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How Kaoru Mitoma got his university thesis in dribbling

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40 Premier League players have attempted more dribbles than Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma this season. 21 have completed more. Yet, no one in England’s top tier can claim to have spent more time agonising over the intricate details of the devilish art of dribbling.

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The raw totals of Mitoma’s take-ons can be misleading given his gradual introduction into Brighton’s first team. Among individuals with more than a smattering of minutes, only two Premier League players average more successful dribbles per 90 than Brighton’s chief weaver.

Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah, Arsenal’s Ben White and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold are just some on the ever-growing list of defenders to have been bamboozled by Mitoma’s fancy footwork which he honed in university study halls. Here’s everything you need to know about a graduation thesis the Premier League’s full backs may fancy glancing at.

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Aged 19, Mitoma turned down a professional contract from J1 League side Kawasaki Frontale after eight years in the club’s academy. Mitoma deemed that he “wasn’t ready physically” and so enrolled at the University of Tsukuba, an hour and a half south, to learn even more about his own body with a degree in physical education.

While playing for the university side – which is a higher standard in Japan compared to its equivalent in much of Europe – Mitoma set about analysing his dribbling and what made a good dribbler.

“It was the easiest subject for me to choose because I love football and dribbling is what I love to do,” he explained to The Athletic. “I put cameras on the heads of my teammates to study where and what they were looking at and how their opponents were looking at them.”

In his continuing search for improvement, Mitoma pulled upon all of the expertise he could find. According to the Japanese outlet NumberWeb, Mitoma was fascinated by diet practices and even sought out Tsukuba’s associate professor Satoru Tanigawa, a 110m hurdler for Japan at the Sydney and Athens Olympics, to give him tips on his running style.

“I learned that the good players weren’t looking at the ball,” Mitoma revealed. “They would look ahead, trap the ball without looking down at their feet. That was the difference. I was one of the better dribblers at that time, but not exceptional.”

Putting aside the limited sample size of his study, Mitoma went on to explain: “I am conscious of shifting the opponent’s centre of gravity. If I can move the opponent’s body, I win.”

By the end of his research, Mitoma concluded: “The power of my characteristic dribbling has doubled.”

In his first season after leaving university, Mitoma rattled in 13 goals for his boyhood side Kawasaki Frontale. This was a significant shock for all involved considering that Mitoma had mustered just seven goals in the Kanto University Division 1 League the previous year. The then-22-year-old became just the fifth rookie to hit double digits in J-League history – on top of a league-high 12 assists.

18 months after handing in his thesis, Mitoma penned a contract with Brighton for just €3m.

Mitoma isn’t mentally parsing through his findings amid the fury of a Premier League match. As he explained after finding the net against Everton in January following a weaving run: “It was instinct, rather than a thought process.”

However, after all that study, Mitoma’s instinct is influenced by his thesis – much to the detriment of the Premier League’s defenders.

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