At the age of just 21, Takefusa Kubo has already compiled quite the footballing resume — even if he may not be an instantly recognisable name to the average fan.
But having been forced to leave one LaLiga powerhouse due to FIFA rules and then struggling to make a breakthrough at the other Spanish giant, the Japanese attacker looks to have finally found the place for him to shine in Real Sociedad.
Having only moved to San Sebastian in the summer, Kubo made an immediate impact by scoring a debut goal in a 1-0 win over Cadiz and has started three of his new club’s four league games so far in the new season.
On Thursday evening, under the bright European lights at Old Trafford, he was once again impressive as Sociedad opened their Europa League campaign by beating Manchester United 1-0 — their first victory against English opposition ever.
Having been one of the few threats to the United backline in the opening 45, Kubo went on to torment Victor Lindelof — shifted to right-back following the halftime exit of Diogo Dalot – after the break as Sociedad grew into the game, until he was replaced in the 78th minute with the visitors already in possession of what would prove to be the winner.
With his skill and composure in possession on full display, Kubo could even have laid on an assist for Alexander Sorloth with a perfectly-whipped left-wing delivery but for a crucial last-ditch intervention from Lisandro Martinez.
Such a performance should not come as a huge surprise when considering the expectations on him based on the potential he showed from a young age.
When he was just ten, Kubo accepted an invitation to join Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and would go on to be a prolific scorer at youth level.
However, when the Catalan outfit was found to have violated FIFA’s transfer policy on signing international players below the age of 18, their prodigious talent from Kawasaki was forced to return home.
Playing regular first-team football despite his tender years, it did not take long for him to once again attract the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs.
In 2019, with Kubo now 18, it was Real who won the race for his services.
Kubo would never have been expecting to force his way into the Los Blancos starting XI right away.
What he would have been hoping for though — at the very least — would be to eventually have a chance to prove his worth.
Three seasons came and went with Kubo effectively embarking on a mini-tour of Spain, as he was shipped out on four different loan spells.
Some, like the very first at Mallorca — where he netted four times in 36 appearances, gave reason for optimism.
Others, like the half-season he spent at Villarreal, hardly did his development any good as he found himself on the periphery.
Back in the summer, Kubo was on his way out of the Santiago Bernabeu once more — but this time for good as he decided to join Sociedad on a permanent transfer.
It was arguably a brave move considering he still had two years remaining on his contract with Real, but Kubo clearly believed it was the right time to try his luck elsewhere.
There are also far worse places to have moved on to, with Sociedad still offering him exposure in one of Europe’s top leagues along with continental football, but also being a team that are potentially on the rise again with consecutive top-six finishes in the past three campaigns.
Even if Kubo does go on to spend a significant amount of his career in the humbler surroundings of San Sebastian, at least when compared to Madrid or Barcelona, there would hardly be any shame in that — even when matching up against his compatriots.
For every Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda that plied their trade for major European teams, there has been a Makoto Hasebe or Maya Yoshida, who still carved out respectable careers for themselves despite turning out for less-illustrious outfits.
Still, at just 21, Kubo has time on his side. And as he showed against United on Thursday, he also still has plenty of potential to be unlocked.
While his stints with Barcelona and Real Madrid might not have gone according to plan, perhaps — at Sociedad — it is finally time for him to make his mark.