We continue our The Branded Footballer series with a Japanese youngster, who in 2012-13 received a good amount of interest from European clubs and finally ended up at BSC Young Boys in Switzerland’s Raiffeisen Super League: Yuya Kubo.
This post will give an overview of the four characteristics in regard to Yuya Kubo’s brand as suggested by Rein, Kotler and Shields (2006) in The Elusive Fan, namely, brand, transformation, involvement, and ethos.
The Yuya Kubo Brand
According to Jennifer L. Aaker (1997) a brand has a certain personality, which is defined as the set of human characteristics associated with the brand, and that brand carries five core dimensions to its personality: Sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, ruggedness.
We will now apply the first four core dimensions to the Yuya Kubo brand. We will not discuss the fifth dimension, ruggedness, since it does not apply to Kubo brand.
Sincerity. In my opinion, Yuya Kubo personalises the modern Japanese footballer. He is calm, humble, moderately shy, has a sophisticated way of playing football, knows his roots, and his willing to travel abroad to work hard and achieve his goals. Compared to other Japanese footballers playing in Europe, such as Shinji Kawaga, Keisuke Honda, or Yoichiro Kakitani, these characteristics seem to apply to all mentioned players.
In his paper The study of Japanese personality and behaviour (1970), William Caudill sketched a few common themes which he believed represent real and interesting psychological characteristics in Japanese life. One mentioned characteristic is that Japanese have a sense of the group or communality as being of central importance. Kubo-san is said to integrate well with life in Bern and within the club. He goes fishing with members of the staff, celebrates national holidays with teammates and studies the local language (20min.ch, 2013).
A further characteristic is the underlying emotionality and excitability which is controlled by a somewhat compulsive attention to details, plans, and rules. Kubo-san said in an interview that he enjoys the reduced tactical demands of European football (Goal.com, 2014). In can be interpreted that Japanese football is strongly based on tactics and rules, which makes football more challenging, since an athlete has to make us use his fitness and intellect to a higher degree. However, that does not mean that Kubo-san curbs his attention to detail or rules.
Another interesting characteristics mentioned by Mr Caudill is the willingness to work hard and to persevere toward long-range goals. Different reports suggest that Kubo-san could have gone to more prestigious European leagues and clubs, but he eventually ended up in Switzerland. Furthermore, the Japanese shootingstar did not get into the starting XI right away – even though he mostly saw about 30 minutes pitch time as soon as he joined the club. Kubo saw the necessity to work hard to earn a spot in the starting XI at BSC Young Boys and gave himself time. Now in his second season, he is starting more often and looks more confident on the pitch.
The three above-discussed characteristics underline the sincerity of Kubo-san’s personality on and off the pitch, which in return gives a positive emphasis to the Yuya Kubo brand.
Excitement. In his last match with Kyoto Sanga in J.League Division 2, just shortly before joining BSC Young Boys in July 2013, Kubo-san scored a hat-trick — not bad for a 19-year old. Obviously, that fact swept over to Bern, the home town of his new club, and excitement slowly started boiling in the Swiss capital. It became even more exciting when the youngster scored two goals in his third pitch engagement for BSC YB coming off the bench. The club started printing dedicated Yuya fan-shirts and it seemed as if Yuyamania was going to be established. Nevertheless, the club lost its initial winning momentum and so did the excitement about the new shooting star. However, Kubo-san has proven to be able to be a match-winner in different occasions scoring decisive goals in the domestic league as well as in the UEFA Europa League against International greats such as SSC Napoli.
Competence. In a Goal.com article, Joe Wright describes Yuya Kubo as ‘the rising Japan star who could surpass Shinji Kagawa’. He explains, “The 20-year-old joined Young Boys in the summer of 2013 after rising through the ranks at Kyoto Sanga – one of the J-League’s most prolific talent production lines – and, despite the presence of fellow young attackers Josef Martinez and Michael Frey, he forced his way immediately into the first team. (Goal.com, 2014)” This underlines Kubo-san’s football competences, which are of high value and visible to all spectators.
