After shining against Manchester United, one-time Barcelona and Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo could finally be ready to make his mark

At 21, Takefusa Kubo has already amassed a football resume — even if he’s not an instantly recognizable name to the average fan.

After all, how many can Barcelona and Real Madrid count among their former clubs?

But having been forced out of a LaLiga powerhouse due to FIFA rules and then struggling to make a breakthrough at another Spanish giant, the Japanese attacker looks to have finally found the place for him to shine at Real Sociedad.

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Having only moved to San Sebastian last summer, Kubo made an immediate impact by scoring a debut goal in a 1-0 win over Cadiz and has started three of his new club’s four league games so far in the new season.

On Thursday night, under the bright European lights at Old Trafford, he was again impressive as Sociedad opened their Europa League campaign by beating Manchester United 1-0 — their first victory over English opposition ever.

Having been one of the few threats in United’s backline in the opening 45, Kubo tormented Victor Lindelof – switched to right-back following Diogo Dalot’s halftime exit – after the break as Sociedad grew into the game, until he was substituted in the 78th minute with the visitors holding what would prove to be the winner.

With his skill and composure on display throughout, Kubo could even have provided an assist for Alexander Sorloth with a perfectly whipped left-wing delivery but for a crucial last-ditch intervention from Lisandro Martinez.

Such a performance should not come as a huge surprise considering the expectations on him based on the potential he has shown from a young age.

When he was just ten years old, Kubo accepted an invitation to join Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and would go on to become a prolific scorer at youth level.

However, when the Catalan outfit were found to have breached FIFA’s transfer policy by signing international players under the age of 18, their superb talent from Kawasaki was forced home.

Almost immediately, Kubo was picked up by FC Tokyo and was about to become the youngest scorer in J1 League history at the age of 15 years and ten months.

Playing regular first-team football despite his tender years, it didn’t take long for him to once again attract the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs.

In 2019, with Kubo now 18, Real won the race for his services.

Kubo never expected to force himself into Los Blancos starting XI right away.

What he would have hoped for — at least — was a chance to prove his worth.

Three seasons came and went with Kubo effectively starting a mini-tour in Spain, as he was sent on four different loan spells.

Some, like the first in Mallorca — where he netted four times in 36 appearances, gave cause for optimism.

Others, like the half season he spent at Villarreal, hardly helped his development as he found himself on the periphery.

In the summer, Kubo was once again on his way out of the Santiago Bernabeu — but this time he decided to join Sociedad on a permanent move.

It’s arguably a bold move considering he still has two years left on his contract at Real, but Kubo clearly believes now is the right time to try his luck elsewhere.

Not a bad decision considering there is a spot in Japan’s FIFA World Cup squad up for grabs.

There are also worse places to move to, with Sociedad still offering him exposure to one of Europe’s top leagues along with continental football, but also being a team that has the potential to improve again with consecutive top-six finishes in the past three campaigns.

Although Kubo will continue to spend a large amount of his career in the inferior environment of San Sebastian, even if compared to Madrid or Barcelona, ​​there will be no shame there — even when fighting against his compatriots.

For every Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda who plied their trade for major European teams, there was a Makoto Hasebe or Maya Yoshida, who still carved out respectable careers for themselves despite doing for less impressive clothes.

However, at the age of 21, Kubo has time on his side. And as he showed against United on Thursday, he still has plenty of potential to unlock.

While his stints at Barcelona and Real Madrid may not have gone according to plan, perhaps – at Sociedad – it was finally time for him to make his mark.