Real Madrid: Is there a place for Takefusa Kubo in the first team squad next season?

Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Recent reports have suggested that Real Madrid are hopeful that Vinicius will soon be receiving his Spanish citizenship. By receiving citizenship, Vinicius would free up one of the three non-EU spots in the squad that he currently occupies along with Eder Militao and Rodrygo. If the spot is to be freed up by this summer, there is one player that the staff at Real Madrid are eager to give it to, Takefusa Kubo.

The young Japanese international was purchased by the club from FC Tokyo in the summer of 2019 for a mere €2 million. After it was decided that he was too good to play for Castilla, Kubo has spent the last three years playing in La Liga, going on four different loan spells and currently playing for Mallorca, the team that he joined in his first loan move. Real Madrid are already preparing for the case that Vinicius doesn’t receive his citizenship in the summer, which would lead to a fifth loan move for Kubo, but the possibility of the non-EU spot freeing up and giving Kubo a place in the squad next season is worth exploring.

Kubo’s La Liga career so far

Real Madrid’s initial plan for Kubo was for him to play for Castilla in the 2019/20 season, but after impressing in preseason friendlies with the first team, and performing far above the level of the Spanish third tier in preseason friendlies with Castilla, it was decided that Kubo would spend the season playing on loan for a La Liga side. Recently promoted Mallorca ended up being the choice for Kubo’s destination.

The then-18-year-old certainly proved that he was ready for top-flight football in Spain. Kubo thrived with Mallorca as he established himself as one of the best creative attackers in La Liga. His final tallies for the season were 4 goals and 5 assists in 35 appearances, but here are some of the stat categories that proved how special his performances were, as Kubo placed in the:

  • 81st percentile for shot-creating actions
  • 96th percentile for goal-creating actions
  • 91st percentile for dribbles completed
  • 93rd percentile for players dribbled past
  • 86th percentile for progressive carries
  • 81st percentile for progressive carrying distance

These stats prove Kubo’s abilities as an elite dribbler and playmaker who creates many chances for his team.

Mallorca, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Mallorca, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Following Mallorca’s relegation at the end of the season, Kubo’s next loan move saw him go to a team that provided quite the upgrade in level as he signed for Villarreal, a team playing in European competition. Unfortunately, this move didn’t quite end up being smooth sailing for him. Unai Emery gave him very few minutes off the bench in the first few games of the league campaign, and he kept testing Kubo in different positions each time he played him.

Kubo did get to start in all of Villarreal’s Europa League group stage matches, and as my colleague Hridyam Arora noted in his analysis of Kubo’s Villarreal stint, he managed to show sparks of his talent in these matches, recording 1 goal and 3 assists in the Europa League as opposed to zero goals/assists in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. However, those sparks failed to transition into consistent performances, as Kubo often ended up being a bystander in many of his matches, almost not putting in the effort to be of any good use.

Villarreal, Takefusa Kubo
Villarreal, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images) /

It seemed that Kubo struggled with not having the keys to the attack, as well as having to play a role in a system that limited his freedom. This led to Real Madrid and Villarreal agreeing to end the loan deal after only 6 months, deciding that Kubo and Emery’s side weren’t the best fit for each other.

Following the end of that loan, Kubo was then sent to Getafe in January of last season, which allowed him to spend the rest of the campaign living in Madrid. However, placing Kubo in yet another situation where he was playing for a team that had a rigid system such as the notorious Getafe of Jose Bordalas proved to be a similar struggle for the youngster. He managed to record a goal and an assist in 18 La Liga appearances, but he was unimpressive for the most part, only playing 44.5 minutes per game.

Current season with Mallorca and recent success with Japan

Last summer’s transfer window saw the now-20-year-old Kubo head back to comfortable surroundings, rejoining Mallorca following their return to La Liga in the hopes that he could regain the spring in his step needed to progress in his development. At this point of the season, it looks like Kubo is back to his best.

With an increased volume of key passes, shots, and completed dribbles, Kubo has become Mallorca’s most important ball-carrier into the final third. As noted by Kiyan Sobhani in a summary of Kubo’s season so far, Kubo headed into the month of March as La Liga’s 10th best player in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes.

The glaring flaw with Takefusa Kubo however that continues to persist is his inability to track back and help out in his own half defensively. This issue is one of the main reasons why he struggled to fit into the systems of Emery and Bordalas, and as a winger in modern football, it is something that he must correct if he wants to play in the systems of most of Europe’s big clubs, including Real Madrid.

Where he does redeem himself with defensive contribution though is his pressing. Kubo certainly puts in the effort to try to win the ball back before the opposition get it past the midfield, and he is able to predict the opponent’s passes, as evidenced by him being in the 87th percentile for interceptions among players in his position. He is also in the 80th percentile overall for pressures in the attacking third.

When it comes to Kubo thriving at the absolute peak that he can do so in the current stage of his career, this can be seen when he plays for the Japanese national team.

Japanese national team, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Ayaka Naito / AFP)
Japanese national team, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Ayaka Naito / AFP) /

Kubo was influential for Japan as he fired them to the semifinals of the Olympic tournament in the team’s push to win a medal on home soil. Scoring three goals and an assist in six matches, he dazzled the spectators to remind them of his quality after a tough season for him. His winning goal against South Africa in particular was certainly a moment of flash of brilliance.

