After 7 years in Gelsenkirchen, former Japanese International right-back is on the move to the capital to join Union Berlin who purchased the remainder of his contract which ends at the end of this season. It’s been a major struggle for Uchida whose career in the Bundesliga has been hampered with injury, his last match competitive match came last season in the Europa League where he came off the bench in a 2-0 Group I defeat at RB Salzburg.
That cameo is the only professional match Uchida has played for Schalke in two seasons and unfortunately, his time was up at the Veltins Arena. Sporting Director Christian Heidel spoke to the media about the matter at hand on Tuesday.
“Atsuto Uchida came to us and requested a move as he feels it was important to get game time after his long injury layoff. It was obviously not an easy decision for us to make, but we did not want to take away his opportunity of playing football. Schalke 04 would like to place on record a heartfelt thanks to Atsuto, who always gave 100% in a Royal Blue shirt. We wish him all the very best at Union Berlin, both on the pitch and off it. And of course he will receive a lovely send off from the club and the fans here at Schalke.”
We take a look at Uchida’s unfortunate history of injuries at his time at Schalke, what the move means for his new club Union Berlin and what his chances are of returning to the Japanese National Team with the World Cup less than a year away.
Atsuto Uchida came to Schalke as a promising 22-year old from then J-League Champions Kashima Antlers and immediately earned a spot in the first team squad. In his first season in the Bundesliga, Uchida made 26 appearances producing 3 assists from right back. His second season was plagued with inconsistency where he was in left on the bench and not included in the squad on 16 occasions.
The 2012/13 season would be the beginning of Uchida’s injury problems, making 24 appearances for Schalke whilst missing five games through injury. Down below is a list of Uchida’s injuries whilst he was at Schalke.
2012/13 Muscle fibre – 5 matches
2013/14 Torn Tendon – 14 matches
2013/14 Muscular Problems – 1 match
2014/15 Patella tendon irritation – 4 matches
2014/15 Achilles Tendon – 1 match
2014/15 Patella problems – 6 matches
Missed entire 2015/16 season through injury – 34 matches
2016/17 Patella problems – 13 matches
2016/17 adductor problems – 12 matches
In total, 90 Bundesliga matches missed thanks to injury as Uchida has made only a total of 104 appearances in Royal Blue of the 7-year span. A great tragedy for Schalke fans as he just couldn’t remain fit for long enough.
New Management, New System
With new manager Domenico Tedesco making himself the third Schalke manager in three years, we see another change in the system for the Royal Blues. It would seem that Tedesco is set on the 3-4-3 with two wing backs. There is no questioning that Uchida could play that system but due to his injuries and being unable to be durable, the likes of Coke, Alessandro Schöpf and Daniel Caligiuri were ahead of the Uchida on the depth chart.
Caligiuri got the start in Matchday 1 as Schalke went on to win 2-0 at home to RB Leipzig and looked at home in that right-wing back position. It was becoming increasingly unlikely that Uchida would play in the Regionalliga for Schalke II so a move had to be made. The question will remain, what will he provide for Union Berlin?
Reunited with a familiar face
Although Uchida drops a division, he joins an excellent football club in Union Berlin. The capital club finished 4th last season and were in the hunt for promotion for most of the season and this campaign, many believe this is the year they crack the top flight. In charge of Union is former Schalke manager Jens Keller who has helped revolutionise football for the 2nd division club. Keller was the manager of Schalke during 2012 to 2015 before being removed for former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo.
For Union, Keller runs a 4-2-3-1 formation regularly with a back four of Kristian Pedersen on the left, Marc Torrejón and Toni Leistner playing central and Christopher Trimmel on the right. Trimmel will be Uchida’s main rival and since joining from Rapid Vienna at the start of the 2014/15 season and has only missed 11 contests over that time. The Austrian generally applies his trade at right back but can be utilised in more attacking areas which could be a potential option for Jens Keller going forward.
World Cup Place at Stake
With the FIFA World Cup on next season, Atsuto Uchida knows a place is up for grabs and playing regular first team football will put him in with a great chance of making the squad if Japan is able to qualify. Uchida made his debut for the Blue Samurai on January 26th in an International Friendly versus Chile and since then he has made 74 appearances in that time.
Unfortunately, Uchida has played for Japan since March of 2015 in a 5-1 win against Uzbekistan as injury has curtailed his career. Can Uchida put himself into the conversation come World Cup time next year?
A big question lingers whether Atsuto Uchida can stay healthy enough throughout the remainder of his contract. There is no doubt in my mind that he can find himself as a first team regular under Jens Keller and will be an asset for Union Berlin throughout the 2016/17 campaign. It’s a shame to see him leave Schalke, but one hopes he can find regular football this season.
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