Kaoru Mitoma: A new star in the making

Kaoru Mitoma shined against Liverpool in the FA cup when he scored the winning goal for Brighton in the 92nd minute knocking Liverpool out of the competition.

He showed technical brilliance as the winger took the ball down before slicing inside with a touch on his right foot. Before the ball hit the ground, he had guided it into the far, top corner with the outside of the same boot.

Kawasaki Frontale was where Mitoma started his junior career before switching to J1 League team Kashima Antlers in 2016. After playing for Kashima for a few seasons, Mitoma transferred to Kashiwa Reysol of the J2 League, where he quickly established himself as a key member and assisted the team in gaining promotion to the top division in 2019.

He made his official pro debut on the opening matchday of the 2020 J1 League. He quickly established himself after the league resumed following the COVID-19 outbreak, becoming the first rookie to reach double digits in goals in the first division since Yoshinori Muto.

In July 2021, Mitoma signed a four-year deal with Brighton & Hove Albion, becoming the first Japanese player to join the club.

On 13 August 2022, he made his Premier League debut for Brighton, coming on as a 75th-minute substitute for Leandro Trossard (who now plays for Arsenal) in a 0–0 draw with Newcastle United at the Falmer Stadium. He made his first start for Albion on 24 August, playing 67 minutes of the 3–0 away win over League One side Forest Green Rovers in the EFL Cup second round.

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He made his first Premier League start on 29 October, setting up Leandro Trossard’s fifth-minute opener in the eventual 4–1 home win over Chelsea. A week later, he scored his first goal for the Seagulls, heading them level from Adam Lallana’s cross in the eventual 3–2 away win over Wolves.

He’s now a regular member of the squad, showcasing his speed, skill, and clinical finishing ability. Interestingly, Kaoru Mitoma turned down a contract as a professional footballer to attend university.

The then 18-year-old felt he was unprepared for professional football’s rigours when Kawasaki Frontale offered him a professional deal in 2016.

He, therefore, turned it down to attend the University of Tsukuba. There he represented Japan at the 2017 and 2019 Universiade tournaments.

“I thought it would be better to go to university in order to make it as a professional footballer,” Mitoma told Eurosport. “So I studied lots of things – coaching, sports, and nutrition. I learned lots of things.”

His decision paid off and he signed a professional deal with Kawasaki Frontale for the 2020 season. In his first season, he scored 18 goals in 37 games and followed that up with eight in 20 the next before Brighton and Hove Albion of the Premier League made an approach.

Right now Mitoma has 7 goals and 2 assists for Brighton across all competitions and remains a crucial player for Brighton.