When you're nicknamed the 'Japanese Messi', you know you must be at least half-decent. Various players throughout the years have been bestowed the honour of being the 'next' Lionel Messi, and many have often fallen by the wayside.
But in Takefusa Kubo, there is potentially a player who has as much scope for potential superstardom as the Argentine had in his early years. Linked with many of the biggest sides in Europe, including the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, Kubo has suitors desperately trying to win the race to land the world's next hot prospect.
With such widespread interest, check out five things you should know about Takefusa Kubo, and why so many of the game's biggest clubs are interested in signing the Japanese prodigy.
Joined Barcelona as a 10-Year-Old But Forced to Leave Following Club's Transfer Ban
Perhaps the ultimate sign of a potential future star, Kubo was brought to Catalunya at the age of 10 to join the famed La Masia academy. The forward enjoyed a few years playing in Barcelona's academy sides, but his road to the first team took a dramatic twist when La Blaugrana were handed a transfer ban by FIFA in 2015 for 'transfer irregularities'.
It all meant Kubo spent the final few months of his time in Spain not playing, and eventually had to leave the club and return to his native Japan. But when he turns 18 in June, Kubo would no longer be subject to a FIFA sanction prohibiting Barcelona from re-signing him, with recent reports suggesting the Catalan giants have already agreed a deal for the teenager.
Became the Youngest Player & Youngest Goalscorer in J-League History
Having signed for FC Tokyo's youth team after returning to Japan, Kubo's prodigious talent saw him quickly promoted to the club's senior squad. Such were his impressive performances for the youth sides that Kubo made his first-team debut at the age of 15 years, five months and one day, thus becoming the youngest player to do so in J-League history.
If that wasn't enough, Kubo truly announced his arrival on the professional stage when he became the youngest goal-scorer in the league's history as well. Kubo then followed that up by becoming the youngest to score in the Levain Cup, when his goal helped FC Tokyo knock out Albirex Niigata, just six minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Selected for Japan Squad for U-20 World Cup in 2017 Aged Just 15
After receiving the call-up for Japan's squad for the U-20 World Cup in 2017 at the tender age of 15, Kubo ensured that he wasn't going to be a spectator for the tournament with a match-winning contribution in the side's opening game.
Following Grant Margeman giving South Africa the lead in the seventh minute, Koki Ogawa levelled things up just after the start of the second half. With both sides battling to claim victory, Kubo's introduction before the hour-mark transformed things in Japan's favour. The 15-year-old set up Ogawa with a great chance straight after coming on, but delivered the cross for Ritsu Doan to sweep home the winner.
Kubo's injection of creativity inspired the un-fancied Japan to make it through the group stages, and his performance in the opening game was a sign of the responsibility the youngster was willing to take even at a young age.
Admits Liverpool Play the Most 'Interesting Football' & Described Them as 'Awesome'
With the world's biggest clubs all lining up to convince the Japanese star to join them, Kubo himself has admitted that he enjoys watching Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool play the most. Speaking to Goal, the 17-year-old revealed that the Reds' 'fast and skilful' players make him sit back in admiration.
He said: "The team I think play the most interesting football is Liverpool. I feel they are awesome when I watch their games. It’s not really to say they are my ‘favourite’, but more like ‘awesome’.
"I like fast and skilful players. All the big teams have these types of players, and when I watch them I feel they are awesome. I am not very fast, so I really like players who possess overwhelming speed. I also like Douglas Costa at Juventus too. Those players make me feel ‘Wow, awesome!'"
Tokyo FC Manager Confident Kubo Is Ready to Make Step Up
After returning from a half-season loan at Yokohama F. Marinos, Tokyo FC manager Kenta Hasegawa praised the 17-year-old's growing maturity, and revealed that the teenager would now be ready to make a high-profile move back to Europe in the coming future.
Hasegawa said (as quoted by the Japan Times): "Ever since he was exposed to ‘the outside world’ at Marinos his mentality has changed from that of a child to that of an adult.
"Last year when he played (in the J1), the other players had to cover for him. I was once asked if it was like adults minding a child, but in the last year it’s changed. He’s shown a different ambition during camp and in training.
"(Kubo) is approaching the level of Ritsu Doan before he left for Europe. If he gets more (J1) experience and plays in the U-20 World Cup, Kubo will soon get calls from Europe."