What can Hearts fans expect from Ryotaro Meshino - is he the creator they have been missing?

The second half of Hearts' 0-0 draw with Ross County at Tynecastle on Saturday was an especially dreary affair for the home support.

By Joel Sked
Thursday, 15th August 2019, 4:07 pm
Hearts hope to sign Ryotaro Meshino. Picture: SNS
Hearts hope to sign Ryotaro Meshino. Picture: SNS

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A goal for the Jam Tarts never looked forthcoming. With Steven Naismith subbed off at half-time as a precaution regarding an injury, the team were lacking inspiration, ideas, creativity and that attacking verve which gets fans of every team around the world on their feet.

What they needed was a player who could take the ball under pressure, create space with a neat bit of skill before providing a penetrative pass or simply giving the team direction.

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Hearts hope to sign Ryotaro Meshino. Picture: SNS

Craig Levein and the management team watching on may have had a similar thought. Within days, Hearts were being linked with a move for Manchester City's exciting recent addition Ryotaro Meshino.

The Japanese 21-year-old is someone fans of the Premier League side will know little about, which is understandable as there is no mention of his signing on the club's website.

Even in his native Japan he may be somewhat of an unknown having played just 23 top-flight games, albeit for one of the country's biggest teams Gamba Oskaka, and not yet featured for the national team at full or youth level.

Yet, he is someone Manchester City fought to bring to the Etihad earlier this month with Gamba keen to keep the player, but the club's sporting director Masanobu Matsunami admitted that "we prioritised his feelings” after Meshino sought a move to Europe.

The expectation was that he would move to the Netherlands on loan.

Having not featured for the national team Meshino does not automatically qualify for a work permit. As with other such young talents, City send them out on loan to gain experience and develop to a point where a work permit would be accepted.

The Premier League champions have a close relationship with NAC Breda, while fellow Japanese starlet Ko Itakura joined Groningen on loan.

Yet, Hearts are the preferred destination with terms agreed between the clubs. All that is left is for the club to make their case that the player is an "exceptional talent" to satisfy the panel who decides whether to grant a "special talent visa".

The club have been foiled in the past. Georgian international Gogita Gogua was rejected a work permit back in 2007, and earlier this summer Cleetus Nombil.

The fact the champions of England have invested in Meshino gives Hearts' argument plenty of weight.

It is understood that Hearts are an attractive suitor for the player because the club's assistant Austin MacPhee speaks fluent Japanese, owing to his playing career taking him to FC Kariya where he spent three years. He was in attendance for the side's stalemate with the Staggies on Saturday, talking with MacPhee and John Souttar prior to the match.

Having someone he can converse with and understand is incredibly beneficial, especially in a league and environment like Scotland having not experienced European football before.

As previously mentioned he has not played an awful lot of top tier football, yet he made the transition into becoming a member of the first-team earlier this year after netting seven goals in four games for Gamba Oskaka's U23 side in the third tier of Japanese football.

It suggests that it has been a meteoric rise. That hasn't quite been the case with the player having to put in the yards with the second team.

Those formative years have been key in his development. Hearts are getting a player with more than 80 games under his belt, in comparison to Demetri Mitchell who had played just one senior game and a handful of Premier League 2 matches.

Craig Levein has said he is "hugely excited" by the prospect of Meshino joining and, having watched footage of the player, it is easy to see why. He is a vivacious forward who operates just behind the front line.

The 21-year-old has been billed as a left winger and perhaps Hearts could do with someone like Jake Mulraney out on the flank who can hold their width, but he is very much an ebullient inside forward.

Meshino looks to pick the ball up on the half turn in spaces between the opposition midfield and defence and then charge towards goal. He takes more shots than Jamie Walker, dribbles more and passes more.

Hearts fans could find themselves drawn from their seats as if powered by witchcraft when he gets on the ball. He has a low centre of gravity, an Eden Hazard-build, albeit without the thick caboose. Two-footed, he possess a change of direction and quick feet which will bewitch and bewilder many a defender.

Comparisons can be made with Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker in their nascent years at Hearts. However, he looks better at beating defenders in one v one situations, drawing opponents in and then bamboozling them with a turn and, like the aforementioned duo, there is every chance he will score a special goal or two.

Coming from the relative calm waters of the Japanese league and thrown into the rough waves of Scottish football will see him tested physically. But he has shown, both with his recovery to win back balls and ability to hold off defenders when in possession, that he has the tenacity and determination to succeed and not be overawed.

Arriving on loan from Manchester City, being praised by Levein, there will be a different sort of pressure and expectation he is perhaps used to, but he has experience of playing in front of big crowds with Gamba Osaka averaging more than 28,000 for home matches.

It may take time for the transfer to be concluded but the wait could very much be worth it to see a potential star of the future who could give Hearts the creative shot in the arm which they so desperately need.