Real Madrid-owned talent Takefusa Kubo still sees Lionel Messi as a "reference point" but insists his Barcelona ties are a thing of the past and he is now "very Madridista".
Kubo was signed by Madrid last June, his acquisition seen as something of a coup given he had previously – until 2015 – been at Barca.
He was forced to return to Japan in 2015 when Barca were investigated for breaking FIFA regulations relating to the signings of youth players, though the Blaugrana were supposedly hoping to secure his return once he turned 18.
But Kubo chose Madrid, with Barca reportedly refusing to meet his demands, and after a promising pre-season he was sent on loan to LaLiga newcomers Real Mallorca where the teenager has impressed with three goals and two assists from 24 appearances – 13 of which were as a starter.
A diminutive but silky left-footed attacking midfielder, Kubo has – perhaps obviously – been compared by some to Messi, and while he sees the Barca icon as an inspiration, he is utterly focused on his new life with Los Blancos.
"First, I have to say I am very grateful to Barcelona and also FC Tokyo who took me in after the sanction, to Yokohama Marinos, who loaned me for half a season and now Mallorca," he told AS.
"We know that there was different interest from clubs, but my family, my agents and I didn't want to know anything until I was the correct age because of the sanction.
"When I turned 18 on July 4, Madrid said they wanted to come to Japan. They visited me and that was a really nice touch.
"When I reached the right age, I had a massive chance to pick a team and I picked Real Madrid because of their interest in me. I am very grateful. And now I am very Madridista."
He added: "I didn't know [Messi] in person but he is a reference for many young players who want to be footballers and also young players who are footballers. When I was young, I watched his videos. He is a great footballer.
"He is a reference point for me and for many left-footed players who aren't very tall and whose main characteristics are dribbling and the way they control the ball. Messi is the peak of that."