Article by Ben Griffis
Paul Bismarck Tabinas, known as Bismarck (ビスマルク), is a 20 year old Japanese wing back playing for Iwate Grulla Morioka, who were just relegated back to J3 after a one-off season in the second flight where they finished dead-last 22nd.
Bismarck was born in Japan to Ghanaian and Filipino parents. His brother Jefferson is also a defender, playing left back and center back for fellow J2 side Mito HollyHock and the Philippines national team. Unlike his brother, though, Bismarck is very attack-minded and is often seen bombing up the flanks and taking on opponents when his team get the ball (which is NOT often, Grulla Morioka had about 40% possession in 2022).
However, Bismarck’s talent going forward isn’t replicated in defense. While there was some improvement over the season, his second professional season, his defending leaves a lot to be desired and is even lazy at times, as we’ll see in several videos later on.
For this article I’ll share loads of data and video to help paint a picture of Bismarck, sharing my thoughts on the player, his potential, and why I think he should be moved from wing back to a target-winger style player.
Bismarck is nearly 6’1″ and about 165 pounds, all muscle. While I normally don’t care about a player’s height, it plays a central role in who Bismarck is as a player. He’s often several inches taller than the wingers he marks and the opposing fullbacks too. He’s also usually the stronger player as well. Further, he can jump incredibly high despite his height, allowing him to win almost two-thirds of every ball he goes for. Fullbacks are typically not known for their aerial ability, but Bismarck, when he’s on the pitch, impacts the game with his height and strength.
Despite being a right-footed player, he can play as a left wing back. Of the 26 matches he appeared in this season, 4 were on the left. He is, of course, much more comfortable on the right. Overall, he played 1,022 minutes in J2 this season, with 85 on the left and the rest on the right. He only played the full 90 in a single appearance, which probably doesn’t look too great when playing for the worst side in the league.
However, watching him play and digging into the data, I think there’s both a reason for his low playing time and a solution for him as a player that would lead to quicker development. Grulla Morioka exclusively played a back 3 with wing backs. They typically had wingers ahead of the wing backs in a 3-4-3 or deeper 5-4-1 formation (which are essentially the same for a team defensing more often than not). Occasionally they lined up with only the wing backs out wide in a 3-4-2-1 or 5-3-2 shape. Bismarck has played in them all, with wingers ahead of him or not.
With that in mind, here’s his heatmap for the 2022 J2 season (via Wyscout).
We can see how high he was on the pitch, on average. Partially due to the formation, partially due to his playing style and relatively low defensive work rate. I’ll share videos and data to back up this point, but I think Bismarck would be almost perfectly suited for a wide-target-winger role at a J2 club (or foreign club at that level) looking to sit back and counter swiftly.
Digging Into the Data
So, with all that background about Bismarck and where we’re headed, let’s get into the data! We’ll start with general attacking and defensive figures before diving further into some attacking-specific data.
I will adjust all of these metrics (excluding percentages) by the team’s possession, using a formula used by StatsBomb. For more info, please see this Twitter thread I’ve made recently that goes into further detail. But basically, this method adjusts different metrics based on how much average possession a team had in a season. For defensive metrics, players in teams with less than 50% of the ball will see their raw numbers, such as tackles, decrease. Players with more of the ball will see their raw numbers increase. The logic for this is that players in teams like Grulla Morioka, who only have 40% possession, will have more opportunity to make defensive actions. Possession-adjusting (pAdj) helps allow us to compare players in vastly different teams.
In the case of Bismarck, this means his pAdj defensive metrics will be lower than his raw, non-adjusted number, and his attacking metrics will increase.
So, let’s dive in. All these graphs below show J2 fullbacks with at least 900 minutes (Bismarck barely made that, mind you), and the U23 players are all labeled, with Bismarck circled. The grey bashed lines represent the 50th percentile, and the brown dashed-dotted lines represent the 90th percentile, to the top 10% of players o the graphs.
Let’s begin with successful actions.
Bismarck is, by a wide margin, the fullback with the most successful attacking actions per 90 (again, all metrics adjusted for possession). Over 2 more successful attacking actions than the next-best player in this area. Bismarck really is dangerous going forward.
However, we see he’s well below the median for successful defensive actions. As a wing back he will be a little further up the pitch than pure fullbacks, but this still shows how one-sided he is. Great going forward, not so great in defense. But of course, actions by themselves don’t give us a full picture, so let’s look at something else.
