When he emerged from the 2002 World Cup as Japan's most exciting player, Junichi Inamoto did not anticipate spending the next three years fighting to keep his head above water.
He has started just one match for West Bromwich Albion this season and might have been forgiven for feeling that he was becoming a peripheral figure. But a meeting with Bryan Robson, the Albion manager, has whetted his appetite and given him a new lease of life.
Inamoto is hoping to make the first-team squad for the match away to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. After that, he will join the Japan squad for matches in Eastern Europe against Latvia and Ukraine.
"The manager and I have had a chat but what we said will stay between him and me," Inamoto said. "I have to take on board what he said and work on what I'm lacking. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing and search for a way into the first team."
Inamoto, aged 26, joined Albion in the summer of 2004 but could not play immediately because he was nursing a broken leg and he spent much of last season on loan with Cardiff City.
But, having played for the reserve team this week, he feels that he is on the verge of fulfilling his potential.
"I felt I did well in the reserves on Monday," Inamoto said. "I train with the first team so, I don't quite have the understanding with the younger players and sometimes don't get the ball when I want it.
"But over the course of the last two reserve team games I got some good passes. I feel my performance wasn't too bad and continuing this process will, I believe, lead to the first team." n The Hawthorns could stage matches in the Uefa Under-21 Championships in 2007 if the Football Association is awarded the rights to stage the tournament.
The FA has entered the bidding process and, if successful, will stage all matches before the final in the Midlands. Molineux, home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the Ricoh Arena, home of Coventry City, could also stage matches.