Sophistication. According to Kubo-san, football is simpler in Europe than in Japan, and he therefore enjoys the reduced tactical demands (Goal.com, 2014). If that is truly the case, He could bring a more sophisticated football style onto European pitches. This might also lead to a different attitude towards the game, hence, appearing more sophisticated. Fabian Ruch describes Kubo-san’s football style as “filigran”, which translated into Englisch means “sophisticated” (Bern-Ost.ch, 2014).
I remember discussing Kubo-san’s potential transfer with Alan Gibson, JSoccer Magazine, on Twitter already in 2012, but then forgot about it, because it seemed like pure speculation. It also needs to be mentioned that back then, former BSC YB sporting director Ilja Kaenzig was known for engaging in ‘complicated’ deals, the deal with Kyoto Sanga being one of them.
Benjamin Steffen explained the Yuya Kubo transfer in the NZZ, a daily Swiss newspaper with high reputation (NZZ, 2013):
While still at Kyoto Sanga, Yuya Kubo received interest from Dutch clubs Arnhem and Venlo, in Germany from Hoffenheim, Cologne, and even from Dortmund. However, Kubo-san continued to play for Kyoto Sanga. Later, the Kubo-speculation spilled over to Switzerland. In October 2012, Blick, a Swiss tabloid, wrote, “YB is interested in Yuya Kubo.” And in January 2013 , Berner Zeitung assumed that Kubo-san had disappeared from the YB-wishlist.
However, Kubo-san and Mr. Kaenzig had already penned a four-year contract deal, starting in the course of 2013. Apparently, the public did not need to know about the deal, since the Yuya Kubo brand was supposed to be an investment soon to be sold to a prestigious league without having played once in Switzerland.
Unfortunately [— or fortunately for the Swiss football spectators—], the global enthusiasm for the Kubo brand cooled off and he had to actually pick up his Yellow-Black jersey in Bern. The first task for new sporting director Fredy Bickel was to reduce the squad, and he hardly knew about the Japanese youngster. In addition, the Kubo-chapter sounded like a complicated and rather mysterious business deal initiated by Mr Bickel’s by-now infamous predecessor. Initially Mr Bickel did not know what to do with Kubo-san, but it proved to be a good move to give him a chance.
Ever since Yuya tied his football boots for the first time at Stade de Suisse, BSC YB’s home stadium, he grew as a footballer proving his worth. Definitely a good transformation in progress.
This characteristic is dedicated to the involvement of the athlete in the digital space in terms of publicly accessible professional an official profiles on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a personal website etc. During my research I could only find a private Facebook account, where Kubo-san posts private activities. Other than that, a handful of unofficial Facebook pages and Twitter accounts an be found. Hence, in terms of involvement in the digital space we can conclude that the Yuya Kubo brand is in need for presence to accommodate the need for first-hand information for his global following. It can be assumed that Kubo-san decided that there is no need for such an information output from his side. From my point of view there definitely is.
Shortly after Kubo-san joined the BSC Young Boys, its sporting director Fredy Bickel said that Kubo-san is a very pleasant person and people appreciate that about him (20min.ch, 2013). He actively integrated himself in the team and made friends. Furthermore, Kubo-san did not shy away from promotional activities, which underlined his genuine down-to-earth personality. Here the discussion about the sincerity of his brand can be picked up or expanded. However, to avoid redundancy, we leave it to the above-mentioned characteristics of the Yuya Kubo brand.
Like Joe Wright, I believe that Yuya Kubo could be the rising Japan star and could surpass Shinji Kagawa or Keisuke Honda here in Europe. He is only 21 years old, sees a considerable amount of pitch time in Switzerland and in the UEFA Europa League and the media dedicates only moderate attention to his persona. This provides a good foundation to build a strong brand upon.
It can be suggested that Yuya starts thinking about active involvement in the football universe; meaning, start building his brand through official owned media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to build a sustainable following that is always of interest to potential sponsors and new employers. Additionally, a clear transformation plan that includes a conceptualised brand positioning strategy could be beneficial to target, measure and finally achieve set goals.
I consider the Yuya Kubo brand a sophisticated brand in the Japanese footballers in Europe niche. With a defined strategy and a handful of concrete tweaks in regard to promotion the brand could definitely shift into second gear and comfortably reach the next level.