Masato Fukui is convinced he made the "right choice" in moving from Japan to Montenegrin First League title holders FK Sutjeska, and he is not the only one swapping the land of the rising sun for one of Europe's youngest nations.
The 24-year-old forward completed a civil engineering degree prior to a two-season spell in the J. League second division with Gainare Tottori, but it is a football education he and three compatriots are seeking in Montenegro. Takeshi Ito featured twice for FK Grbalj last term; Takaya Kawanabe came to Europe with Latvia's FC Jūrmala before signing for FK Mladost Podgorica at the beginning of the season; and Kohei Kato swapped Japan's Machida Zelvia for FK Rudar Pljevlja in August.
"The time has come to see if I'm capable of playing in Europe," said Fukui, who got his career in Montenegro off to a flier by scoring a debut goal against FK Mornar in August. "When I had the chance to come to Montenegro, I didn't think about it too much. I had to grab the opportunity.
"I started brightly but I am not satisfied with my performances overall," he added of his six league outings so far. "I know I can be much better once I've completely settled. My team-mates support me, the fans give me a boost during every match, and that's why I have to contribute more to the team."
Expectations are high at Sutjeska after last season's maiden championship and, although they sit third with 12 points from their opening seven games, Fukui is relishing the prospect of another title challenge. "I am glad to have this competitive pressure and play in a team that wants to win every match. We will fight for the league and I want to help us win back-to-back titles. That's difference between Europe and football in Japan.
"Now I can feel the importance of every match and I think I made the right choice when I came to play in Montenegro. It can be a good step in my career and a great place to improve as a player as well as physiologically. However, I never forget that the team is the most important thing, not individual performances."
Indeed, Fukui's abilities away from football are notable yet he is determined to prove himself on the pitch and make a career of the sport he loves. "I graduated in civil engineering in Japan, as I know a football career can be very short – or I might not even succeed in my efforts to become a successful player," he continued. "However, I love the game and I will give my best to fulfil my dreams."
Whether or not his dream becomes a reality remains to be seen but Fukui can certainly be credited for being among the first Japanese exports to Montenegro's footballing elite.
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