Kaoru Mitoma turned down professional contract at 16 to go to university, his thesis was incredible
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Kaoru Mitoma turned down the chance to go professional at 16 to attend university – and he wrote a fascinating graduation thesis on dribbling that involved fixing a GoPro to his head.
The 25-year-old Japan international, who continues to impress for Brighton in his debut season, has taken a somewhat unconventional route to the top.
When he was 18, the talented Mitoma was offered a professional contract by local J1 League outfit Kawasaki Frontale.
But instead of taking it with both hands, like most teenagers would, the Kanagawa-born forward rejected the proposal as he felt he was not prepared for the challenges of pro football.
In the coming weeks, he would accept an offer to study physical education at the University of Tsukuba.
"I thought it would be better to go to university in order to make it as a professional footballer,” Mitoma said in a recent interview with Eurosport. "So I studied lots of things – coaching, sports and nutrition. I learned lots of things.”
As well as attending lectures, Mitoma would develop as a footballer, representing Japan at a number of university tournaments.
But at the same time, he was absolutely engrossed in his studies. In fact, the highly-rated forward decided to go above and beyond when writing his graduation thesis on the process of dribbling.
⚽️📝Scout thread: Not much has been spoken about Kaoru Mitoma’s incredible form in 2020.— First Time Finish (@firsttimefinish) October 28, 2020
This is the 23 year old’s first season in professional football after graduating from the renowned Tsukuba University and he has been a revelation in the J.League. pic.twitter.com/tSYg7jhSIS
His research involved fixing a GoPro camera to his head to record his movements, examining which ones enabled him to get past opponents.
If you watch Mitoma dribble, he tends to keeps an eye on the opponent and the space in front of him rather than look down. "I am conscious of shifting the opponent's center of gravity," he said in his thesis. "If I can move the opponent's body, I win."
The thesis also describes the mechanism of the dribble and, according to reports, the piece of work sits pride of place in one of the University of Tsukuba classrooms.
"It's been passed down to his juniors as useful information," one report states. "But it seems that he left something more valuable than the contents."
Mitoma's teacher Masaaki Koido, who helped coach his graduation thesis at the university, remembers how determined the Brighton forward was.
“He was very serious," Koido told Bunshun. "He even decided on his own theme and brought it with him."
His former coach was also complimentary about his playing style. "The defenders knows what Mitoma will do next, but they somehow can’t stop him," he told the JFA.
"Even when the defenders thought they had the advantage, they always seemed to be caught flat footed. When he started dribbling near the penalty area on the left side, he was unstoppable.
"I think they call it the “Mitoma zone” at Kawasaki Frontale, but the groundwork was laid at University of Tsukuba."
After picking up valuable experience in the university setting, Mitoma agreed to sign for Kawasaki Frontale.
He made his debut on the opening week of the 2020/21 campaign and soon established himself in the Frontale first-team, becoming the first rookie to reach double digits in goals since Yoshinori Muto in 2014.
Mitoma, who would go on to score 30 goals in 64 games for soon-to-be J1 League champions, was wanted by a number of clubs in 2021, including Brighton and Hove Albion.
The Premier League side would eventually snap him up on a four-year deal before shipping him out on a season-long loan to Belgian outfit Royal Union Saint-Gilloise – a move that would help him become accustomed to European football.
"I’d been thinking about transferring to Europe since I was a child,” Mitoma told Eurosport.
"I wanted to play in a league at the highest professional level. So when I played in the J-League for a year and a half and was approached by Brighton, I felt I had to go there.”
Since coming back from his loan spell in Belgium, the 25-year-old has played a key role for Brighton this season, featuring in 12 Premier League games so far.
He continued his impressive form on Tuesday against Everton, netting for the second straight game in an emphatic 4-1 win.
Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi recently said Mitoma has "big potential" and has "so much quality" to show. We're certainly looking forward to seeing him flourish in the coming weeks, months and years.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy/Twitter - @OfficialBHAFC
Topics: Brighton And Hove Albion, Premier League, Japan