After getting in touch with Bundesliga reporter Ronan Murphy earlier in the week (read that piece here), we’ve no reached out to a Mainz fan to get yet another expert opinion on the Japenese striker who’s now signed for Newcastle United (subject to work permit).
We got in touch with Conor Garratt (@conorgarratt), an English football fan who happens to know a thing or two about Mainz and Yoshinori Muto – Newcastle’s new £9.5m man.
For a bit of background, Conor moved out to Germany to study back in 2015 (the year Muto signed for Mainz) and he ended up getting a season ticket at the Opel Arena. He the followed them home and away that season and has continued to watch them week in week out ever since.
Here’s what he’s had to say after we got in touch to find out a bit more about the 26-year old – He’s a big fan!..
Q1) Firstly, what are Muto’s strengths and weaknesses as a player? I’m keen to know what sort of striker we’re getting here..
“Muto is a bit of an all rounder in an attacking sense – his finishing is fairly decent, for a smaller player he can hold the ball quite well and usually finds a pass if men are up in support. That, though, is pretty much what you expect from a top league attacker – I’d say it’s his movement that sets him apart. He’s excellent at picking up pockets of space, accelerating past a man and creating chances for himself and others that way.
“It’s hard to quantify without watching back all of his Mainz goals (which I probably will do at some point) but I’d say the classic Muto goal is dropping off a man in the box, finding space and finishing neatly first time from close range
“He does sometimes need a breather, or there’s a time where it doesn’t make sense to press so he doesn’t
“That’s the intelligence thing – whatever Benitez asks him to do, he’ll work to carry it out.”
Q2) I noticed he’s never actually started over 20 games in a season for Mainz during his three years in the Bundesliga. With that in mind, his 20 goals in 48 starts seems impressive, but it raising a concern about his fitness. Does he have his fair share of problems or was he just dropped?
“He’s had a fair few injuries which have ruled him out for a while. He did his knee a couple of times in 2016 and suffered from a few muscular problems probably just from overplaying a little when he initially signed – as he’s a player who works so hard, he can often be ineffective later on in games as he gets tired.
“By his second season at Mainz we had other decent options up front such as John Córdoba so when he was fit wasn’t always an automatic starter, and last season sometimes Sandro Schwarz preferred Emil Berggreen, who is more of a traditional number 9, or Robin Quaison, who is slightly more direct and slots into midfield more. So really it’s a mixture of the two.”
Q3) A Bundesliga reporter I spoke to this week suggested he could play out wide or in the number 10 role. Is he actually this versatile & where would you see him fitting into Rafa’s 4-2-3-1 system?
“He definitely can play on the wing but – at least on what I’ve seen from him at Mainz – he absolutely isn’t a number 10.
“He’s pretty much always played up front for us as he’s very much someone who plays on the shoulder rather than dropping into the hole and picking a pass.
“He probably would have played on the wing more in his first few seasons at Mainz had it not been an area of strength within our squad, though.”
Q4) Has Rafa got a real bargain at £9.5m or is this about right? As fees go these days this seems very cheap – and that’s both a good thing & a bit of a worry given you normally get what you pay for..
“It is a bargain in the context of the Premier League but I think it’s a deal Mainz can still be reasonably happy with; he only has a year left on his contract and the transfer fees we usually give out are a lot less.
“Not having to justify his fee should hopefully just let him get going straight away for you, too.”
Q5) I’ve heard a lot about his intelligence, his work rate & his movement. Great to hear but we need a striker capable of being the difference & stepping up in big moments (or two strikers got 6&4 last season!) Is he that man or do you doubt his ability to get into double figures?
“If he can stay fit and start in two thirds (or so) of your games next season I’d back him to easily make double figures, but he is not the most prolific striker and I’m not sure he’d sort out that particular problem on his own.
“At Mainz his best partnership was with Yunus Malli, who is quite a creative midfielder now at Wolfsburg who scored quite a few goals from Muto’s hard work up front. If he can build a partnership with someone around him (as a Swindon fan in English money I’d like that player to be Matt Ritchie!), he may add quite a few goals to the team indirectly, though.”
Q6) What is he like as a character? The crowd at St James’ Park will adore you if you perform & put in 110% , but there’s quite a big expectation here when it comes to strikers after many saw the likes of Shearer, Ferdinand & Cole bang them in over the years. Will Muto be able to carry the weight of the jersey, deal with the expectation of fans & cope with the intensity & pressure that comes with Premier League football at Newcastle?
“He rarely seemed fazed at making the step up from J-League to the Bundesliga so, as there isn’t much of a difference in quality of play between that and the PL, I don’t think that should be a problem.
He’s pretty well liked at Mainz – he works hard and plays with a smile a lot of the time, which definitely makes a difference.
“He also seems pretty quiet and unassuming as well, which definitely helps as he won’t be a scapegoat for off the field antics. It’s hard to say without seeing it actually happen but I would certainly back him to be a success anywhere he ended up.
Q7) We play 4-2-3-1. I’d be surprised if we used him out wide much and it sounds like he’s not a number 10 from what you’ve said. With this in mind, is he a player who can play on his own up top? He doesn’t seem big or much of a presence so I worry a little that he’d be bullied or struggle to get into the game as a lone striker?
“Well, he’s largely played as a sole striker for Mainz so I think he should be able to do it in the Premier League too. There is an element in me that says he may struggle against an organised group of huge centre halves, but while he’s not in the same league as someone like Gabriel Jesus or Roberto Firmino (and also not particularly similar in playing style to either of them), both of those players have shown you can be a smaller solo striker & actually turn it into an advantage. I guess whether that happens all depends on how Benitez wants to set up his attack”
Q8) Final question – you back him to get double figures but I see he’s not actually managed 10 goals in a league season for Mainz during his three years at the club. What makes you think he will up his tally & take his game to the next level at NUFC?
“First of all better service – he’s come on as a player a lot since joining Mainz but our team has got significantly worse, there’s a dearth of creativity in midfield. While I gather that is also a bit of a problem for Newcastle the actual players in those positions are better than their counterparts at Mainz, so Muto should benefit from that.
“Secondly the season being longer & there being more cup competitions should give him a few more chances to bag a few goals.
“He got 10 goals by February on his debut season but he got injured at the start of that month and didn’t play again until August..
“It’s hard to tell really, but he’ll come fairly close if he does miss the double figures mark”
A very good read and a player he clearly rates highly.
Yoshinori Muto – Welcome to Newcastle pic.twitter.com/pgZXOPwgQK
— John (@jbxnufc) July 26, 2018