clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

SSFC Spotlight: Zion Suzuki could be making the jump to Europe

The Japan youth international is connected with Manchester United.

Kawasaki Frontale v Urawa Red Diamonds - J.LEAGUE YBC Levain Cup Group B Photo by Hiroki Watanabe/Getty Images

Goalkeeper can be the hardest position to predict and develop, an inexact science of judging potential and determining how to distribute playing time while hoping the player has the mentality to succeed. There is also debate as to whether prospects are better off at hometown sides or on the books at super-clubs that ideally have a long-term plan in place. Zion Suzuki (鈴木 彩艶) of Urawa Red Diamonds may have already reached a career crossroads, being pursued by one of the world’s biggest outfits. The 20-year-old Ghanaian-American-Japanese trial-national has impressed at the club and international levels.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Suzuki was raised in Japan’s Saitama Prefecture in Honshu’s Kantō region and has “no memories of the United States.” He began playing with Urawa Daito Soccer Sports Boy Scouts before moving to the Urawa Red Diamonds youth set-up in 2009 and was added to the first team as an eligible “Class 2” player at the age of 16, the youngest professional in club history. Competing up several age levels, the goalkeeper was considered as having the highest potential of anyone to have passed through the club’s academy.

Suzuki began appearing on the bench during the 2020 season, with the club renewing his contract. In 2021, he made his first-team debut in the J.League Cup, registering a shutout against Shonan Bellmare and serving as Urawa’s rotational goalkeeper, helping lead the club to the semifinal round. The teenager also made a string of starts in the J1 League, putting together a 3-1-2 record from May through June. His “confident and composed” performances in both the league and cup earned the New Hero Award, which included “a prize of 500,000 yen, a crystal ornament, and a year’s worth of Yamazaki Biscuit products.”

“At the beginning of the season, I played in the cup, but my goal this year was to keep playing, so I wasn’t satisfied,” Suzuki told Goal. “I feel really lucky to be able to participate in the league... I didn’t expect it, but since last year I’ve always been prepared to play. That’s why I think I was able to participate and play without any problems… If you mix with high-level players of a higher age group, nothing will really work if you keep your head down… Even when I participate in a J-League match, I never shrink back.”

The following season, Suzuki made eight appearances, including four during the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Urawa ended up winning the competition, defeating Al-Hilal in the final, a run aided by his initial performances that included two shutouts. The club plays a possession build-up style, which forced him into an active decision-making role, determining when the team could move forward. Lack of regular playing time was a source of frustration, albeit improved by consistent international call-ups.

This season, Suzuki remains the back-up and has appeared in six total matches, mainly in the J.League Cup. He is stuck behind Shusaku Nishikawa, the former Japan goalkeeper who has been the club’s number one for a decade. Despite his status in the squad, there is a noted improvement in his game, displaying “a sense of stability in crosses” and “knowing how to protect the space in front of goal” with aggressive movement.

Suzuki’s performances have been drawing attention in the transfer market. According to Sports Nippon, he is linked with a move to Manchester United, with the three-time UEFA Champions League winner having “made a formal offer for this summer” after tracking him for several years. Negotiations are “progressive smoothly,” and the fee could reach as high as five million pounds. Fabrizio Romano claims that the goalkeeper is “one of three options,” but “talks are now taking place on the player’s side.” Sint-Truiden of Belgium and domestic side Kyoto have also made “official offers.”

At the international level, Suzuki is eligible for the United States by birth, as well as Ghana and Japan through his parents’ heritage. He has competed with the nation of his youth beginning at the U-15 level and served as a member of numerous notable rosters: playing every minute at the 2019 U-17 World Cup run to the quarterfinal, sitting the bench at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, being named to the 2020 Olympics squad, and appearing in five out of six matches en route to claiming third place at the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup. His senior debut came in last summer’s East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship, starting in a 6-0 victory over Hong Kong in the opener as サムライ・ブルー (Samurai Blue) hosted and claimed the title.

His most recent call-up was in June with the U-22 squad in a pair of friendlies against England and the Netherlands. Despite registering an appearance at a subregional senior championship, Suzuki is reportedly not cap-tied and still eligible to represent the USMNT or Ghana. However, his stated goal is to compete with Japan at the Paris Olympics, expressing regret at being unable to see the field during the Tokyo Games.

Manchester United’s interest does raise the question as to why the club is pursuing a player who has yet to establish himself as a starter in the J-League, but his high potential and skill are apparent from the most cursory of glances. Standing a touch under 6’3”, Suzuki is described as a modern goalkeeper with “extraordinary physical ability” and highly accurate distribution, comfortable playing out of the back and deploying throws past the halfway line. He will leave the penalty area and has worked to improve his decision-making on crosses and set pieces. His footwork is also well-drilled, putting him in the right spot to make intelligent decisions and showcase his above-average athleticism. EBL2017 notes his “technique and confidence in possession,” describing the 20-year-old as a member of the “new age” at the position.

In all likelihood, Suzuki will commit his future to Japan and never play a minute for the USMNT. Recruitment for the sake of locking down as many players as possible regardless of long-term planning is against the spirt of the international game and should be considered indecorum. However, there is always the possibility that his path leads in a different direction, as situations and minds can change with time. For now, the pressing matter is whether he undergoes a signficant move at the professional level and leaves his boyhood club for one of the world’s biggest sides.