More than goals

What do you need from a striker? In an obvious reflex, you’d say goals. Many of them, the key to achieving your results and having a solid season. But this changed: the last decade witnessed the development of the “false 9”. Best examples around? Cesc Fàbregas featured as a striker in the 2012 UEFA Euros winning side. But we’ve seen many champions playing in that position, from Leo Messi to the “Raumdeuter” Thomas Müller.

And there’s more: even proper strikers – in terms of physical and technical skills – are changing as well. Take what happened in J3 League in the last three years: all the champions – Giravanz Kitakyushu in 2019, Blaublitz Akita in 2020, and Roasso Kumamoto in 2021 – didn’t need strikers to score all that much. Look at their best scorers and the top-scorers in the league for every season:

  • 2019 » Taichi Hara scored 19 goals for FC Tokyo U-23, while Shuto Machino bagged only 8 (19 players did better than him).
  • 2020 » Kaito Taniguchi dominated the scoring charts with 18 goals, but Blaublitz’s Ryota Nakamura needed just 10 in the orchestra that Akita put together.
  • 2021 » The short season impacted on these results, but FC Gifu’s Shota Kawanishi won the top-scorer title with 13 goals, while Toshiki Takahashi granted Roasso 8 (nine players overcame him).

And this was no different this year for the other team promoted: Iwate Grulla Morioka clinched promotion in the final game: their two top-scorers – tied at 6 goals – were left wing-back Taisuke Nakamura and winger Yuki Shikama. This doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that their main target up front wasn’t a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Brenner Alves Sabino – class ’99 – has finally settled within Yutaka Akita’s system and Iwate Grulla Morioka got promoted with their main striker scoring just five goals. Even last year, Brenner scored just four times. Nevertheless, he’s the living proof that a forward shouldn’t be just about goals, but rather have the complete package. He’s won the new “Best Foreign Player” award in our Regista Awards.

The joy of Brenner at the end of the game, having clinched the promotion after the 1-1 away draw against Azul Claro Numazu.

Silent heroes

As we observed, the narrative changed for forwards. We used to have legends from J3 rankings:

  • Tsugutoshi Oishi is the all-time top-scorer in J3 League (72 goals), having lived all but one season with at least 10 goals in his scoring books.
  • Before becoming a hero in Oita and winning an Emperor’s Cup with Vissel Kobe, Noriaki Fujimoto won two top-scorer titles with Kagoshima United FC.
  • Kazuhito Kishida had the best individual career with 31 goals in 2015, dragging Renofa Yamaguchi towards a J3 title.
  • Koji Suzuki featured in several sides – even in the top-flight –, but he firstly become known thanks to his goals with Machida Zelvia in the third tier.

What now, instead? Like we mentioned, Oishi lived through his first season under 10 goals in his career. But he’s not alone, since true scoring aces suffered throughout 2021:

  • After living two solid years in Yokohama and Kumamoto, Hayato Asakawa started well to end up first benched and then released (despite Kumamoto winning the title).
  • Same faith encountered Takuma Sonoda, who barely started in Kagoshima and now he’ll have to reboot his career somewhere else.
  • J3 legend Yosuke Kamigata saw his minutes reduced to witness Koki Maezawa – a winger – starting in the main target position.
  • Both FC Gifu and Nagano Parceiro struggled to find a proper striker – although Gifu counted on Kawanishi’s form in a no. 9 position and saw him winning the Golden Boot title.

But that’s not necessary to get promoted. Kagoshima United lost Arthur Papas soon and struggled under Nobuhiro Ueno. Roasso Kumamoto won the J3 title with Toshiki Takahashi, but the key to improving from their previous two seasons was in tightening their defense. And the same happened to Iwate Grulla Morioka, who had just signed promising Han Yong-thae – he scored 11 goals in 2019 J2 League –, but they didn’t need him to get promoted.

From Porto Alegre to Iwate

Born in Porto Alegre, Brenner fulfilled his childhood dream by growing into Internacional’s ranks and then coming to the first team in 2018. He played just nine times before leaving for a string of loans. He initially moved to Oeste FC in Brazil, but it didn’t work out. So, he took the European leap and moved to Denmark, where Vejle Boldklub welcome him.

The club – back-then playing in the second Danish division – didn’t give too many chances to Brenner, who saw Vejle getting promoted… but he featured just three times, for a total time of 48 minutes. A miserable situation, who saw the young Brazilian striker moving on. Time for a new continent: Iwate Grulla Morioka signed him on loan, after already saw former Renofa prodigy Kazuhito Kishida joining temporarily.

On paper, Kishida seemed the obvious choice. He had already experienced both Japanese football and J3, which appeared his ideal fit. Kishida scored three goals in the opening six rounds, but then gradually disappeared: he first lost his starting spot – in September and October – to then not even being involved anymore. On the other side, Brenner exploited the delayed start of the season and found space for himself within the rotation.

The key to J3: pragmatism

In 2020, Brenner scored just four goals and two of them came against Cerezo Osaka U-23. But the positive side came in minutes: he took the starting spot from Oct. 7 and never left it, even playing the last six matches for more than 80 minutes. Head coach Yutaka Akita figured out how the Brazilian was the fitting piece for the no. 9 spot. Kishida went back to Yamaguchi and Brenner moved permanently to the Iwate Prefecture.

This didn’t change this season, where Brenner scored one goal more and played more minutes, but mostly functioned as a target man. He provided six assists as well, and he scored some crucial goals (like the winner against Azul Claro Numazu in stoppage time, which stroke a light about Iwate’s real chances to be in contention for promotion).

Brenner helped create offensive volume even with his technical skills – he collected 85 dribbles, coming third (just after Roasso’s Sugiyama and Kataller’s Otoizumi) – and imposing his physicality – he won 86 aerial battles, third as well in this special table among forwards –, which was enough to grant Morioka what they needed.

There’s more to football than goals for a forward. And Brenner is living proof of that.

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