Duel Success Rates
Bismarck also doesn’t come out too great when we look at defensive duel success rate. About 55%, only 5 players recorded lower defensive duel success rates than him. Bismarck was also below the median for offensive duel success rate, showing that overall, any ground duel he’s involved in, he will probably come out worse than most other fullbacks in the league. These duels do not include aerials, it’s important to note.
So, pairing these last two charts, we can see that Bismarck performs an incredible number of attacking actions relative to Grulla Morioka’s possession per 90′, but might not be the most efficient yet. Defensively he could certainly use some work.
Comparing his positions in these charts to the other U23 players (both U23 and U20, noted in different colors) does shed some good light on him though. His offensive duels won, while below the full median, are fairly close to the average for all U23 players in this sample, although he is the worst-performing U23 player for defensive duel success rate. Similarly, while he has the most successful attacking actions of any player, there are a few U23 players with fewer successful defensive actions than Bismarck. This is not to defend the player’s relatively poor performances in these metrics, but to give a little more nuance into the developing player that he is… he has work to do on his effectiveness in any ground duel.
Next, we’ll look at aerial duels, the perfect transition from defensive metrics to attacking metrics. Wyscout does not flag aerials as defensive or offensive, so this includes any time a player challenges for a ball in the air.
Incredible. Bismarck, as I mentioned earlier is not only a relatively tall player in the league, but can also jump very high. Naturally, he comes out as possibly the best 2022 J2 fullback in the air. He’s one of 3 players in the top 10% for both contesting aerials and success rate. Of course, I have to caveat this with saying there is some correlation between having more aerial duels per 90 and having a higher success rate, but still he’s one of just 3 players in the top 10% for both.
Bismarck’s aerial ability can be seen in all phases of the game. He’s adept at winning balls in both boxes, and is also incredible in the midfield, winning everything from loose, high-bouncing balls to half-clearances to goal kicks. He’ll often come from a further position than anyone else to contest the aerials, with his teammates knowing how effective he is in the air.
Now let’s dive further into some attacking data. First off, ball progression. Bismarck is the fullback with the most progressive runs (also called carries), and by a wide margin. These are where many of his successful attacking actions come from. Bismarck is often used as an outlet to release some pressure and move the ball up the pitch. And as we’ll see in some videos later on, often times he’s running half the pitch and either sending in a cross or winning a corner.
However, he’s not the most progressive passer of the ball. Given his style and Grulla Morikoa’s formation, that makes sense. He will often run with the ball, play short passes to teammates, or pass laterally, as there were often no wingers on the touchline ahead of him.
Dribbles and Penalty Box Passes
In no surprise to anyone following along, Bismarck was the player with the most attempted dribbles (adjusted for possession, of course). Again, by a wide margin of over 3 per 90. Yes, about three more attempted dribbles than the next player. The Adama Traoré of Japan’s second tier fullbacks. One thing to note is his below-average dribble success rate, just under 50% and coming in a little below the median.
I also add passes to the penalty area here to show you something akin to his effectiveness once he gets forward. After his running and dribbling, he often looks to send in a cross or play a pass to a teammate closer to him in the box. Bismarck ranks in the top 10% in this regard, showing that overall he’s not just running to run and pass back, but running to create a situation that has to be defended by the opposition.
I think we’ve seen so far just how threatening Bismarck can be with the ball. Let’s take a look at one final scatter plot that should help us understand his in-possession style more.
Smart passes and Shot Assists
Smart passes, per Wyscout, are “a creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack”. Bismarck ranks below the median here, showing he’s not often trying risky defense-splitting passes. Watching him play backs this up. Again, he’s mainly an outlet for carrying the ball up, and his most dangerous passes tend to be crosses rather than ones further back creating better positions for teammates to cross, for example.
Bismarck does rank well in shot assists, above the median and one of the best U23 fullbacks last season. Again, crosses are the key here. Being able to bring the ball up with pace, often in a counter situation, appears to have helped him create these situations.
Wrapping Up the Data
Overall, I think the data has shown us a lot about who Bismarck is as a player, both from a style perspective and a performance perspective. His defensive game needs work if he is to develop as a starting wing back or fullback. It’s difficult to see him earning a starting spot unless he makes some improvements in that area. As we’ll see soon, he can often be a liability in defense… not great for a defender!
