The holding midfielder

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In the first two weeks of the season, FC Gifu were soundly beaten 4-0 by Gunma and Sapporo respectively. Those defeats had Gifu supporters wondering whether manager Ruy Ramos actually had any defensive ideas in his head at all.

But fast forward one week, and FC Gifu saw off pre-season promotion fancied Giravanz Kitakyushu with a fiercely fought 1-0 win at the Memorial Centre. So what happened? In my opinion it was down to the deployment of a bona-fide holding midfielder – Daiki Tamori.

The Job

It isn’t rocket science. It is to provide a shield in front of the two centre backs so that opposition midfielder aren’t running wild through the centre of the pitch. In an ideal world, there would be no attacking duties linked with the position, just simple distribution ie: giving the ball to players that can actually use the ball in a creative way (in Gifu’s case Keiji Takachi & Taisuke Mizuno).

Also, as well as providing a shield, the holding midfielder has to be the “controller of the hole”. That sounds like a weird concept, but it basically means taking care of players that play “in the hole” behind a main striker. Some people call it a “false 9”, in Italian it is a “trequarista”. If teams play with two flat banks of players (whether it be a 4-4-2 or any variant of 3-5-2) it can be very difficult to pick those floating players up. A holding midfielder can perform that task.

The Player

Daiki Tamori. Signed from Kyoto Sanga in the winter, I’ve always known him as a holding midfielder. A no-nonsense blocker of a player. So I was surprised when he lined up in defence for Gifu’s opening games because I didn’t presume that was why he was brought to Gifu. It is true we needed to plug the defensive gaps, but I assumed that Masaya Tashiro, Wellington Rocha and Naoya Okane would be the first choice centre halves.

To be honest, no-one played well in those 0-4 defeats, and Tamori wasn’t helped by the lack of protection in front of him. But he didn’t look comfortable, and that transmitted to Okane and William Popp in goal and the result was two heavy defeats.

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The Result

In the Kitakyushu game, he found his niche. He sat in front of Tashiro & Masanori (who, incidentally are both quite mobile centre backs) and, in the parlance of a respected football pundit “did the simple things well”. He got in front of the ball, he blocked and tackled very well, as the game went on he stopped Giravanz attacks in their embryonic stage by patrolling a bit further up the pitch.

He was able to stop Ikemoto from causing trouble when he dropped deep, ditto for Motoyama. When Kotegawa drifted inside, Tamori was there to slow him down. It didn’t work all the time, but it worked a lot of it. He didn’t try to be a hero, he just gave the ball to Mizuno, Takachi & Koya Kazama and charged them with creating chances.

A lot of people looked at the fact of Yoshinari Takagi replacing Popp in goal as the key to this clean sheet. While Takagi undoubtedly did contribute to the win, especially given his fantastic one handed save from a close range header, I would put forward the theory that a true holding midfielder was the reason Gifu were in a position to win this game.

The Future

You never quite know with Ramos, but it would take a stretch to believe that he would mess with a formation & tactic that looked way more organized than any of the previous games, so Tamori will likely start against one of his former clubs on Sunday. In the future, it is possible that Tsubasa Aoki or Masaru Akiba might be in contention to play the role, but they are a bit more attack-minded compared to Tamori. If Gifu are doing well in the league and they fancy going for it, then I wouldn’t mind a ball playing holding midfielder coming in. But while Gifu are still near the bottom of the table, it is essential that they are organized and hard to break down (or at least harder to break down than they have been previously). Daiki Tamori, in the holding midfielder position, provides that anchor.

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Hail the holding midfielder.

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