Gotoku Sakai, born on March 14, 1991, is a professional soccer player from Sanjo city in Niigata prefecture. He is currently playing for Bundesliga’s Hamburger SV. He is a player with great physical strength and stamina, since he is able to run for long distances while alternating his speed. On top of that he is ambipedal, which means he is able to play with both feet.
Gotoku was born in New York to a Japanese father and a German mother, and because of his father’s job, they moved to Niigata when Sakai was 2 years old. When he was 10 years old, he started playing soccer and joined his local soccer youth club. Later, he moved up to their junior youth team, and in 2006, he joined Albirex Niigata’s youth team.
On November 5, 2008, when he promoted to their top team, he made his first regular game appearance in that year’s Emperor’s Cup 5th match against FC Tokyo.
The next year, in 2009, he entered the league matches right from the J1 opening game, and he appeared in a total of 18 matches as one of the valuable substitutes. From 2010, he became a regular and the team’s key player, and on October 1, 2011, he scored his first professional goal against Yokohama F. Marinos.
After the end of the 2011 season, he was loaned to VfB Stuttgart. Even though he joined Stuttgart midseason, he secured a regular spot as the right back, and the local newspaper highly praised him, writing that he should be invited to the German national team.
Since Sakai produced good results in a short period of time, he was able to sign a contract with VfB Stuttgart. After that, with three and a half seasons, he appeared in 87 matches and scored a single goal.
On July 5, 2015, Sakai accepted Bruno Labbadia’s invitation to join Hamburger SV. Labbadia used to be the manager for VfB Stuttgard at the same time when Sakai was on the team. In HSV, he not only played side back, which was his main role, but he was also played more as a defensive midfielder. In Bundesliga, he recorded his 100th combined match appearance.
Ever since Hamburger became a member of the Bundesliga, they were the only team that had never experienced relegation into the 2nd division. However, in recent years they started to struggle and often came close to relegation. They have been changing managers frequently and still have to grapple with the possible threat of relegation.
In the middle of such problems, Sakai became the first Japanese player to be named captain in a Bundesliga team in the middle of the 2016-2017 season. Although he was made captain while the team was sinking to last place, in the final match of the season against VfL Wolfsburg, he helped the team make a comeback and win 2-1, barely keeping his team stay in the first division.
Meanwhile, Sakai first played in the Japan national youth team, and since then he has been selected for every category in the national team. In the Kirin Challenge Cup that was held on September 6, 2012, in his local Niigata Stadium, he made his debut in the adult national team against the United Arab Emirates.
He was also selected for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, but because Atsuto Uchida played as a regular on the team, Sakai wasn’t given an opportunity to appear in any of the matches.
In the near future, we can expect Uchida, Gotoku and Hiroki Sakai to compete for a position on the team.