Kashima Antlers forward Hiroki Abe is on the verge of a move to Barcelona after the two clubs agreed a deal in principle for the 20-year-old.
The Japan international, who played an integral role in the Antlers’ AFC Champions League-winning campaign last season, will become a Barca player once he has successfully completed a medical at Camp Nou and agreed personal terms.
The Tokyo-born star was handed the J League Rookie of the Year award last season, and won his first international cap as recently as last month, coming on as a substitute in Japan’s clash with Chile at the Copa America.
La Liga champions Barcelona are expected to draft Abe into their reserve set-up once he has arrived in Catalunya, but a fast-track to the first team over the coming months has not been ruled out.
The former Setouchi High School youth player, who has also played at Under-19 and Under-20 level for his country, says the decision to leave Japan has not been taken lightly.
OFFICIAL: Barcelona have reached an agreement to sign Kashima Antlers and Japan star Hiroki Abe ✍️
That last finish reminds us of a certain Lionel Messi 🧐 pic.twitter.com/bOcJbii1CB
— Goal (@goal) July 12, 2019
“I have spent two-and-a-half years since graduating from high school at Kashima Antlers, and I was able to grow as a human being and as a professional soccer player,” he said.
“The fact that I was able to fight for my own pride makes it a difficult decision to leave the team this season, but I (have) decided to make a new move to Barcelona.”
Abe was also quick to acknowledge the challenges he will face following his move to Spain at such a young age, but insists the tests that lie ahead will only help his development.
“I believe that the various difficulties and barriers I will face from now on are also absolutely necessary for my growth,” he added.
“I would like to face football, thank you very much.”
Abe follows in the footsteps of fellow Japanese prospect Takefusa Kubo, who signed for Real Madrid last month after leaving FC Tokyo. The 18-year-old also made his international debut at this summer’s Copa America tournament.
He could well have lined up alongside his countryman at Barcelona after Kubo’s spell at Camp Nou was previously cut short after they were found to have breached regulations regarding the acquisition of players under the age of 18.