Malaysian teen signs up for J-League side Sagan Tosu
By TAN KARR WEI
THE small town of Tosu in the island of Kyushu, Japan, will soon have a Malaysian connection with the signing up of 14-year-old Tam Sheang Tsung into its J-League Division 2 club Sagan Tosu.
Sheang Tsung first made headlines early last year when he became the first Malaysian to be recruited into the J-League when he joined the Division 2 side Yokohama FC.
He then took his footballing career up another notch when he was sent for a three-month training with the Sao Bernado FC Under-20 team in Brazil.
His father Tam Yun Tong, who has been running the Rasa Malaysian Cuisine Restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, for the past 16 years, said Tosu was a quiet town where most of the shops would be closed by 9pm.
New signing: Sheang Tsung with the Sagan Tosu jersey at the club’s Tosu Stadium. With him are Yoon (left) and general manager Matsumoto Ikuo.
“You won’t even find a petrol station open after 9pm,” said Tam during a phone interview with StarMetro.
Tosu is located about 1,000km from Tokyo and it takes almost two hours by flight to get there.
Even though the move would be a big adjustment, Tam said the experience Sheang Tsung would gain would be well worth the sacrifice.
“Not only would he get to train with Japanese players, but he would also be training under their head coach Yoon Jong-hwan, a former South Korean national player,” said Tam.
With Tosu being geographically close in proximity to South Korea, Tam said there were several South Korean players in the team. Tam said his son would be able to learn the technical skills from the Japanese and emulate the fighting spirit from the South Koreans.
Tam added that Sagan Tosu manager Matsumoto Ikuo had been helpful and had given Sheang Tsung a lot of chances to further his footballing career.
He said his son was also in the running to break the record of being the youngest player to play in the J-League.
The current record is held by Takayuki Morimoto who featured for Tokyo Verdy when he was 15 years and 10 months old.
Currently 14 years and eight months old, Sheang Tsung still has one year to break into the Sagan Tosu first team and create history not only for the club but also for Malaysia.
With many people curious about the Malaysian boy, Sheang Tsung has also requested for a Malaysian dance troupe to perform live during Sagan Tosu’s opening match on March 7 so that the Japanese would be introduced to the culture of Malaysia.
Having grown up in Japan, Sheang Tsung also cultivated the independent nature of many Japanese kids and has a knack for being adventurous.
“He travelled alone to Brazil for his training and he was also chosen as the spokesman for AeroMexico, on which he travelled business class,” said Tam.
Tam said his son flew via North America to Sao Paolo and on his return trip, Sheang Tsung requested for a flight via London so that he would have flown all the way around the globe when he arrived in Tokyo.
In an e-mail interview with the young Malaysian who speaks Mandarin and Japanese, Sheang Tsung said he learnt a lot from the Brazilians and was planning to go again if given the chance.
“In Brazil, they concentrated more on personal skills and fighting for the ball whereas in Japan, the focus was on fair play and teamwork,” he said.
He added that he attended three daily training sessions while in Brazil: one each in the morning, noon and night.
“We would also play in matches on Saturdays and Sundays,,” he said.
To accommodate his move to Sagan Tosu, Sheang Tsung would also be changing schools, from the Ginza Junior High School to the Kizato Junior High School in Tosu.
Thankfully, Sheang Tsung is one boy who lives and breathes football so the move would not affect him much.
“There are certain things in life that you have to give and take. It is a change but here, I am getting a better offer and exposure.
“To me, no football means no life. What is important is they are allowing me to train with the top team which has several players from the South Korea and Japan national under-23 team,” said Sheang Tsung, who refers to coach Yoon as his mentor.
His packed schedule leaves the young footballer little time to think about much else: he has morning training with the top team from 6.30am to 7.30am; school from 8.30am to 4pm; training with the junior team from 5.30pm to 9pm; and matches on Saturdays and Sundays.
Even though Tosu is a smaller town compared with Tokyo, Sheang Tsung found that people there have a warmer personality.
“If there is a Sagan Tosu match, everyone in town will come and support the team.
“They would work hand in hand to keep the club going. One of the club’s loyal supporters is the owner of the local Toyoken Ramen Shop and he is even willing to serve free meals.
“He told me that if I was ever hungry, I could drop by in his shop any time for a meal,” he said.