Urawa Reds may have an outside chance of claiming the title this year but they are still missing somebody who leads from the front…
Urawa Reds still have a problem.
Yes, they are in far better shape than they were 12 months ago and considering how close they came to relegation to J2 last season criticising the club now – as they sit in a strong position for an ACL place – may seem a little strange, but they remain in desperate need of a striker.
This issue has been ongoing since I came to Japan in 2009, and while their need last year was for someone to hit the target to preserve their J1 status, a regular goal-getter in the side now could provide just the boost needed to carry them to the title.
While Hisato Sato has been carrying that can for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, plundering 20 goals, and Vegalta Sendai’s front two of Wilson and Shingo Akamine have 19 between them, Reds’ leading scorer is Marcio Richardes with eight, followed by Genki Haraguchi with just six.
Nine goals was the most that the club’s top-scorer last season – Haraguchi – managed, and new signing Popo, who was the only striking option signed ahead of the 2012 season, had never made it into double-figures in his four previous seasons in J1. This year he has just three in 17 appearances.
I claimed at the start of the year that Ranko Despotovic would get 10 goals this season; he’s only just managed to make that many appearances, with Mihailo Petrovic obviously not a fan.
Tatsuya Tanaka, meanwhile, has seemingly been recovering from injury for the last three years, and the only other player listed as a forward for Reds coming into this season was Sergio Escudero – a guy who looks up so little that I doubt very much whether he has even realised he is now running up and down blind alleys in Seoul rather than Urawa.
All this means that nobody has made it into double-figures for the club since Edmilson struck 16 in 2010.
While he did possess a keen ability to register from inside the box though, the Brazilian was not exactly the most mobile of front men and a more active striker who could link up with the runners from deep would serve the club far better.
That kind of player has not been signed though, and I don’t understand why they haven’t been more active about acquiring somebody.
I was a big fan of Rafael at Omiya, for instance, and while he was far from prolific for Reds’ local rivals he was incredibly good at holding the ball up and bringing his teammates into the game.
Having him as the focal point of attack with the likes of Tsukasa Umesaki, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Richardes and Haraguchi playing off him could have worked extremely well and resulted in the gangly forward finding the back of the net a lot more often.
He also posed a considerable aerial threat – as Reds found out firsthand when he nodded home the winner in the Saitama Derby last season – something that is almost completely non-existent for Petrovic’s side now.
Another Brazilian who has enjoyed recent success at Saitama Stadium would also have been a good fit.
Since returning from Qatar Leandro has picked up exactly where he left off for Reds’ other great rivals Gamba Osaka, netting 11 times in his first eight games back in J1.
His previous spell with the Osakans produced an equally impressive return of 11 goals in 21 appearances, and even though the side were then challenging at the top of the table rather than staving off relegation the 27-year-old seems unfussed as to what the target is, as long as he is scoring goals.
“I don’t think I’m the team’s savior,” he said after notching twice in Gamba’s recent 5-0 demolition of Urawa.
“Naturally I’m happy I’m scoring and able to contribute to the team but things still aren’t over and I have to continue like this and keep helping the side.”
If Reds had been a little smarter in the transfer market it could have been them that Leandro – or a similarly sharp shooter – was helping, and while he made it clear he has no delusions of grandeur someone with an eye for goal would be a godsend for them right now.