Exclusive: Japanese football expert delivers verdict on Hayao Kawabe
Wolverhampton Wanderers Unveil New Signing Hayao Kawabe
Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images

Exclusive: Japanese football expert delivers verdict on Wolves new-boy Hayao Kawabe

Wolves have made Hayao Kawabe their first signing of the January transfer window.

The Japanese international has been signed for £500,000 and will be loaned back to Grasshoppers after spending the month training with Bruno Lage’s squad.

The signing has come out of left field and we at Molineux News admit we know very little about Kawabe.

One man who does know more is Japanese football correspondent Sam Robson.

Molineux News spoke to him shortly after the signing of Kawabe was confirmed to get the lowdown on the 26-year-old who has signed a three-and-a-half year contract with Wolves.

Photo by Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images

What sort of midfielder are Wolves getting in Kawabe?

Kawabe is a very versatile midfielder who has played a variety of roles from holding midfielder to a more advanced playmaker, within a variety of formations, primarily a 3-6-1/ 3-5-2 in both his time in Switzerland and previously in Japan.

In the last couple of seasons he has flitted between central midfield and attacking midfield roles looking to get forward a lot more.

What are his main attributes and where does he stand out?

Kawabe is at his best in turnover situations with an uncanny knack of finding space to progress the counter attack.

His movement in these situations is very intelligent and then he looks to quickly progress the play once in possession. In a more advanced role, his late runs into the area is his key skill.

He has that ability to ghost into space undetected and has been a prime reason for the upturn in his goals return in the last couple of years.

Just how highly rated is he in Japan, and what are his international prospects?

Kawabe was generally considered a good J.League player and when he left the J.League was easily the best player at a middling Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

He is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the National team. His two starts came during games where Japan had lost a number of players due to Olympic Games preparation, or when European based player call-ups were limited last summer, due to Covid issues.

He would probably need two or three injuries to hit in midfield before he made Japan’s 23 should they qualify for this year’s World Cup.

Photo by Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images

Where will Kawabe need to improve at Wolves?

It is the easiest thing to say and almost a cliche at this point, but physically he would have to improve to compete in the Premier League.

He would probably take time to adjust to the pace of the game in England, although his spell in Switzerland will have helped bridge the gap to some degree, he’ll also need to be stronger in the tackle and when in possession.

Could he be capable of playing in the Premier League?

I would very much hope so, but to be honest, as much as I really liked him in Japan and he was a fine player for both Jubilo Iwata and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, I didn’t really envisage him as a Premier League player.

He has a lot of good technical qualities and intelligence and with the right environment and framework around him, he could potentially succeed at Wolves.

Wolves must have seen something in him that they can work on and for them it’s a very low risk move.

How has he been doing this season?

After taking maybe a month or so to settle in at Grasshopper, in what was his first move outside of Japan, he seems to have adapted very well and is nailed on in their first 11, predominantly as a more advanced midfielder.

He’s impressed, maybe slightly quicker than would have been expected, and caught Wolves’ eye.