However, he’s prolific going forward. At just 20, he’s still very raw, but that raw talent for bombing up the flanks is there and coupled with his combination of size and strength, very dangerous. If he becomes a little more effective in the dribble, he would certainly generate a wealth of directly dangerous situations instead of being more of that pressure-release switch to drive the ball up. But, we’ll see some videos that shed more light into those “unsuccessful” situations in attack… they can often end in a corner or a deep throw-in!
The videos I’ll share now are all YouTube clips, and taken from the 3 Grulla Morioka matches aired on YouTube this season that he featured in. He came on as a second-half sub in all of them, and there were more than enough positive and negative moments to clip and share to get a good sense of him – and to back up the data we’ve just seen. We’ll start with the defensive negatives.
Overall, there appear to be two main defensive errors Bismarck is prone to committing. The inability to keep track of his man, and the tendency to have a lazy defensive work rate.
Let’s see some examples of each, starting with failing to track his man. Below is one example from the Round 21 match at Tokyo Verdy. Bismarck is not paying attention to where the player he should be marking is.
He lets the Verdy player run behind him, and had the cross come in for that player or if the ball rebounded from the keeper, Bismarck’s man would have probably scored. Bismarck lost track of his mark and let him run behind him, taking himself out of the game.
Here is another example, from the same match. This is poor defending by Bismarck and his closest center-back, but Bismarck picks up the player his center back should be marking, leaving his own man free to get the ball and take a shot.
This next video shows his relatively poor defensive work rate. He can often be lazy when needing to track back, as seen here. He’s calling for the pass but when Grulla Morioka lose the ball, he barely jogs. In fact, he never gets back to defend the left-hand side of defense, and this directly leads to a goal… scored by the opposing right back, who is actually closer to Verdy’s goal than Bismarck is when Verdy’s counter starts.
As we can see, Bismarck can be a liability in defense. These videos are just from one match halfway through the season, but mistakes like these were present in all the matches on YouTube.
Improvement Over Season
However, there is a silver lining. In one of the final games of the season, Bismarck showed improvements in keeping track of his man. Take a look at the video below, where he keeps looking to make sure he knows where the Verdy player he’s marking is.
This is certainly a positive. In the other videos above, he’s not checking where his man is. But later in the season, he’s constantly checking and readjusting his position instead of just looking at the ball. While still probably a liability in defense, the improvement and development in his game is nice to see.
Attacking Transition – Bismarck’s Mindset
Let’s go back to the first video, where Bismarck lost his man in the box. By extending the clip by a few seconds, we can really see Bismarck’s game in a nutshell. After making his defensive error, he immediately turns forward to run. The keeper looks for him, throws him the ball, and Bismarck brings the ball up through the entire midfield third.
He takes a bit of a heavy touch when trying to beat his man on the dribble and ends up committing a foul. Heavy touches while running are actually something he will need to work out as well, as his control while running at speed can often let him down. However, I think this clip shows where his mind is at all game: “what can I do next to attack?”
Running and Dribbling – Bismarck’s Bread and Butter
Continuing on in a similar vein, let’s see Bismarck’s main strength, running. As we’ve seen in the data, he’s a very prolific ball carrier, and not a bad dribbler either. In this first clip, we see him bringing the ball all the way from the midfield line to the goal line, beating 2 defenders along the way before winning his side a corner.
This next video is very similar to the first one, another driving run beating a player, taking the ball all the way from his half to the goal line before winning a corner.
Bismarck seems to be very good at turning any “unsuccessful” actions during runs into positive outcomes. While he will be dispossessed and the opposing team gains possession, there are many times when his runs end in him winning a corner or a throw-in in the final third. I mentioned before that he can take heavy touches at speed. When this does happen, he does seem to be decent at getting a leg in and not losing possession, sometimes being able to beat his marker with strength. Of course, this is one of the biggest areas for Bismarck to work on while carrying the ball, as heavy touches while running for a player who loves to run with the ball is a risky combination.
This next video shows some of his off-ball runs. As I said above, he always seems to be looking for what his next attacking move could be. Here, he starts an overlapping run the second his team win possession, starting a counterattacking opportunity. He gets the ball to the goal line (can you tell he likes that by now?) before delivering a decent cross which his teammate connects with.
Bismarck’s runs are usually fairly straight forward. They’re straight, and they’re forward. They are typically no-nonsense as he just wants to move the ball up the pitch. However, he will try to add some flair every once in a while, like in this next clip.
