Analysis: Can Tanaka solve Wanderers’ fullback woes?


Their improbable run to AFC Champions League glory aside, plenty has gone wrong at Western Sydney since their loss to Brisbane Roar FC in last season’s grand final.

Still without a win in the 2014-15 A-League, Tony Popovic failed to effectively replace crucial midfielders Aaron Mooy and Shinji Ono, while the loss of Brendon Santalab to injury and the absence of Youssouf Hersi in the final third have also taken a toll.

But a good chunk of the Wanderers’ issues can be traced to the defence, in particular right and left fullback, Adam D’Apuzzo and Jerome Polenz having been released at the end of 2013-14.

Nigerian recruit Seyi Adeleke has failed to convince and has been the subject of reports linking him with a prompt exit from Wanderland.

Shannon Cole, Daniel Mullen, Anthony Golec, Brendan Hamill and Daniel Alessi have all taken turns operating out wide in the backline without convincing.

Lacking the defensive consistency and attacking aggression of Polenz in particular, the Wanderers have found themselves under threat at the back and less imposing going forward than in previous campaigns. 

Popovic has moved to rectify that deficiency by signing Yusuke Tanaka, initially on an ACL contract but surely with a move to a permanent A-League deal too. 


On paper Tanaka looks to be a decent acquisition, with considerably better pedigree than Adeleke.

At 28, he’s experienced and still in his physical prime, with 88 league appearances at Yokohama F. Marinos and 117 for Kawasaki Frontale under his belt, suggesting competency, consistency and a decent injury record. 

He’s apparently able to play on both the right and the left and scored 10 goals during his decade in Japanese professional football, so hopefully the Red and Black Bloc will get one strike a season from the new man.

To understand more about Tanaka’s potential impact, we sought out the opinion of Japan-based football journalist Sean Carroll, who believes the Wanderers may have acquired the attacking fullback they’ve sorely missed following the departure of Polenz.

“Yusuke’s a tidy little player who likes to get forward and play little one-twos to get to the by-line and deliver crosses,” Carroll told Goal Australia.

“He’s reasonably strong – by J-League standards – and his positioning is OK defensively, but he’s more of an attack-minded player. He can dribble but prefers short-passing build up and then crossing or cutting in. He scores now and then but as you’d expect of a right-back not all that often.”

Goal Japan’s Takashi Sugiyama also backed Tanaka to succeed in Australia.

“I think he will have enough quality to play (well) in A-league,” he said.

“He can run up and down the flank throughout the game. Also, he improved his vision under Yahiro Kazama, the current Kawasaki Frontale coach, who sometimes let him play in central midfield. He must try and improve some aspects of his game, particularly his crosses and end product, but the A-League’s dynamic style could suite him.”

Let’s hope for the sake of the Wanderers fans and Popovic, Tanaka proves to be the type of shrewd defensive acquisition sorely lacking in the previous transfer window.