Deng reflects on 'special' J League debut v defending Champions

Australia U-23’s captain Thomas Deng opens up on life in Japan and what it was like to make his J League debut for Urawa Red Diamonds.

Deng’s dream move overseas arrived in January, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world.

The ex-Melbourne Victory defender had spent time abroad in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven’s U-21’s in the 2016/17 season on loan from the A-League outfit but this latest move to Japan is permanent as he looks to become a household name for his new side in the Japanese top flight.

His Red Diamonds debut has been seven months in waiting as the J League season was put on hold after the first round in February due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The league returned last weekend and Deng was finally handed his debut, starting in the heart of defence against reigning champions Yokohama F.Marinos on Saturday night.

“It was a special night to make my debut against Ange Postecoglou and against the former champions. They’re a massive team in Japan and the other night was a good test for us, especially for the first game after the restart,” Deng said.

“I thought we did well, we competed pretty well and had a few good chances to get the win.”

The 23-year-old played the full game for his new side as they earned a clean sheet, drawing 0-0 away to the champions.

Deng’s long-awaited debut did have its positives, with the Aussie centre back given plenty of time to train and gel with his new teammates over the last seven months.

“Training with the team, despite not playing, helped me understand the game plan and what’s required from me by the coach and the players as well as trying to understand them,” Deng said.

“Having this time off has given me a bit of extra time to adjust and get used to life in Japan.”

The Urawa centre back received plenty of messages of support from ex-teammates and family back in Australia after making his debut while he also impressed his new coach.

“I spoke to the coach briefly, he seemed pretty happy with it and told me to continue and keep going the way I am,” he said.

“I’m not letting that get to my head, I’m still looking forward and trying to be consistent and play week-in-week out.”

Last Saturday marked the beginning of a hectic schedule for Deng and his side with the competition set finish in mid-December with 33 rounds to be played in the meantime.

Thomas Deng
Deng in action for the U-23's

“We’ll be playing pretty much every Saturday and Wednesday each week,” he said.

“It’s going to be quite a test on the body but I’m ready for the challenge and happy that the season’s back.”

Deng’s Japanese journey has just begun, and he can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

“The last few months have been a great experience for me and I’m taking that week by week and trying to improve myself here,” he said.

“I’m just happy to be here and ready to see what the future holds.”

Deng will be in action on Wednesday night as his Urawa Red Diamonds face off against Vegalta Sendai at 7pm (AEST).