As Serie A nears return, Maya Yoshida is ready to steer Sampdoria clear of relegation

With Serie A set to return next weekend, Sampdoria's on-loan centre-back Maya Yoshida is ready to play his part in his club's battle against relegation.

Sampdoria are 16th on the table and just one point above the relegation zone with 13 games left to go in their campaign.

After finding playing time at Southampton in the English Premier League hard to come by this season and with his contract expiring in the summer, Yoshida joined the Italian outfit on loan on the final day of the January transfer window.

The Japan captain made his Serie A debut on March 8 where he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona. It was the team's final match before the coronavirus pandemic brought play to a halt.

"It has been a very tough time for all of us, especially [since] we had some positive [coronavirus] results in the squad," he told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "But finally, everyone is negative."

Sampdoria's return starts with a trip to Inter Milan on June 21 and Yoshida cannot wait to pick up where he left off.

"Nothing has changed. Our target is to stay in Serie A," Yoshida said. "That's why I came here and also, at the same time, I'll try to get playing time which I couldn't get at Southampton this season."

Yoshida is just the latest player from Japan to play in Italy.

The legendary Kazuyoshi Miura -- amazingly still playing top-flight football in Japan at the age of 53 -- was the first in 1994. Hidetoshi Nakata won the Scudetto with Roma in 2001, while more recent stars include Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo.

While Yoshida said this connection between Japanese players and Serie A was not a factor in his decision, he is nevertheless determined to be the latest Japanese success story in Italy.

"Sampdoria gave me the opportunity to have a new challenge so I took it," Yoshida said.

"Maybe it was affected a little by [Italian manager] Alberto Zaccheroni, who was the [Japan] national team coach before.

"Of course, there have been some Japanese players who used to play in Serie A so hopefully I can make good results [and] further improvement for Japanese football."