he is becoming part of the illustrious Inter story.
It may be churlish to ask how this full-back has managed to represent this historic club through so many coaches, as he has failed to firstly impress and secondly grab the heart of the fans. Often, he is the ‘go to point’ when Inter lose and in fairness he has offered up reasons for said criticism. His positioning is poor as he is often over-zealous, his first ball is questionable, if one is being kind, his crossing is perhaps the biggest bone of contention and whilst nobody can question his work rate, he always seems to be working on the wrong thing.
In May 2017 there was another example of this when against Napoli he was once again culpable for a defeat when he allowed Jose Callejon to score. An emotional journalist gave him a 1/10-mark and he was also criticised in the correct manner in Gazzetta Dello Sport which caused Yuto to react. "In Italy, if you do well you're treated as a God. If you do badly you are criticised and insulted like a criminal. There are no morals, no respect," This was something that felt like it had been the back drop of the last seven years, but the media were obviously missing something.
Being a good ‘clubman’, putting in 100% effort and showing ‘desire’ may get you in most Sunday League teams in England, or even qualify you for a job on Match of the Day 2 but it will not see you through a seven-year career at one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs. Nagatomo has been more than this. The left back technically is extremely good, he is quick and for his size, a mere 5ft 7” he is ridiculously good in the air. To put it bluntly he has all the attributes for a full back, but his decision making has often been wrong. Add to this the professionalism and the athleticism and it is easy to realise why every coach has thought of him as an asset. Popular amongst his teammates, Roberto Mancini referred to him as ‘no trouble and a model professional’, he may not be always first choice, but he is not a coaches’ headache.
Enter Luciano Spalletti. This is a man who is transforming Inter and her mentality. With Dalbert arriving from Nice it was perhaps thought, especially at 31 years of age that Nagatomo’s time at Inter was at an end. Not so, as the ever hungry and persistent Japanese defender, once again proved to a coach why he should be taken seriously. The connect between Spalletti’s message and the defender’s actions has been extraordinary as his recent performances have exhibited the decision making many though he would never have. His displays in Inter rearguard display at Napoli and then again against Sampdoria were excellent and it seems he is making the position his own.
There are few players in modern football who have been at a club for seven years and are not at least a cult figure. Nagatomo has served Inter in all her guises both faithfully and professionally throughout. The professionalism on its own should be applauded but even more so the constant ability to accept criticism, work on your game and eventually prove the fans wrong is perhaps the biggest victory. Nagatomo is no shiny trinket that wows San Siro after moving there on a huge fee, yet he is a shining light and emblem for the club of how every player should approach their career and respect the club.