Japan teen star Nishikawa cool on Barca talk

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan youth international Jun Nishikawa said yesterday he heard Barcelona were keen on signing him through friends but denied there had been any contact from the Spanish giants.

The 17-year-old attacking midfielder, who has represented Japan at the under-17 and under-20 World Cup, told local media his main focus was on nailing down a place at J-League club Cerezo Osaka.

“I read the news on my phone yesterday morning and my friends told me about it, but I didn’t think anything special,” insisted Nishikawa, who won’t become eligible to move overseas until he turns 18 next month, paving the way for a possible summer transfer.

“I’m just thinking about earning a regular place and playing for Cerezo.”

Barcelona have been linked with Nishikawa by Spanish media after spotting him while keeping tabs on another Japanese youngster, Hiroki Abe, who has impressed for the B-team since joining the Catalans from Kashima Antlers last summer.

Asked what he would do if a concrete offer came from the Camp Nou to further boost Japan’s presence in Spain, Nishikawa added. “At that time, I’ll make a decision depending on how I feel. Right now, I’m playing for Cerezo.”

Nishikawa has only made a handful of appearances for Cerezo but after losing out last year in the race to sign 18-year-old sensation Takefusa Kubo, dubbed the ‘Japanese Messi’, Barca appear determined not to let the same thing happen again.

Kubo opted to join bitter rivals Real Madrid despite being invited to Barcelona’s youth academy as a scrawny nine-year-old where he earned his nickname for the mazy dribbling skills that made him a YouTube hit.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain were also linked to Kubo, who has been loaned out to La Liga rivals Mallorca on a season-long loan by Madrid to gain experience.