'He can be a more determined player' - Minamino viewed as a good fit to succeed Liverpool star Firmino
It was no ordinary afternoon's browsing for anybody passing through Osaka's Komagawa shopping street on January 13, 2014.
The main thoroughfare had come to a standstill and on one side a long stretch of punters stood with arms reaching out in preparation to meet a special guest.
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Soon enough Takumi Minamino, wearing his full Cerezo Osaka get-up and pursued by an anxious looking man wielding a clipboard, advanced past each one, slapping their hands in the process. He stopped just short of the end as a loud buzzer went off and eventually his feat was confirmed: Minamino had broken the Guinness world record for high-fives given in one minute, his total of 187 beating the previous tally by 16. The framed certificate he received shortly afterwards was, at that point, one of the more notable garlands afforded to a footballer who had not yet played 50 first-team games.
If nothing else, the achievement showcased Minamino's fast reactions and, this afternoon, Anfield should have a chance to appreciate them in the world champions' colours for the first time. The former Red Bull Salzburg forward is likely to make his debut against Everton and events have certainly moved quickly since, three months ago, he moved Jürgen Klopp into what might have been a knowing grimace when executing a superb volley at his future home. Liverpool had been on Minamino's case well before then but it does him no harm that, in both Champions League group stage fixtures, a persuasive argument could be made that he was the best player on the pitch.
One reason for the buzz of anticipation about his arrival is that his talents - best seen in slick turns, magnetic ball control, cute through-passes and laser-like finishing with both feet - lend themselves well to YouTube compilations. But another is that those eye-catching showings in front of his new public went a step further. They showed he can make an immediate impact and operate with the intoxicating blend of creativity and relentless physicality that sets this Liverpool side apart: a consequence of the Red Bull finishing school's industry-leading commitment to intense counter-pressing. The question is exactly what part he will play in Klopp's short and longer-term thinking.
"I have a little time to think about where he will fit in," Klopp said after his signing was confirmed last month, referencing the fact Minamino was not eligible to play until New Year's Day.
During his four years in Salzburg he occupied virtually every conceivable attacking position, with a bias towards a variant of the No 10 role. Liverpool are relatively light in that particular area but for the next few months Klopp may decide to use him as relief for any of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, particularly for league games once the title has become a formality and regaining the Champions League becomes their focus in the spring.
But the likelihood is that Minamino, who turns 25 a week on Thursday, will prove too good - or too ambitious - for permanent utility man status. When Japanese media tracked down Levir Culpi, who gave the then 17-year-old his debut for Cerezo in November 2012, the Brazilian coach stressed the need for Minamino to become "an absolute regular, not a handyman" at Liverpool and suggested he should aim to succeed Firmino in the centre-forward position. Minamino can be "a more determined player" than Firmino, Culpi said, and there is certainly logic in the idea that his legs should still be fresh in 18 months' time, when Firmino will be pushing 30.
Minamino will hope to be settled in long before that. Japan has never quite created a top-bracket Premier League star, even if Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida both forged good careers, and the anticlimax of Shinji Kagawa's stint at Manchester United may be enough to temper early expectations of Minamino. On the flipside Kagawa was also blooded by Culpi at Cerezo and then made his mark in Klopp's full-throttle Borussia Dortmund team. Falling short at Old Trafford is not necessarily a reflection of a player's talents these days. The early career parallels are more positive than not and there are also valid comparisons to be made between the players' versatility and eye for goal.
Should Minamino, who said in 2015 that his dream was to play under Klopp at Liverpool, ultimately outdo Kagawa, then the £7.25m transfer fee that brought him to England - a figure that seems even now like one from the distant past - will go down among the bargains of this new decade. The queue of fans willing to have a go at bettering his old high-fiving record would extend the full length of Anfield Road, too.
Sunday Indo Sport