Being relatively unknown to many upon his arrival to Australia, Tim Palmer examines the momentous impact the Samurai Blue veteran has had on Wanderers
Of the three marquees that arrived just weeks out from the start of the 2012-13 A-League season, Shinji Ono was probably the least recognised, and perhaps the one with the least expectations. Certainly, few expected him to significantly transform the Wanderers fortunes: while Alessandro Del Piero was rightfully welcomed as a game-changer for Sydney FC, and Emile Heskey hailed as the “final piece of the jigsaw”, Ono almost flew under the radar. Some fans even bemoaned his arrival, upset that it meant Michael Ballack couldn’t come to Australia.
As it eventuated, though, Ballack retired. Ono, meanwhile, became a hero for Wanderers fans and neutrals alike, delighting with his exceptional touch and outstanding creativity. In the central attacking position of Tony Popovic’s 4-2-3-1, he complemented the graft and directness of the wide players with more subtle, crafty playmaking – although, in the absence of a prolific striker, he became more a scorer than provider. Some of his eight goals were simply sublime: there’s the ludicrous double against the Melbourne Victory, two volleys that both go across the face of goal to sneak in at the far post, as well as probably the best, and most important: the sublime chip/long-range finish against the Brisbane Roar.
Unsurprisingly, Popovic has not changed much tactically from the Wanderers debut season. After starting Round One against the Central Coast Mariners on the bench (albeit with an excellent substitute appearance), Ono’s started the last two fixtures in the position we’ve become familiar to seeing him in, even if Ono described it this pre-season as a “tactical change.”
“When I came here, Poppa said ‘you don’t need too much movement’ which for me is good because I’m older and hate running.”
“I’m happy but I also have a responsibility playing as No. 10 because everyone in the coaching staff expects me to create chances and score.”
He did both in last Saturday’s derby against Sydney FC. First was the assist: a wonderfully weighted cross from a free-kick for the head of Iacopo La Rocca, before doubling his side’s advantage with a brilliantly improvised goal, having tried to chip the ball over two Sydney defenders from close range before eventually scissor-volleying the loose ball into the far corner. A touch fortunate, indeed, but Ono seems determined to either score penalties, or outrageous goals – this was simply another to the list of the latter.
Ono’s just a scorer of great goals, though, and his technique and link-up play has become increasingly impressive. In the derby, he frequently found room between the lines to facilitate attacking moves, as well as conducting quick counter-attacks with clever long-range passes. He also exaggerates his side’s bias towards the right flank, by moving into the channel between the centre and Youssouf Hersi, collecting possession on the half-turn and either finding Hersi in space, or Jerome Polenz on the overlap.
Ono is, in essence, the ‘perfect’ marquee: he filled a position of need, was relative star quality, produces brilliant individual skill and contributes significantly to the overall team structure.
Tim writes extensively on A-League tactics at AustraliaScout.com.Google+