Shinji Okazaki: All you need to know about Leicester City’s new forward

Words from Kevin Hatchard.

Embed from Getty Images

 

<em>Does Leicester City’s new man Shinji Okazaki have what it takes to outfox the premier league defences? Here’s all you need to know about the Japanese veteran….

After a pursuit that lasted two years and featured a number of near-misses, Leicester City finally got their man when they signed striker Shinji Okazaki from Mainz for a fee in excess of £7million. The Japanese international admits playing in the Premier League will be a huge challenge. Even though the manager who signed him is no longer at the King Power Stadium, Okazaki has the necessary qualities to succeed in England.

Okazaki bagged 12 goals in 32 Bundesliga appearances last season for Mainz, not a bad effort when you consider he was a playing for a limited side that had spent much of the campaign nervously eyeing the relegation spots. The season before that, he rattled in 15 goals to help Die Nullfünfer finish an impressive seventh in Germany’s top flight.

It took a while for the 29-year-old to establish himself in Germany. During an underwhelming spell at Stuttgart he scored just ten league goals across three seasons. Despite a scoring rate of one goal every six appearances, Mainz were impressed by Okazaki’s work-rate and selflessness, and decided to take a risk. The gamble paid off handsomely, and Okazaki’s importance to the Mainz cause was underlined by the fact that he only missed three league games in two seasons.

Okazaki isn’t the type of player who will regularly dribble past defenders, but he has qualities which will make him a threat to any Premier League defence. He has great acceleration, which sometimes allows him to burst into the box to create a chance, or lets him latch onto through-balls ahead of defenders. His movement off the ball is intelligent, and he is willing to relentlessly press defenders if a manager asks him to. His ability to harry and hustle defenders has often led to chances in front of goal, and more often than not Okazaki makes decisive use of those opportunities.

Although he is unlikely to win many flick-ons given that he is only 5ft 8in, Okazaki finishes well with his head, and he is generally a composed goal scorer. Like many strikers he relies on high-quality service, and on occasion he can be shut out of a game by a dominant defender. He is sometimes too eager to make a run, and as a result he has a tendency to stray offside. Okazaki wins plenty of free-kicks, but his hold-up play could be better. Compared to the 27 goals he scored over two seasons at Mainz, he only set up four goals for his teammates.

At 29, Okazaki should be reaching the peak of his powers, and physically he is in good shape. He has stayed clear of serious injuries, and in the last five seasons in Bundesliga, he made 128 appearances. That durability has helped him become the most prolific Japanese goal scorer in Bundesliga history. He also has an outstanding record at international level, having scored 43 goals to make himself Japan’s third-highest scorer of all time.

Despite the managerial regime change at Leicester, it seems inconceivable that Okazaki won’t play a major role this season under newly appointed Claudio Ranieri. Leicester fans will love his whole-hearted, high-energy approach. If the midfield can carve out chances for him, Okazaki will show his composure under pressure and put them away, but he may fade from games if the service is inadequate. He can’t outmuscle or bully defenders, but he can still put them under pressure by pressing.

If Leicester City can hit the ground running and give Okazaki the platform he needs, fans at the King Power Stadium may soon have a new hero.

 

@KevinHatchard

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