Hidemasa Morita: The Japanese Midfielder Running the Show at Sporting

One of Europe’s hottest management prospects in Sporting Clube de Portugal manager Rúben Amorim once said: “I think every manager should train at least one Japanese player. A player who is always ready to help the team, apologises one thousand times a day, is very respectful, will play anywhere and just wants to learn…I only have good things to say about Hidemasa Morita.”


29-year-old midfielder Hidemasa Morita often goes unnoticed due to his understated yet effective style, humble and reverential qualities off the pitch, while being the definition of well-rounded on it. The Japanese international doesn’t make the headlines for outstanding, differentiating individual characteristics, but for complete performances contributing to balancing the team, often acting as a cerebral facilitator.



An unexpected and often unsung hero to the masses rapidly became a fan favourite to the Sporting faithful. “Matheus Nunes is one of the best players I would say in world football,” – Pep Guardiola stated in 2022 after Manchester City beat Sporting Clube de Portugal convincingly in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.


In unideal circumstances (before facing Futebol Clube do Porto in a premature yet key fixture between two title-challenging sides), Matheus departed for Wolverhampton, leaving Hide to fill a sizable gap left by an elite athlete and highly influential pivot player, a vital creative and transitional threat for ‘Os Leões’.


The 2022/23 season can only be considered as a major disappointment in every sporting metric, however, the aforementioned concerns revolving around Sporting double-pivot were soon quashed once again. The Sporting CP hierarchy have become masters at replacing top-level midfielders, from João Palhinha to Manuel Ugarte to Matheus Nunes.


Hidemasa Morita, albeit a different style of player, eased concerns with consistent, complete performances to stabilise the Sporting midfield in what was a turbulent season. All of this after arriving from Azorean side Santa Clara with the expectations of playing second fiddle, for a mere €3.45 million.



Sporting’s number five has exceeded expectations throughout his career, revealing himself as a revelation wherever he goes, spanning from humble beginnings in his native prefecture of Osaka, Japan. His hometown of Takatsuki saw his talents initially before he reached university football (highly revered and respected in Japan), representing Ryutsu Keizai University (RKU) meriting his move to the top level of Japanese football in the J-League, namely, for juggernauts Kawasaki Frontale.


Morita made his debut in the 2018 Japanese Super Cup, a competition he would win a year later along with the League Cup. As a rookie, he would cement himself in the first-team fold, making 26 appearances on the way to his first J-League title – a feat to be repeated in 2020, where he would depart as he arrived, with the bonuses of being named in the Best XI of Japan’s First Division, and the conquest of the 2020 edition of the Emperor’s Cup.


Relative success would continue when Morita finally made an anticipated move to European football, a path ever more frequently taken by Nippon footballers. Imagine the Estádio de São Miguel filled with Santa Clara aficionados, anxious to finally see their new signing in action. And that very same player scores an 89th-minute winner to clinch a 2-1 victory against Rio Ave on what can only be considered a dream debut for any outfield player.


Hidemasa Morita introduced himself to Portuguese football in emphatic fashion: A 6th-place finish, the highest in the club’s history and Europa Conference League football, as well as securing 7th in the following season. It is safe to say that Morita enjoyed himself on the archipelago of São Miguel within the islands of the Azores, representing the westernmost top-flight club in Europe. He certainly earned his move to one of the ‘Big 3’ in Portuguese football.



In his first season, Morita participated in 40 matches, including 29 in the Primeira Liga (known for sponsorship reasons as the Liga Betclic) where he predominantly featured as the more advanced midfielder (or number 8) in a double pivot, despite covering for Danish powerhouse Morten Hjulmand as the more defined defensive-minded partner (or a more traditional number 6) in his second season.


Morita has a plethora of technical and physical resources that allows him to succeed in a variety of contexts, acting as the Swiss army knife of the Sporting midfield. His mobility combined with his cerebral defensive style allows him to succeed as a ball-winner, in advanced or deeper territory, but he is equally competent positionally in lower blocks where he recovers loose balls with ease.


His refined technical ability will then also allow him to quietly invade the opposition backline, often creating calculated overloads through the left half space through cute, quick combinations, and often Hide would finish off these moves boasting 6 goals in the 2022/23 season where these later arrivals into danger zones were most prevalent (Morita took more than a touch in the opposition penalty area per game in the season aforementioned).


To summarise, Hidemasa Morita is a number 8 who will often stabilise in the middle of the park with many characteristics of a number 6 but who can also exercise the tactical tendencies of a shadow number 10. His 1,77m (or 5ft9) stature will rarely intimidate, however, the Japanese midfielder with 33 caps grew a reputation as a ‘destroyer’ due to consistent success in duels, demonstrating intelligence in how Morita uses his body, often managing to hunker down and absorb challenges from physically superior opposition, and also the timing of his challenges.



His capacity to cover ground makes him an ideal partner for any defensive-minded partner, rarely demonstrating overzealous offensive tendencies. While boasting an impressive passing range, this can falter under raised pressure with some sloppiness entering his play at times (especially with his weaker left foot), as a player that needs to feel comfortable with the tempo of the game itself and his own.


Press evasion/ball progression isn’t necessarily his strong suit, as he lacks any impressive physical or close technical attributes to vary his game massively without relying on his passing ability. It is also worth mentioning that highly rated academy product Daniel Bragança offers Sporting a specific profile increasingly appreciated by Rúben Amorim, proven by his prevalence in the first-team squad in the latter portion of this past season – a magical first-phase constructor, evermore competent in advanced zones and in defensive responsibility with improving physical attributes to support.


Additionally, Pedro Gonçalves (nicknamed Pote) offers a more unapologetic, dynamic offensive threat from central midfield when pulled back from his typical left-sided attacker role, with Estoril star player Mateus Fernandes becoming revelation out on loan – these two players will certainly offer a competent alternative to and challenge Hidemasa Morita for the position he’s made his own since arriving in 2022.


However, it is clear to see the player who offers guarantees in all metrics. The complete and reliable option. Morita plays like his personality with modest and intelligent being two words to describe both. Never world-class in all phases of play, never outclassed either. At most off the pace, or brilliantly competent. Often cool, calm, collected and aesthetically above average to the eye. Every manager, player and fan can appreciate a footballer and personality like Hidemasa Morita. An understated, underrated talent.


By: Kevin Fernandes / @kevinaraujof

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Carlos Rodrigues / Getty Images