If Toshiya Miura can be said to love one particular type of player, it's a reliable utility midfielder. A case could be made to say that there are four such players in or on the edges of the Ardija first team at present, all carrying out different tasks and roles, but all of them to a greater or lesser extent having what we might term defensive responsibilities in the midfield. And if there's one phrase that is likely to get the Squirrels coach's pulse racing, it's "defensive responsibilities".
Yosuke Kataoka, for instance, actually considers himself to be a central defender, but has nevertheless in 2006 earned a place at the heart o the Omiya midfield, despite facing stiff competition from more experienced members of the squad. A committed team player, Kataoka has a muscular, no-nonsense approach to the game and possesses a powerful shot that he's eager to exploit, but is a decent enough footballer and provides more than just a physical presence.
A player able to slot into a similar range of positions as Kataoka is Masato Saito, enormously well-respected and much-used as a substitute who provides extra stability to a team under pressure. Saito has made enough appearances so far this season to demonstrate that he is still thought of as having a role to play, even though regular first-team opportunities are becoming more limited.
Reliable utility player #3 is a little more controversial. Yoshiyuki Kobayashi can play in central or wide midfield positions and, since moving from Tokyo Verdy 1969, has been used in both roles. Miura would doubtless regard Yoshiyuki as a key fixture in the team's engine room, buzzing around busily, picking up jobs whenever they need doing and filling in pretty much anywhere. The question mark hanging over the frequency of his participation, however, is that the squad would seem to offer more skilled specialists than Yoshiyuki as a jack-of-all-trades: what does Kobayashi senior really bring to Omiya? Many fans will be pondering the answer to this knotty problem.
Our final utility player, then, is of course Tatsunori Hisanaga. Ostensibly used in an attacking position wide on the right, in actual fact Hisanaga offers very little as an attacking threat and indeed the Squirrels' offensive focus - such as it is - goes almost entirely through Chikara Fujimoto and Daigo Kobayashi. His appeal to the coach lies instead as someone who offers flexibility and an essentially defensive mindset, meaning that he is able to swap around with Hato or Nishimura on the right-hand side of the back four, or even move into one of the central midfield roles when required. As such, Hisanaga personifies Miura's enthusiasm for functionality over flair and in the more specific context of 2006 has restricted the opportunities for the likes of Kota Yoshihara and most obviously the now-departed Saul Martinez.
But let's get a little more positive for a moment. The aforementioned Daigo has without a shadow of a doubt been the shining star of Omiya's season so far and the evidence to date would suggest that the former Verdy man has a footballing imagination and vision far superior to almost all of his team-mates. Combine these two assets with technique, a delicious touch and accuracy and you're left with someone who is simply waiting to pick up a Player of the Year award - not to mention, surely at some point in the future, a Japan international cap.
Are there any disadvantages to the new King of Omiya? Well, his build is somewhat slight and as a result he can be harried of the ball by more physical opponents, but the other main problem seems to lie elsewhere: simply that his team-mates seem not to realise how potent a threat Daigo can be and thus they fail to take advantage of his skills as someone around whom a team can be built. We can for now gloss over the danger that he'll be sold on to a bigger club at the end of the season.
It was of course Chikara Fujimoto who acted as playmaker for Ardija last year, but it has to be said that Daigo's arrival would seem to have led to something of a downturn in Chikara's fortunes. Clearly he thrived on the responsibility of being arguably the key individual in the team and the shift away from him in favour of the incomer means that, while still a vital player, Fujimoto is perhaps less effective than before.
Previously, he could dictate a relationship with the strikers and be relied upon to come up with assists to create chances. In 2006, the poor link-up play between midfield and front men has been the major difficulty - and so ideally, Chikara would reassert himself, while also overcoming this nagging habit of doing the difficult things well but failing to deliver when it comes to a simple final ball.
Finally, we return to the out-and-out central defensive midfield players - and it's been a very curious 2006 indeed for both Jun Marques Davidson and Naoya Saeki. Marques, a star of 2005, was undoubtedly under pressure from the new signings at the start of the year, but seemed to give a good account of himself and has broadly speaking held on to his place in league games, even though his partners have chopped and changed between Kataoka and Yoshiyuki.
But it's hard to escape the feeling that Marques is a player who has been made to suffer for the team's broader failings, given that he has been squeezed out of the recent Nabisco Cup matches and rarely seems to be given credit for doing what he does well. Marques could be a player to provide a vital sense of solidity in midfield, but the constant changes being made around him seem almost designed to ensure that this doesn't take place.
And if things are puzzling for Marques, Saeki must be wondering what he has let himself in for in moving to Omiya. Regarded as one of the very few bright spots in a catastrophic 2005 at Kobe, he impressed in pre-season, has done well in the Nabisco Cup matches in which he's been selected - but has had scarcely a sniff of league action. Like Marques, Saeki's strength is limited (if "limited" is the word) to the central defensive roles in midfield and Miura seems reluctant to allow the two of them to play at the same time, preferring instead to see players of more apparent flexibility move around and plug the gaps as they occur; for this is rarely about creating chances and almost always about supporting the defence.
A general conclusion would suggest that confusion as to midfield roles and responsibilities is, not surprisingly, impacting upon the heart of the team. The constant changing of team members can only create uncertainty and insecurity, making it hard to develop the relationships that need to be in place in order for Omiya to progress as genuine challengers in J1. Will Toshiya Miura then be able to provide a clear sense of direction for the players in the second part of the season? This has to be the key question.
Just read your assessment of the mf`s and I think you are right on target!Of course,as a fan of Marques I was interested in what you said and that is what I feel is going on,too.Hopefully,this time off,will give the coach a chance to realize that Marques is the one for the job!He may not be polished yet and I am not sure if Miura is one that can do that but the coach needs to show confidence in him and allow him to be free!It looks like Miura is bottling up Marques` abilities!