Mid-season loan report: Naoki Tsubaki
In a first-of-its-kind deal for Melbourne City, the club secured Yokohama F. Marinos product Naoki Tsubaki in a season-long loan deal ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Amidst an influx of Japanese players to the A-League, Tsubaki has an opportunity to string together consistent top-flight minutes for the first time in his career and return to Ange Postecoglou a more finished product than he departed.
City’s use of Tsubaki
From an available 15 games, Tsubaki has made a respectable 11 appearances, including five starts, racking up a total of 356 minutes.
Tsubaki featured prominently in the absence of Andrew Nabbout following his injury sustained in Round 1, with the Japanese winger starting every game between Rounds 3 and 6, though this coincided with City’s poor run of form.
Since his final starting appearance on the 2nd of March against Western Sydney away, Tsubaki has well and truly been surpassed by Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio in regards to the pecking order for minutes off the bench. This is best exemplified by the fact that the loanee has played just eight minutes since that Wanderers win that he featured in from kick-off.
Operating primarily as a left-winger with the ability to cut inside onto his preferred right foot, Tsubaki has also featured twice on the opposite wing and twice as an attacking midfielder, with the latter role seeming the most likely position for Tsubaki to earn precious minutes going forward.
Here’s the bottom line: Naoki Tsubaki hasn’t directly contributed to a goal for 19 hours, 48 minutes and counting.
Including his goalless, assistless run of 832 minutes for Giravanz Kitakyushu in the J2, Tsubaki is now at 356 minutes without a goal contribution for City.
At 33.9 passes per 90 minutes, Tsubaki isn’t a particularly high-volume distributor of the ball and plays just 1.01 key passes per 90. By comparison, Marco Tilio and Stefan Colakovski play 1.8 and 3.4 per 90 respectively.
Underwhelmingly, Tsubaki has managed just two shots this season, both of which were off-target.
In our scout report on Tsubaki following the announcement of his signing, it was clear that the winger was an unproven talent whose fate in the A-League could very well have been decided by the toss of a coin; he had his niche, but whether that would be translatable in Australia was unclear.
Tsubaki has had his moments and – to a degree – passes the eye-test in terms of quality, but ultimately hasn’t made the same tangible progress as Colakovski and Tilio in recent times, and has thus fallen dangerously far behind in the pecking order.
Whilst we’ve argued minutes-over-goals in the development cases of our other loan reports, Tsubaki doesn’t have that kind of time; he needs to make an impact, and he needs to make it soon.