The season opener is almost upon us, and it is a decent time for me to posit who I think Gifu’s key player will be this year. There are quite a few candidates, but I’m going for someone who will need assume a lot of responsibility for making FC Gifu’s defence better than it was last year. That man is Naoya Okane.
Okane needs to be leader and organizer of the defence this season. He has the size & stature to be a commanding presence in the heart of Ruy Ramos’ back line. There shouldn’t be too many players who can be him in a aerial battle and he, along with whoever is in goal, will need to make sure that everyone is doing their jobs at set pieces. He is very popular with players & fans alike because, for the fans at least, we know he gives it everything every time he steps on the pitch.
He formed a decent pairing with Masaki Watanabe last year when the Kofu defender joined on loan. After Okane, Watanabe and goalkeeper Satoshi Tokizawa started playing regularly together, Gifu conceded an average of 1.3 goals per game. Not great, but much better than the 2.17 goals/game that preceded Watanabe coming. The lesson that I take from that is that:
- a) Watanabe is actually a pretty good player
- b) Okane needs a constant partner in order to build up a relationship
It isn’t rocket science. Strikers that play together get a feel for where the other is going to be and can play accordingly. At the back, it is much the same. Central defensive pairings need familiarity otherwise there is the danger that no-one knows what the other one will do in any given situation, whether that situation is stepping up for offside, deciding who challenges for headers, who tracks runners & who closes down the player in possession etc etc. I’d really like the coach to pick a pairing and stick with it. Whether it be Okane & Wellington Rocha; Okane & Tashiro or Okane & Tamori – he has to be given a chance to build rapport and understanding with his partner. Only then will you see an improvement in defence.
He reminds me, in a little way, of Urawa Reds defender Tomoaki Makino in as much as that he seems like a very emotional player. You very rarely see him expressionless. He smiles, snarls, looks incredulous and innocent one minute, and then the next minute he is starting a bit of pushing with an opposition player. He doesn’t hold anything back, which is good to certain extent. BUT, Okane has to keep his emotions in check. Not all the time, because as a defender you need that edge (just ask Yuki Oshitani what he thinks of Masaki Watanabe’s edge) but he needs to keep his cool. Putting your hands behind your back when complaining isn’t going to fool anyone. When a free-kick is given against him, even if he thinks it is unjustified, he needs to get his head on on focus on the restart. Be the leader, be the organizer, be the rock in Gifu’s defence.
A lot of Gifu’s success this year will depend on how much the defence has improved over the winter. Okane will be vital in this, and that is why I believe that he will be Gifu’s key man in 2016.