Wanderers’ Japanese winger vows best is yet come

Jumpei Kusukami has a message for any Western Sydney Wanderers fans frustrated with his performances in his maiden Hyundai A-League campaign – the best is yet to come.

Four months after his Hyundai A-League debut in the Wanderers’ 4-0 derby loss to Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium, Jumpei believes he is getting used to Australian football and what Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic expects of him.

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The 29-year-old has at times been the personification of the Red-and-Black’s attacking woes this season, with the Japanese winger’s impressive build-up play providing a stark contrast to a perceived lack of cutting edge.

Although Jumpei has managed three goals this term – putting him level with Nico Martinez as the Wanderers’ second-best scorer behind Brendon Santalab (8) – a seven-game wait at the start of 2016-17 for his debut strike, plus a zero in the assists column, has given critics something to work with.

Jumpei Kusukami equalised for the Wanderers.

Speaking to Goal ahead of the third Sydney Derby of the season this Saturday night at ANZ, Jumpei made it clear that he expects more of himself too.

“Personally, I think I haven’t shown a complete performance yet,” he said.

“This team [Western Sydney] has priority in defence and I have to use more energy on defence in my current position.

“It was very difficult at the beginning because I had the problem of fitness in addition to tactical problem. I had to understand how we play here.

“Now, I have improved my fitness and able to run more distance than before. It enabled me to produce more offensively, which I have been showing in Japan.”

The former Kawasaki Frontale, Cerezo Osaka and Sagan Tosu man is contracted to Western Sydney until the end of the 2017-18 season and has indicated he could see himself playing with the Wanderers beyond his current deal.

Jumpei and Michael Zullo vie for the ball in the Round 1 Sydney Derby.

“My team-mates are supporting me, and I love the way supporters motivate us here,” Jumpei said.

“Wanderers supporters make great atmosphere especially at the home games, and that is the reason why I feel happy every time I play.

“Currently, I am very fulfilled and enjoying football, so I want to play more games and record my name in the club’s history.”

While Western Sydney fans have quickly built a reputation for producing a raucous atmosphere in the A-League, Jumpei revealed he has experienced another side to those of a Red-and-Black persuasion when out and about in the Harbour City.

“They are quiet. Last time, I guess it was a place like a zoo, I was taking a photo with a koala when I heard a staff member discussing whether I was Jumpei or not… supporters here appear shy and don’t talk to me much,” he said.

The Japanese consulted compatriots and ex-Western Sydney players Shinji Ono and Yusuke Tanaka before joining Popovic’s squad in August, while he has also enjoyed resuming his friendship with Mitch Nichols after the duo played together at Cerezo in 2014.

Wanderers, Jumpei

But despite all his research, Jumpei conceded he was still taken aback by the physicality of Australian football.

“Players here make hard contact even at the training ground,” he said.

The Wanderers have dropped out of the A-League’s top six following Round 19 thanks to their 2-0 loss to Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.

Jumpei remains positive, however, highlighting the gradual defensive improvement of Popovic’s side, while the Aisho-born attacking midfielder is also looking forward to the start of the AFC Champions League at the end of the month, particularly the Wanderers’ opener against Urawa Red Diamonds.

“I’m looking forward to playing against [Urawa] and also I would like Japanese fans to watch me play because there are very limited chance for Japanese fans to check my play when I play in Australia,” he said.

Jumpei Kusukami - Western Sydney Wanderers

Western Sydney will host Urawa at Campbelltown Stadium on February 21 and will visit the J.League club on April 26.