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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Jets sign their first-ever player from Japan

The Newcastle Jets have signed Japanese winger Manabu Saito. Picture by Getty Images

THE Newcastle Jets have signed the first Japanese import in their history after securing highly credentialed winger Manabu Saito until the end of the season.

Saito, 32, is a veteran of more than 400 games for heavyweight clubs Yokohama F. Marinos, Kawasake Frontale and Nagoya Grampus, as well as six appearances in the Japanese national team. In one of his games for Japan, Saito scored a goal against the Socceroos in the Samurai Blue's 3-2 win in 2013.

Saito is a club legend at Yokohama, where he played more than 200 games, scored 32 goals and earned selection in the 2016 J-League team of the year.


Yokohama is also the club where Jets coach Arthur Papas served as assistant coach to Ange Postecoglou.

After moving to Kawasake Frontale, Saito helped them win two J-League championships.

He has also won the J-League Cup, the Emperor's Cup and the Japanese Super Cup and was a member of the Japanese squad during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the 2012 Olympics in London.

The left winger, who spent last season with Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea, is expected to be available for Newcastle's round-16 clash with Melbourne Victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on February 12, and Papas is hoping he will spark an attack that has produced just 11 goals in 13 games this season.

The Jets said they were "delighted" to have signed a player of Saito's quality. It is understood that if he lives up to expectations, they will explore the option of extending his stay beyond this season.

In a club statement, Saito said it was "an honour" to join the Jets.

"I'm looking forward to working with the boss and joining a team that plays attacking football, and I will do my best to bring success to the club," he said.

Saito should be familiar with the Australian style of football, having played for both Yokohama and Kawasaki Frontale in the Asian Champions League against Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC respectively.

More than 20 Japanese players have appeared in the A-League since its foundation season, the most prominent of whom have been Shinji Ono at Western Sydney Wanderers (2012-14) and Keisuke Honda at Melbourne Victory (2018-19).

The Jets were able to free up salary cap space, and a position on their roster, by releasing defender Jordan Elsey to join Perth Glory, and loaning fringe striker Rory Jordan to APIA Leichhardt.

That allowed them to start exploring their options during the January transfer window.

Jets midfielder Angus Thurgate said at training on Tuesday that the players were aware a new recruit was imminent.

"If any additions come in, we'll welcome them and hope that they take us to a new level, but ourselves and the coaching staff back the players we've got here to really have a strong second half of the season," he said.

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