Captain Tsubasa might be the world’s most famous fictional footballer. This Japanese manga is loved around the world, although not always known by the same name. In Latin America, it’s known as Supercampeones. In Spain, it’s Oliver y Benji. In the USA, it’s Flash Kicker. In France, Olive et Tom, and in Italy, Holly e Benji. (Quite why they have to keep remaining characters, I’m not sure.)
It tells the story of a Japanese football prodigy named Tsubasa Ozora (known in different countries as Oliver Atom, Oliver Tsubasa, Majed, Andy Dai Zhiwei.. you get the point) and has been adapted into different anime and video games. It started in the 80s but its enduring popularity (even among professional footballers) has led to new issues of the manga, as well as more TV shows and more games being released up to this day.
You may know all this, but did you know Tsubasa joined FC Barcelona in the manga and show? We’re going to take a break from real football and watch some anime and relive the story...
Episode 43 - Catalunya’s Eagle
Here we go! We pick up in Barcelona, at the team’s training ground. Tsubasa is scoring direct from corners with ridiculous bend on the training pitch.
“You’ve arrived two hours early,” a voice says. It’s Rivaul! He’s based on Rivaldo, Barcelona’s main star at the time, although his name appears to mash Real Madrid’s star Raúl in, too.
Rivaul leaps over the tall fence in one bound with superhuman ability (no wonder they call him Catalonia’s Eagle) and challenges Tsubasa. He starts running with the ball with Tsubasa chasing him.
We cut to journalists outside talking to themselves. Apparently an Italian club offered Tsubasa 30 million to join, but he rejected them to join Barcelona. Rivaul is acknowledged as the best player in Europe, meaning it will be hard for Tsubasa to break through as he plays in the same position. This leaves everyone wondering why Tsubasa joined Barcelona at all.
The rest of the Barcelona players talk amongst themselves, also saying it’ll be extremely hard for Tsubasa to break through. The players in the dressing room reason that the coach must have signed the Japanese captain as a substitute for Rivaul, to give him rest in certain matches.
Gordoba Gonzales, who faced Tsubasa previously in a training scimmage, chimes in, saying they shouldn’t think of him as a simple backup player. Rather, Tsubasa is someone not to underestimate.
Rivaul and Tsubasa face off as the players in the dressing room discuss the possibility of Tsubasa changing positions to allow him to play alongside Rivaul.
The press and the coaching staff peer in to the training ground, where shockingly, Tsubasa is keeled over and Rivaul is standing over him with the ball. The medical staff is called, but then we cut to Italy.
Hyuga is touring Juventus’s facilities, and then a doctor runs some tests on him. The doctor tells him that with his body, Hyuga will never succeed in the Italian league. He lacks balance and is far too right-footed, he says. The doctor is almost ridiculously rude, saying Hyuga’s body is trash and he should be ashamed of it. He also says it shows the poor level of football in Japan. The skepticism towards Japanese football is a recurring theme in this series.
Hyuga is justifiably angry and grabs the doctor by the collar. The Juventus manager drops in, and Hyuga releases the doctor, who tells the manager his new striker has no level. The player is called into a meeting with the coach.
Meanwhile, Tsubasa is on a medical bed, sleeping and dreaming about when he first decided to join Barcelona. When he wakes up, the doctor explains that he just received a bump in the head and will be better soon, but Tsubasa says he’s most worried about the fact that he could not beat the Brazilian.
Back to Juventus, the manager tells Hyuga not to resort to violence. But he also tells him that the medical reports are just a reference point, and he will get his chance if he keeps scoring goals. Hyuga promises not to disappoint the manager, who shows faith in him.
Then, Tsubasa explains that while fighting for the ball, Rivaul hit him in the head with his elbow. He drinks tea with the doctor, who tells him that Rivaul is a very clean player and never resorts to dirty play. However, he spoke about one incident the previous season when things were different: against Real Madrid (known in the anime as Bernabéu.)
Rivaul was exhausted from playing in the UEFA Champions League and with the Brazilian national team, while Real Madrid’s captain was fresh. He is named Bruno in the anime, and Blueno in the manga, and is based on Fernando Hierro, who was Madrid’s best defender for a long time.
Madrid were winning in the first half and Rivaul was not able to get the best of Hierro. At some point, while fighting for the ball, a slightly panicked Rivaul hit Hierro with an elbow to the head. Then, Rivaul was given a yellow card.
The Barcelona star then scored a goal and assisted another as the blaugrana won el clásico 2-1. Hierro was okay after receiving treatment but played worse, and meanwhile, the Catalans won La Liga after gaining confidence from the match.
No one knows if Rivaul’s flying elbow was an accident or on purpose. Either way, Tsubasa returns to the training pitch, ignoring the doctor’s recommendation. This is supposed to show Tsubasa’s immense mental strength, but today, it just shows how cavalier people were with concussion protocols back then.
The doctor reflects on what we are all thinking: Rivaul hit Tsubasa because the Japanese captain scared him just like Hierro did in that match. That must mean Tsubasa is a world-class player.
Tsubasa runs back onto the training ground, to the shock of the media. He does the same thing Rivaul does, leaping over the fence with superhuman ability. He introduces himself to his teammates while the press say their headline will not be about Rivaul humiliating Tsubasa, but about how Tsubasa bounced back.