Yuki Abe

The team and formation used in every World Cup 2010 game by coach Takeshi Okada.

Having recently tied Portuguese compatriot João Miguel (‘Moreno’) to a three-year contract, Leicester City coach Paulo Sousa is already seeking a rival for him in the defensive-midfield position.

Perhaps Sousa scored a free lunch courtesy of stadium sponsor Walkers – an afternoon spent tongue-tackling the remnants of Japanese Teriyaki crisps lodged in his gnashers then providing the idea of raiding the J-League.

The Japanese market has been neglected by Europe’s more powerful leagues, with suitors presumably deterred by the notoriously brittle East Asian physique, and a general paucity of individuality.

Yet with the worldwide tactical tenor of deploying a sitting-midfielder beginning to engulf England’s lower-league sides, homogeneity as an attribute has burgeoned in attractiveness.

Cameroon played right into the hands of Japan during the pair's group-opener. When they amended things by throwing Achille Emana into the equation, Yuki Abe at last looked flustered, and Cameroon rampant. Abe will likely thrive against 4-4-2 formations in the Championship, but should sides play a 4-2-3-1 with a full-throttle midfielder operating behind the striker (like Paul Green at Derby), Leicester's new Japanese recruit will struggle.

Despite playing every match at World Cup 2010, the transfer of Yuki Abe from Urawa Red Diamonds won’t leave Milan Mandarić sprawled against Leicester city-centre’s Natwest branch with an empty polystyrene cup pleadingly held out.

Japan contested four games in South Africa, exiting only via the lottery of a penalty shoot-out – an experience Abe shares with his new colleagues at club level, after their defeat to Cardiff in the play-offs.

Of course, discussing this common bond will be problematic as Abe is going to be hindered by the language barrier. For a vocal player who likes to gesticulate and direct things, a spell in linguistic anonymity won’t be easy.

Nevertheless, Abe has no such trouble when it comes to minimal communication with the ball – his game is based on anonymity, sitting in front of the defence, and dropping in at sweeper when required.

Only one side started with a lung-pounding playmaker in the zone Abe patrolled during FIFAs showpiece event. The man in question was Wesley Sneijder, and Holland were the only team to defeat Japan.

Japan 1-1 Qatar. World Cup qualifier, 10/06/2009.

With their quasi-metronome granted little time, Japan couldn’t function as an attacking force. Holland pressed and stood higher than any other team they’d faced, and Abe appeared ill-equipped.

It would be unfair to chastise him on the basis of one game against the eventual silver-medallists, but Abe regularly evidenced an inability to refrain from panic under the slightest hint of pressure in other games too.

Adding weight to the argument that he might feel the strain in the congested and frenetic nature of Football League life is the fact that Cameroon only looked lively when bringing on Achille Emana.

Although the 28-year-old faced strikers dropping into the hole (Jon Dahl Tomasson and Roque Santa Cruz, not to mention Wayne Rooney in a pre-tournament friendly), this was when Japan were sat in their banks and willingly-deprived of the ball.

Sneijder and the Dutch might have only been able to break the Japanese down via a deflected potshot, but Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal was never threatened, and occupying the ‘piano-carrier’ Abe nullified Okada’s counter-attack plan.

The first time I saw Abe in action, he struggled against someone with an on/off-ball high-octane attacking-midfield style. With Japan having already qualified, Takeshi Okada selected an experimental-XI against Qatar so as to assess the depth at his disposal.

Bruno Metsu’s team dominanted the contest, and Fábio César Montezine was talismanic in the zone Abe had been called upon to protect alongside Gamba Osaka stalwart Hideo Hashimoto in a 4-2-3-1.

The Japanese XI for the 1-0 win in Tashkent that sealed qualification. It took place just four days prior to the Qatar encounter, and saw Okada use the fluid 4-1-4-1 with two playmakers incorporated.

The Urawa Reds midfielder wasn’t a first-choice at this point for coach Takeshi Okada either, despite the use of Japan’s now familiar 4-1-4-1 in key qualifying matches against the likes of Bahrain and Uzbekistan.

Okada’s team eked out several narrow victories, and it soon became apparent that accommodating Yasuhito Endō in the quarterback position with the equally creative Shunsuke Nakamura more advanced wasn’t going to work in the long-term.

Thus, the bold decision was taken to use Abe as a sweeper in front of the defence; a duty compounded by his assignment to feed an energetic but strikerless five-man midfield-machine that prowled not too far ahead.

In summary, Leicester fans can expect a tactically astute, defensively-drilled midfielder-cum-centre-back. His passing will likely be restrained to laying others on as Abe possesses scant imagination or execution.

His presence will, however, allow a centre-back to bring the ball out knowing his post remains covered. Similarly, his centre-midfield colleagues know they can sniff about in the final-third with the defence staying protected.

Pressurised with the ball at his feet, the new Fox has a tendency to panic and squander possession, but can atone for such errors despite his small and slender frame

Also to be noted is the fact that I’ve seen signs of a fiery temperament and gamesmanship from Abe – his marking of Christian Poulsen at set-pieces in the World Cup resulted in one very riled Dane, while he’ll also deliberately crumble when ball-shielding in the hunt for a foul.


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