Yutaro Oda reignited: The Ukrainian kid and the mobile phone app helping Hearts' Japanese forward come to life

Intelligence, pace, skill and a touch of aggression are endearing the young attacker to Tynecastle fans.

A buzz of excitement now reverberates around Tynecastle Park whenever Yutaro Oda takes possession of the ball. Within seconds he is off and running at pace, seemingly shifting from nought to 60 in an instant as he scampers directly for the opposition defence. It is a sight Hearts supporters are warming to.

The Japanese forward is gradually endearing himself to the Gorgie public four months since arriving from Vissel Kobe. Game time was limited initially whilst he adjusted to Scottish football and a very different daily culture. Since Steven Naismith took interim charge of Hearts last month, Oda has started three games in succession and shown plenty glimpses of his true ability.

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He remains the epitome of potential at the moment: Threatening to dominate, threatening to score, threatening to really rip another team to shreds. At 21, he came to Europe to make a major impact and enhance his career. He appears to possess all the necessary tools to do so. Speed, skill and quick feet are the obvious ones, plus an eye for goal even if hitting the net hasn’t happened yet.

Perhaps unexpectedly, there is also a robust side to Oda. He is not afraid to charge into challenges, or hit the ground for a sliding tackle. If it happens to launch an opponent into the air, so be it. His commitment, energy and aggression against Celtic at Tynecastle recently offered evidence that he can cope with Scottish football’s physicality despite a slender frame. He is learning quickly.

Key to all of the above is the player’s understanding of what is required at Hearts. Intellect is one of his strongest attributes. “There were a few players here I didn’t know too much about before I started taking the first team,” Naismith told the Evening News.

“Coaching the B team, you have your group so you don’t see too much of the others. I could say that about a handful of the players but very quickly I could see Oda was a really intelligent player.

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“His positions, movement, work out of possession – all that stuff was there without me saying much to him. His instincts were right – when to press and when not to. I noticed that quickly. For what I want to do, he is a very clever player who can pick it up.

Yutaro Oda is showing signs of real potential at Hearts.Yutaro Oda is showing signs of real potential at Hearts.
Yutaro Oda is showing signs of real potential at Hearts.

“He takes up positions not just to get the ball, it’s to ask a question of the defender: ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to step out of your position? I won’t make it comfortable.’ He does those things naturally which have got him this opportunity. He’s the one who has taken it.

“When you are bringing players from halfway round the world or other continents, that [physical side] is an issue. Are they robust enough for Scottish football? Like Celtic’s Japanese players, Oda has shown that. It didn’t come into my mind whether he is tough enough or not, I just liked what I saw from him on the ball and his reaction to losing it. That’s maybe why he has performed well. He would maybe flit in and out of games if he wasn’t as robust as he has shown.

“He also has a desire to learn the language and learn what we want. I sometimes think about how much he is actually taking in during our team meetings. Then I chat with him and he will come back with everything you’ve said. The teams you are up against, he knows what they are about.”

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Naismith’s Japanese isn’t quite at conversational level so communication can sometimes be challenging. Hearts enlisted the help of an interpreter who studies in Edinburgh but his academic commitments mean he is not at Riccarton midweek. Naismith’s young daughter suggested an ideal solution.

“My daughter had an app she used at school with a Ukrainian kid [for translation]. She said: ‘Just get this app to use with Yutaro.’ I tried it and it’s been great. Oda gets two or three English lessons a week and he is trying his hardest. He is getting better. It’s more the speed of our speech but his English is good enough.”

He need not understand Scottish brogue to appreciate the passion and expectations at Tynecastle. Oda clearly knows what supporters demand and his endeavour has helped inspire the crowd in recent weeks. None more so than against his compatriots in that Celtic encounter.

“That’s what you want – a player who understands the club, what the fans want, the desire, even the mentality of taking the pressure when you’re playing at home in front of a packed crowd and there is a demand on you. He has bought into that side of it,” said Naismith. “Maybe that’s just his nature. When you are producing in training and games, your credit goes up with the rest of the squad. That’s natural and he has done that.”

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A first goal in maroon has hitherto proven elusive. It is clear Oda is desperate to score from his reaction to blocked shots or last-gasp tackles thwarting him. Aberdeen this weekend would be the perfect moment to strike in a game Hearts must win to realistically maintain hope of catching the Pittodrie club and finishing third in the Premiership.

“In the first conversation I had with him, I said he needs to shoot quicker,” said Naismith. “That was the very first week of training and I showed him a video clip. We do constant work on our forward play so his goal will come. I haven’t had any other conversation about it with him.

“I know there will be a time when he scores, even if it’s a tap-in. His all-round goal involvement with us will be big through to the summer and beyond. Whether it’s a key pass, an assist or a goal, he will contribute. He has that natural instinct to go forward and get in the penalty box.”

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