NAGOYA HERO, ASIAN SENSATION OR PORTUGUESE REVELATION?

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Antonio Neto Masanori Hirata is the name on the passport of the Nagoya Oceans pivot, who is known simply as Massa.

Actually, Massa’s first passport was Brazilian. The second was Japanese and issued when he was 20 years old. Though born in Japan to Brazilian parents, at the age of three Massa and his family returned to Brazil. Three years later, his parents’ opted for the opportunity to work in Japan once again. Back came the Hirata family to the Nagoya area.

Massa had been born about 20 minutes away from what is now the home arena of the Nagoya Oceans: Teva Takeda Ocean Arena. In fact, the nursery school, elementary school, junior high school and high school he attended are all in that general vicinity. A thoroughly Japanized Massa’s first love was baseball, but he was gradually drawn to the appeal of football as the family would occasionally travel back to Brazil.

His prodigious football skills attracted the attention of Yatomi High School (now Aichi Reimei High School), where Massa spent his three years of high school. It was during this time that Brazilian friends in the Nagoya area recruited Massa into their various amateur futsal teams. The young Hirata was such a natural that at the age of 17 he passed a tryout held by Nagoya Oceans and would soon join their U-23 team (Nagoya Oceans Satellite). He debuted for Nagoya’s top team in the F.League in 2016 and eventually was given jersey #9, the number worn by legend Kaoru Morioka.

He was now riding a rollercoaster of success. Nagoya wrested back their F.League title from Osaka in the 2017-2018 season, which gave Massa the opportunity to play for Oceans in the 2018 AFC Club Championship – a less than successful campaign in which the Japanese champion was sent home in the quarterfinals. The team had already won the pre-season Ocean Cup and would return to Japan to claim their 11th F.League trophy in the 2018-2019 season – along with the All Japan title (and win a treble).

On Nov. 11, 2018, Massa successfully acquired Japanese citizenship, a development that did not escape the attention of Japan national team head coach Bruno Garcia. The Oceans pivot was called up to the national team and played in Japan’s pair of friendlies with Thailand in Bangkok earlier this year.

Massa’s aura has been a magnet. He caught not only the eye of the best club team in Japan and the manager of the national team, but also Five Company, the outfit that manages futsal heavyweights from the galactic pivot Ferrao and Brazilian national team head coach Marquinhos Xavier to Nagoya teammates Waltinho and Pepita. And the Chinese league was beckoning as well.

But Massa had a European dream – preferably Spain or Portugal. Five Company delivered an offer from Fundao, a Portuguese club that has been finishing in the upper half of the league for the past decade – and the former team of teammate Waltinho, Nagoya’s other main pivot. The offer is for a two-year loan after which time Massa’s plan is to return to Nagoya to become the kind of top scorer expected from the team’s #9.

Like many of the world’s best futsal clubs, Nagoya has selected the finest players from both the elites of Japanese futsal and even the world stage. Massa is one of the very few Oceans players born and raised in such close proximity to the club. As he prepares to make a last appearance with Nagoya at the 2019 AFC Club Championship and then join Fundao, he took care of one last matter on Jul. 21, when he proposed to Ema, his girlfriend of over six years.

Massa has won all of the major titles in Japan and scored the winning goal for Nagoya in the final at this year’s Asian club championship. As compatriot Rafael Henmi continues to maintain a central role at Portuguese powerhouse Benfica, Massa has the opportunity to become the second Japanese player to make a name for himself in one of the world’s top leagues.

Editor correspondente no Japão – Steve Harris

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