Yui Hasegawa - The nimble-footed wizard
Hasegawa is part of the golden generation of footballers that shone at the U17 and U20 youth levels recently. She was a part of the group that won the U17 World Cup in 2014 where they bested Spain twice, once in the group stages and then beating them again in the final. Hasegawa won the silver ball at the 2014 tournament behind her compatriot Hina Sugita, both of whom led Japan from the front. She was once again in the forefront at the FIFA U20 WWC two years later, when young Nadeshiko finished 3rd again.
Hasegawa has been in the limelight ever since for her technical caliber and creativity. The 24-year-old Japan international moved to West Ham in the summer of 2021 after a brilliant 6 months with AC Milan where she scored 3 times and assisted another one in 9 appearances for the Rossoneri.
Before joining AC Milan, Hasegawa came through the ranks at Nippon TV Beleza, a team she joined in 2009 as a 12-year-old, gradually progressing to the first team. She amassed over 100 appearances for the senior side of Nippon TV Beleza between 2013 & 2019.
Hasegawa is an attacking midfielder primarily, who has often been deployed as a wide midfielder on the left from where she likes to drift inwards a lot and operate from in-between the lines and half-spaces, much like an inverted winger. She is equally adept at playing as a left interior in a midfield 3 as well. The right-footed wizard’s sorcery on the ball is a treat to watch.
Creativity & Goalscoring
Hasegawa is a creative hub for the team she plays in, she can spot passing lanes before they open up. Her vision to play the line-breaking passes consistently makes her a spectacle to watch. She can pick passes through the eye of the needle and can be seen regularly attempting and executing these high-risk-high reward passes.
The weight on her passes is brilliant allowing her to pick out targets with perfection. She has the ability to mix up the modes of her chance creation as well; be it through-balls, crosses, long balls over the top, Hasegawa has everything in her creative arsenal. In the example above, we can see her excellent first touch and turn to navigate out of opposition press and then her ability to carve out a chance via a well-executed through-ball.
The range on her passes is excellent. This allows her to turn provider from deep within her half. We saw an example of this against Canada at this year’s Olympic games, where she carved out a chance from deep within her own half. The weight on the ball was excellent, dropping right in the path of Iwabuchi. Her ability to execute these passes regularly is excellent.
Another key trait that helps her create chances is her ability to cross the ball. Whether it be cutting in from the left or drifting wide towards the right, Hasegawa is capable of serving it on the plate for her teammates via her crossing. Her deliveries from set-piece situations make her equally proficient at creating chances from open play or dead ball situations.
It’s not just the creative side of things that Hasegawa excels at, she is good at putting away chances too. She is good at putting away chances coming her way. Her well-timed trailing runs and her movements inside the box make her a goal threat. She is comfortable scoring with either foot and has the spectacular in her as we recently saw against Man City when she lobbed the GK from an odd 35 yards out. She has a good shot on her making her capable of testing the keeper from range.
First touch, dribbling & ball progression
Hasegawa’s technical abilities are some of the best in the game. She is a smooth operator of the ball, her quick feet, and two-footed nature allow her to dribble past players with ease. Her dribbling isn’t just elegant to watch but extremely efficient as well. She is constantly beating her marker or breaking opposition press and creating space for her next action.
She is a quick thinker on the pitch solving problems at a light speed which also shows in her decision making. Her quick burst of pace coupled with her quick decision-making allows her to create separation from her markers. Her ability to quickly change direction when on the ball makes her unpredictable.
At 5ft 2 inches, Hasegawa has a low center of gravity allowing her to evade and navigate a trench of defenders with ease. This close control and deft first touch make her extremely press resistant. Her guile on the ball is effortless to watch, every touch calculated & every drop of shoulder magical.
Hasegawa is progressive in nature when on the ball. She is always looking for an option that will help her side move upfield at every given opportunity either via her passes or ball carries. An excellent ball carrier, Hasegawa is great at helping her side reach the final third and then further create problems in the box.
In West Ham’s game against Reading, Hasegawa was seen picking up possession in her own half and then driving forwards with the ball before picking out an incisive pass with her non-dominant left foot. This ability to be a creative force in the final third while also being able to help her side reach the attacking third makes her an asset for any side.
Hasegawa isn’t a physically imposing player, her strength lies in how she utilizes the ball and how efficient she is in doing so. What she lacks in physical attributes, she more than makes up for with her technical abilities.
Hasegawa’s spatial awareness is arguably one of the least talked about but one of her biggest strengths. Her spatial acumen is exceptional. Her positioning in the half-spaces after drifting inwards from the left gives the opposition a lot of headaches. This spatial awareness allows her to receive the ball in space or to create openings for others. She is quick to identify spaces opening up as a result of her action and swiftly moves into space after a pass to present an option for the return.
She manipulates and exploits spaces really well. Her understanding of spaces means she is constantly looking to open up passing angles and lanes using decoy runs. Constant scanning before making an action gives her a blueprint of her surroundings at all times.
An example of her spatial awareness could be seen in her goal against the Netherlands at the FIFA WWC 2019 where her movements open up the passing lane which ultimately leads to the pass leading up to the goal. Her decoy run-in behind pulls defenders away and then she is aware to check her run before receiving to avoid the offside.
Hasegawa isn’t a pedestrian when it comes to defensive contributions either. Her intense nature while counter-pressing the opponents in the final third helps her side to quickly regain possession. Her spatial awareness means she isn’t just running the hard yards but she does it efficiently in the sense that she is shadow blocking passing lanes as she presses by making curved runs or using the touchline to her advantage. Her ability to anticipate opposition passes allows her to intercept passes.
Hasegawa has some shades of Louisa Necib in her with the way she operates on the field and her abilities on the ball (and the uncanny resemblance of both donning #14). Her talent is limitless. She is a player for the present and the future.