TOKYO, June 16 - On a continent where �imitation� Galacticos are a dime a dozen, Japan�s Takefusa Kubo could just be the real deal.
Snapped up by Real Madrid on Friday from under the noses of some of the world�s other top clubs, the teenage sensation is about to demonstrate why he is known as the �Japanese Messi� at the tender age of 18.
The youngster, described by Real as one of the most promising players in world football, is set to create a buzz at this month�s Copa America in Brazil after earning his first senior call-up for the Blue Samurai.
Rarely an Asian football tournament goes by without a �Thai Zico,� an �Iraqi Cristiano Ronaldo� or even a �North Korean Wayne Rooney� among the team rosters.
But it was Kubo who was invited to Barcelona�s youth academy as a scrawny nine-year-old where he earned his nickname for his mazy dribbling skills.
Though the Catalan giants were keen to retain him, Real Madrid took the plunge, heading off interest from Manchester City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.
The midfielder signed from FC Tokyo could come face-to-face with Argentina wizard Messi at the Copa America depending on results in the group stage.
Kubo is one of 17 uncapped players in coach Hajime Moriyasu�s new-look Japan squad as the tournament guests look to build for next year�s Tokyo Olympics but is destined to attract by far the most interest.
The world�s biggest clubs have been tracking his progress since he appeared in the 2017 Under-20 World Cup � at just 15.
Earlier the same year he became the J-League�s youngest goalscorer, triggering the sort of hype once reserved for the likes of Japan greats Hidetoshi Nakata and Keisuke Honda.
A YouTube sensation as a pint-sized toddler, Kubo none the less rejects comparisons to Barcelona hero Messi.
�I don�t like being compared to Messi,� he said. �But one day I hope to be able to play like him.� Slightly taller than Messi at 1.73 metres (5ft 8in), Kubo has a similarly low centre of gravity to the Argentina legend and an eye for a defence-splitting pass. � AFP