The stuff of dreams: Ambitious Ritsu Doan still has plenty he wants to achieve in his career

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Still only 24, Ritsu Doan already has quite the well-travelled footballing career.

Breaking onto the scene as a 16-year-old in 2015 with Gamba Osaka, then the reigning champions of Japan's J1 League, Doan earned himself a move to Europe by his 19th birthday and had an immediate impact -- scoring nine goals in 29 appearances for Eredivisie outfit Groningen in his debut campaign.

Since then, the fleet-footed attacker has also had spells with PSV Eindhoven and Arminia Bielefeld -- even featuring in European competition for the former -- but has now embarked on a new chapter of moving to the Bundesliga with Freiburg this summer.

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While there is a long and growing history of Japanese footballers making it in Europe, it remains quite the achievement especially for one still as young as Doan.

Nonetheless, it is a sign of the ambition he possesses that Doan is far from satisfied with what he has already achieved even though he is now playing for his fourth European club.

"I'm not happy with my career," he told ESPN matter-of-factly, speaking with a composure and maturity that belies his relative youth.

"If I were to say I'm happy, that would mean I'm playing for Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona -- that was my dream when I was young. So the bad thing is that I'm not happy but the good thing is that, because I'm never happy, I want to become better and better all the time.

"It's a bit strange that I'm still 24 but I've already had five clubs but I can honestly say they are all great clubs -- Gamba Osaka, Groningen, PSV, Bielefeld, now I'm very happy to play for Freiburg.

"But if everything is going well, I should be playing at a bigger club. That's why I'm not satisfied."

The steely determination and desire Doan exudes perhaps stems from the fact that he has also already had to endure his fair share of tribulations even though there is still plenty more to come in his career.

A difficult first season after what appeared to be a big move to PSV, niggling injuries, and a runner-up finish with Japan at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup are just some of the disappointments he has tasted in recent times.

Yet, those trials have only helped shape Doan into a man who is now increasingly comfortable in his own skin as both a footballer and a person.

"Now, I'm very comfortable in life and in football," explained Doan, who has made a fine start to life at Freiburg having scored two goals in his first two matches before last Friday's 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund.

"When I moved to PSV previously, I will never forget that time -- that first season at PSV was the worst season for me. "But also through that, my mindset changed. I started to not think too much and just focus on each game.

"In the end, it was a good experience. Now I'm very comfortable when I play for my national team and Freiburg, whereas before I wasn't."

2022 is shaping up to be a big year for Doan, not just one the club front but with the FIFA World Cup coming up in November.

Having won his first cap for Japan after the last World Cup in 2018, Doan is quickly closing in on his 30th international appearance and has been a regular feature for the Samurai Blue so far this year.

The Hyogo native is aware that he still has to work for his place in Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu's final squad for this year's tournament in Qatar, as he strives towards a lifelong dream of playing at the World Cup -- even if the odds are stacked against them coming up against former champions Germany and Spain in the group stage.

"I cannot imagine what kind of feeling it would be there (at a World Cup)," he said, with excitement immediately emerging on his face. "It was my biggest dream when I was a kid.

"I'm very honoured to play for my country and whenever I wear the national team shirt, I'm very proud of myself and for my family.

"It would be a great year if I make it (the final squad). If I score (at the World Cup), even better!

"Now, I will try to get selected for the World Cup by pushing myself, so that I can see what the view is like there, how beautiful the situation is from the pitch (looking at) the supporters -- I want to be able to say that.

"Of course, Germany and Spain are big names. Everyone knows that but we have to stay positive.

"We have to think we'll make a surprise for the country because the quality (of teams) will not change a lot in these three to four months, but the mentality can. So we have to control our mindset, do our best and then let's see -- I'm sure we'll make something special."

And apart from representing Japan on the biggest stage of all, what else drives the ever-ambitious Doan as he looks to the future?

"For me, (winning the) Champions League. This my biggest dream," he added. "When I was 20, I said to the media that I want to be a winner of the Champions League - fully standing on the pitch, not on the bench.

"That's my biggest dream. It means I have to play for (one of) the biggest clubs in the world, which means I have to work hard.

"I have a lot to do not my dream is to win the Champions League. That has not changed."