When Rabbi Matondo decided to move to Rangers rather than stay in Belgium, Cercle Brugge knew they needed to act fast and bring in a replacement for the Welshman. Their scouting department presented sporting director Carlos Avina with a profile of an intriguing player, who at just 23 years of age had amassed 47 goals in 103 games for Kashima Antlers. Cercle were more than happy to part with just over 1 million euros to bring the player to Flanders.
Cercle announced the signing of Ayase Ueda at the beginning of the summer, in what looked to be a real coup for the smaller side of Brugge football. The side, in partnership with Monaco, have shown ambition to punch above their weight with ambitious signings of young stars, and Ueda looked to be the next one.
However, the striker struggled to adjust initially to football in Belgium. The food especially proved a culture shock, and meant his recovery was taking far longer than expected for a player with the athletic profile of the Japanese international. Yet, working together, the club and player found a solution, which has proven to be vital in bringing the best out of Ueda.
Fast forward to November, and the Japanese striker is heading to the World Cup as one of the most inform strikers in the Belgian Pro League. The striker has 8 goals in 18 matches for Cercle so far, which includes 5 in his last 6 matches. His partnershpi with Togolese striker Kevin Denkey has been a major factor in Cercle climbing the table from the relegation zone to 9th, just outside of play-off two.
Ueda is beginning to show the Pro League defenders why he was such a prolific goal scorer in the J League. No striker in the Japanese 26 man squad has scored more goals in this calendar year than Ueda, when you factor in the 10 he scored for the Antlers before his move to Cercle. Ueda could be a secret weapon for the Samurai’s.
However, since his debut for the national side in 2019, the young striker has failed to find the net in 10 appearances. Japan are in a tough group, with European giants Germany and Spain, alongside Costa Rica, by no means a weak side. With the creativity in the side, Japan will fancy their chances of upsetting the European big boys and getting the better of Costa Rica. Ueda, given the form he is in, could prove to be the difference.
His 8 goals for Cercle have shown a striker who can finish with both feet and head. His goal against OH Lueven highlighted his aerial ability, timing his jump perfectly before heading the ball into the bottom corner to give his side the lead. Against Charleroi, his brace exhibited the strikers in the box instincts. His first goal was a swivel finish that left Pierre Patron no chance in the Zebras goal, as the took advantage of a bobbling ball in the box. The second was a finessed finish into the bottom right hand corner.
Ueda is going into the World Cup full of confidence, and the Samurai’s may well be wise to take advantage. Even if he is limited to coming off the bench, his instincts inside the box could help rescue a point or win a game during the group stages. All 8 of his goals in Belgium this season have come from inside the area. Out of his 10 goals in the J League in 2022, 7 were from inside the box, while 13 of his 14 during the 2021 J League season were inside the area.
Confident and in form, Ueda will certainly be hopeful to get his first goal, as well as a couple more, for Japan at this years World Cup. If he can replicate the quality in front of goal he has shown in Brugge, he could certainly be a secret weapon for the Japanese side.