This time it did not work out, and in fact he ended up fouling the Verdy player as well. But it shows that he can try the unexpected once in a while… leading me into this next clip.
Flair, but on a throw-in.
Naturally, after this, Bismarck makes a long run. If you expected him to NOT make a run covering half the width of the field, you must not have been following along!
Overall, I hope all these clips show that running is not just Bismarck’s strength, but also something he looks to do at any given opportunity. He’s strong in the run, but is prone to mistakes while running. The raw talent is there, but he will need to work on honing it so that he can not only be very dangerous, but also very effective.
Finally, let’s see a short clip on his strength in the air. Here he wins not one but two aerial challenges in quick succession. Both are in midfield, the area he’s probably most impactful in the air. High balls kicked with no real aim, second balls, etc… He’s typically able to use his height and jumping advantage to win these. Whether or not they land at a teammate’s feet might be less important as the ball will be further from Grulla Morioka’s goal anyway.
Bismarck is so dominant in the air, in fact, that you can see his teammates get out of the way for his second aerial in this clip. While being the third-furthest Grulla Morioka player from the ball there, neither of his teammates challenge as they know he’ll go for it – and most likely win.
Overall, Bismarck is an interesting player. He has some very strong, promising traits, but other traits that are fairly weak and must be addressed. There’s no question that he’s prolific going forward and even without any improvement, will probably make a devastating impact on J3 next season. However, he still makes mistakes while carrying that can cost him, even if he has a decent track record at turning those carrying mistakes into a throw-in.
His defensive game needs vast improvements if he’s to stay a defender, and especially if he wants to earn a starting spot, which he was unable to do last season. Even though he seems to have made some development in this area over the season, even as a wing back he will need to get better at defending. He might be best-suited to playing in a system where his team have less possession and look to break on the counter, which means he will need to defend for stretches at a time. Not being a liability would help his case to start, giving him more time to impact a game perhaps at 0-0 instead of coming on while 1 or 2 goals down.
Should He Be a Wing Back?
The main question I kept asking myself when watching him play was, “is he really going to become a good wing back or full back”? I’m unsure of the answer, and think it depends. His current skill set might be better-suited to transitioning to a target-man winger, a role he could still play in a low-possession, counterattacking team. If he could shed most defensive responsibilities and sit closer to midfield, any of his teammates could lob a ball up to him when they win it back, sending him on a driving run. Paired with a quick striker to make up ground, they could form a devastating partnership.
However, he could also stay a wing back, although he might be better suited to playing in teams who have better, quicker center backs behind him so that his defensive laziness isn’t as costly. If he were a wing back in a possession-based team with good center backs as insurance, he could really cause danger, and cause it often. If his team were finding it difficult to break down the opponent, he could drop a little deeper to get the ball from the center backs and use his carrying ability to bypass the opponents. He might also be able to drift further inside to try heading a ball on to one of his teammates if his team were finding it difficult to break down their opponents on the ground.
I think Bismarck should remain at Grulla Morioka in J3 next season, or perhaps another J3 team that might suit his current ability well. If he can perform as well in attack and improve defensively, then he would be a dangerous player for any J2 side the following season. At a positional crossroads now, he’s still very young and while II’m not confident he’ll be one of the best players in J1, I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine him in a mid-/lower-table J1 side in a few years if he either drastically improves his defending or transitions to a winger and improves in a couple key areas.
Really it comes down to this: Bismarck’s current strengths and weaknesses mean he either needs to move higher up the pitch but remain in a low-possession/counterattacking system, or to move to a team which won’t require him to defend as much. It’s possible that Grulla Morioka will be this team in J3 next season, so I will certainly be following them. But, given how much work he might need defensively, I believe he could make a better impact as a winger, and he could start focusing solely on those skills which might allow him to develop in that role quicker than in a wing back role.
I think Bismarck will need to focus on nailing down a starting spot early next season, though. While a strong option from the bench, the best thing for his development in any position and role will be starting a string of games. It will be exciting to see how he develops as a player in the coming years.
Bismarck’s games this season on YouTube: Round 21, Tokyo Verdy, Round 30, Fagiano Okayama, & Round 40, Tokyo Verdy.
Update (added 11/18/22): Bismarck has had his contract with Grulla Morioka terminated due to driving while under the influence.