Urawa’s new Danish ace Kasper Junker ready for ‘adventure’ in Japan

Urawa Reds’ marquee signing Kasper Junker has only been training with his new team for a few days since completing his 14-day quarantine following his arrival in Japan earlier this month.

Yet the Danish striker already has a bold message for the Saitama Stadium faithful who are waiting for the team to kick into gear after a slow start under new manager Ricardo Rodriguez.

“Buy my uniform, you won’t regret it,” Junker said Thursday at the end of his first media appearance — a strong statement considering the high expectations placed on any Urawa signing by the club’s dedicated fans, to say nothing of the shirt’s ¥18,425 ($169) price tag.

But after scoring 27 goals in 25 appearances for Norwegian first-division champion FK Bodo/Glimt last season, the Vinding native said he preferred the “adventure” of playing in Asia over offers from European clubs, such as those taken by his fellow attacking teammates Jens Petter Hauge (AC Milan) and Philip Zinckernagel (Watford).

“I’ve always wanted to play football in Asia and Japan is a very special country,” Junker said. “It has a high level of football and it’s a good country to live in for Europeans, so for me this was the best country in Asia to play … (and) when a big club like Urawa comes to the table it’s difficult to say no.

“As a football player it’s good to go out on an adventure and not always take the easy choice, and learn about new cultures.”

Junker touted his speed and positioning in the box — skills that will come in handy for Reds, who have been shut out in over half of their fixtures this season and are without any players with more than two J1 goals — and anticipated fitting well into Rodriguez’s system.

“My job is to find space in the box and put in goals,” Junker said. “I (also) have a very good left foot and I’m looking to play other players to make an assist. It’s important to score but also assist, and I will try to score both.

“(Rodriguez) wants to do offensive football and high pressure, which is very good for me. It’s very like my old club, so it won’t take me long to understand his ideas. Every offensive player loves offensive coaches, so his mentality and ideas are very attractive to me.”

The 27-year-old — who will become the third Danish player in J1 history following national team greats Michael Laudrup (Vissel Kobe) and Brian Steen Nielsen (Urawa) in the mid-1990s — recognizes that his performance last year will inevitably draw comparisons to former Kashiwa Reysol striker Michael Olunga, whose 28 goals earned him last year’s Most Valuable Player honor.

But Junker said that he wouldn’t set a similar quota for himself and instead preferred to focus on bringing better results to Urawa.

“I have very high expectations for myself. I haven’t set any goals, because if I don’t score but the team wins it will still be a good performance,” he said. “Of course I want to help the team win by scoring goals, and I have very high expectations. But the most important thing is that we as a team perform well.

“If the team performs good, I also see myself as doing good.”

While praising Australian defender Thomas Deng for helping him integrate into the squad, Junker mentioned several times during Thursday’s media session that he has already begun studying Japanese.

“Thomas helped me already on the pitch, and it’s good to have one guy who talks English and knows the club and can help me understand the club faster,” Junker said. “It’s always good to have someone you can speak a little more with. It’s also important for me to speak with other players and try to communicate with them as much as possible, and my Japanese will also get better that way.”

DMM buys Avispa stake

Internet giant DMM.com has expanded its sports holdings with a minority stake in Avispa Fukuoka, the company announced Tuesday.

Boasting an already diverse array of services including online games, adult video on demand, a cryptocurrency exchange and a 3D printing marketplace, DMM entered the soccer world in 2017 with its purchase of Belgian first-division side Sint-Truiden.

That club has emerged as a new entrypoint to Europe for many Japanese players, including former Avispa and current Bologna defender Takehiro Tomiyasu — whose transfer led to a closer relationship between DMM and Avispa.

“By investing in Avispa Fukuoka, DMM would like to support both clubs in order to not only connect Japan and Belgium through football, but also to complement and help them to grow,” DMM COO Yusuke Muranaka wrote in a statement published on Sint-Truiden’s website.

Avispa, which is competing in the J1 for the first time since the 2016 season, reported a net loss of ¥287 million in the 2020 fiscal year. With the coronavirus pandemic set to further impact earnings in 2021, club officials hope that DMM’s presence will allow Avispa to generate more revenue and build a squad capable of remaining in the top flight.

The team is currently in ninth place with 16 points from 12 games.

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