Shinji Ono in his final match for Hokkaido Sapporo (Credit: Twitter)
Father Time has run its course with the Japanese legend, as Ono played his final game at the age of 44 on Sunday in front of his home crowd of the Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
From the likes of the technical savant Kaoru Mitoma to the composed conductor Shinji Kagawa to the swashbuckling set-piece savant Shunsuke Nakamura, and the electric enigma Keisuke Honda, Japan has produced some of the most exciting and finest talent in football over the years.
But, the roads for all the above-mentioned talents were paved by one name that preceeded them all: one underrated yet undying maestro, Shinji Ono. And Father Time has run its course with the legend, as Ono played his final game at the age of 44 on Sunday in front of his home crowd of the Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
Shinji Ono takes his final bow as his incredible career comes to an end at the Sapporo Dome.Thank you to a one-of-a-kind Japanese football talent and a J.League legend. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/07XdbVn3m8
— J.LEAGUE Official (English) (@J_League_En) December 3, 2023
Ono’s legacy was etched in the stars in 2002, when the Japanese midfielder was the difference-maker for a celebrated Feyenoord side, who went on to defeat Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Cup Final, on an aggregate of 3-2, with the difference being made by Ono’s winning strike in the first leg of the contest.
With his historic win, Ono became the first Japanese footballer to win a European trophy. Named Asian Player of The Year in 2023, he was also instrumental in inciting the pioneering wave of Japanese players making the challenging move to Europe, along with the likes of acclaimed players such as Hidetoshi Nakata and Kazuyoshi Miura.
Ono’s spoils weren’t found only in Europe though. The globetrotting Japanese took his talents all across the world, as also had stints with clubs in Australia, where he won the A-League Premiership with the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013, before he finally made the move back home in 2014 when he joined the Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
Shinji’e exploits in Japan were already etched in history at this point, as the midfielder had previously won the J1 League and Asian Champions League with Urawa Red Diamonds and the 2000 Asian Cup with Japan.
Nicknamed “Genius,” Ono made his international debut as an 18-year-old and played for Japan at the 1998 World Cup in France two months later.
His overall international career saw him represent the Samurai Blue in three World Cups, earning 56 caps and scoring six international goals.
And it was on Sunday, when Ono made his first and final start in the J1-League in 11 years, donning the captain’s armband along with the No.44 on his back, in a 22-minute swansong that ended with a 2-0 defeat for Sapporo.
But, the result barely mattered as with every silky touch and pass, the ravenous rapture of the crowd silenced any sliver of gloom that one may have felt.
“It was a short time with 20 minutes on the pitch, but I feel I could show what I’m capable of,” Ono said at the post-match ceremony, which included video messages from former Feyenoord teammate Robin van Persie and former Japan midfielder Junichi Inamoto.
An emotional Ono paid homage to his late mother and with his final words on the biggest of stages, he said:
“Thank you for giving birth to me and letting me meet this wonderful thing called football.”
And so walked away an icon of the Land of the Sun for one last time, upon the realization of his own dawn setting in.