The marketing power of ‘Kubomania’

A key aspect that separates Kubo from the average hype-generating young footballer is the amount of attention he receives from his nation. After joining the Real Madrid squad for the 2019/20 preseason campaign and creating a special buzz of attention surrounding him that the Spanish media decided to dub ‘Kubomania’, his loan move to Mallorca led to an unprecedented amount of growth for the island club’s social media figures.

While they were relegated from La Liga at the end of that season, Mallorca finished 2020 boasting a top-four finish when it came to competing with La Liga clubs’ YouTube channels. As a result of recognizing how eager the people of Japan were to watch Kubo content and pretty much turning the club channel into ‘Taketube’ as their communications director called it, Mallorca only trailed Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Real Betis in amount of views on YouTube.

When Villarreal announced their signing of Kubo the next summer, they quickly realized that they had acquired the media exposure phenomenon of Kubomania as well. At the player’s presentation, there were 10 members of the Japanese press waiting in the media room along with the regular local journalists. The article on the club website announcing Kubo’s arrival became the site’s fourth most-read article in the past decade, and the club gained 30,000 social media followers within the first 24 hours of Kubo’s announcement. A club staff member said that on a normal day they experience 700,000 social media impressions, but the day of the signing saw them reach a whopping 8,249,866 impressions.

Despite Kubo’s shortcomings following that loan move, Mallorca were thrilled to take him back last summer after being promoted back into La Liga. It’s not taken very long for them to once again begin reaping the benefits of Kubomania. According to data from Blinkfire, the club finished 2021 as the La Liga club with the third-highest average media views on Twitter, and they’ve begun 2022 with a bang as they finished the month of January having taken the #1 spot, surpassing Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Mallorca, Takefusa Kubo
Mallorca, Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

It can be seen why Real Madrid is so keen to hold on to Kubo and eventually have him be part of the first-team squad despite his lackluster stints with Villarreal and Getafe. The amount of attention that Kubo amasses in Japan is a marketing asset that is sure to come with many financial benefits for any club, which explains how Real Madrid are certain that they have a valuable player here.

The nature of loan deals + threats to Kubo’s place in the squad

It’s worth noting that loan deals have never given an overly clear indication of how well a player can fit in at Real Madrid. For example, Martin Ødegaard was one of the best players in La Liga while on loan at Real Sociedad, even making it into the league’s team of the season after a special year. However, when he returned to Real Madrid, he failed to make an impact and was sent to Arsenal after just 6 months.

Real Madrid, Martin Odegaard
Real Madrid, Martin Odegaard (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /

Unfortunately, Ødegaard’s attacking midfield role that he had at Sociedad could not be emulated in Zidane’s system, and he could not play at his best when deployed on the right wing. Due to his inability to find a consistent spot in the lineup, it was decided that he just wouldn’t fit into the team, and Real Madrid fans ended up being let down after so much excitement over his Sociedad performances.

Meanwhile, the opposite scenario was experienced by Federico Valverde. The then-Castilla starlet spent the 2017/18 season on loan at Deportivo La Coruna, where he had far from a positive year. The Uruguayan failed to become a mainstay in the Depor lineup, only playing 52.6 minutes per game and coming on as a substitute in half of his La Liga appearances.

Real Madrid, Toni Kroos, Fede Valverde
Real Madrid, Toni Kroos, Fede Valverde (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

He returned to ideal circumstances at Real Madrid however, as the departure of Mateo Kovacic allowed him to stay in the squad as the main backup for Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Eventually, he found enough form to be able to start matches over them.

While Kubo is a similar player to Ødegaard, the hope is that he can find circumstances similarly ideal to Valverde when he returns to Real Madrid. Ødegaard’s downfall was that his preferred position was as a central attacking midfielder, but Kubo’s preferred position is on the right wing, which has been a lackluster position for Real Madrid so far this season and a spot where some added depth could be used.

Although some Real Madrid fans might see Kubo as an upgrade over Marco Asensio and Rodrygo, the two players who currently take turns starting on the right wing, the expectation for next season is that both of those players will be on the bench to make room for the highly-awaited signing of Kylian Mbappe. That could end up making it tough for Kubo to find a place in the squad as a right winger, but a positive thing is that both Asensio and Rodrygo can serve as backups for the left wing as well, as can Kubo himself, having appeared there on a few occasions this season for Mallorca.

Kubo isn’t the only right winger who has chances of earning himself a spot as a right winger in Real Madrid’s squad for next season however. Brahim Diaz has had a wonderful season as a key attacker for the AC Milan side currently leading the Serie A table, and Real Madrid might be keen to have him return after the loan deal expires, as he has proven himself to be an offensive gem in a league with a tough defensive reputation.

There is also a talented young right winger who is currently playing within Real Madrid’s ranks. Castilla’s Peter Federico has been quite impressive for Raul’s side and has caught the attention of the club’s staff as potentially the next big player to come out of Castilla. The 19-year-old has already been given two first-team appearances by Carlo Ancelotti, and depending on how the summer transfer window goes, he could have a place in the first-team squad for next season.

Next. The best Real Madrid player to wear every kit number. dark

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Takefusa Kubo has his work cut out for him if he wants to make it at Real Madrid. However, if he continues to progress and remains diligent, the circumstances might just play out in his favour. Considering the value he provides, not only on the pitch but particularly off of it, the club might just make it so that the circumstances end up playing out in his favour. The numbers suggest that he’s worth doing so for.