Yasuhito Endo was a happy man after being named the 2009 AFC Player of the Year on Tuesday. After narrowly missing out last year, Endo turned in another year of sparkling performances to become the fourth Japanese winner of the award and the first since Shinji Ono in 2002.
While winning the Asian top award represents the climax of his playing career to date, Endo's road to claiming continental laurels has proved a bumpy one. Endo may have been short-listed last year for the top award after steering Gamba to the Asian championship and helping the national team reach the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but after reaching the last five the midfield schemer was pipped for the top prize by Uzbekistan’s Server Djeparov.
One year on and Endo has fully compensated for that disappointment after taking the 2009 honours thanks to some stellar performances for both club and country. FIFA.com caught up with the 29-year-old after the celebrations were completed as he shed light on his past performance and future aims.
FIFA.com: Congratulations for winning Asian football's highest personal honour, Yasuhito. So after clinching the top individual trophy, how do you rate your performance over the last year?
Yasuhito Endo: We have had a hectic year in 2009 which was full of matches with both club and country. Generally I am satisfied with my display over the past year because I have turned in some good performances and I have maintained a good level of performance on both the domestic and international stage.
How does it feel bouncing back to win the title after missing out on it last year to Server Djeparov of Uzbekistan?
I was nominated last year but I didn’t win. This year I was again here hoping to win and I am more than happy to make it.
By winning the awards you have followed into the footsteps of Hidetoshi Nakata, the former Japan midfielder maestro who twice claimed the title in 1997 and 1998. Do you think you are a worthy successor?
For me Nakata is always a great player to admire. As a player he reached such a high level that few Japanese players can match him. I think I am not that good and I will do my best to improve.
Japan invariably seem to have an abundance of midfield talents and you are the third Japanese midfielder to have lifted the trophy. Why is it that Japan has been able to produce so many creative talents over the years?
I don’t know the exact reason about this but I think it is perhaps down to two aspects: the Japanese playing style and the coaches’ tactical approaches. Most coaches employ attacking game plans while many players like to perform creatively.
Having contributed so loyally with Gama Osaka for so many years, during which you scored 63 goals in 267 appearances, would you consider a move to one of the top European leagues?
Yes, I would definitely love to should the opportunity arise.
Which club is your favourite?
There are a lot of top stars in the Spanish League and I also like the playing style in La Liga.
After playing a key role in helping Japan book qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, are you confident your team can achieve the stated goal of reaching the semi-finals?
I hope we can realize the goal but it is a tough mission to finish top four in the World Cup, because our best result in the global tournament was reaching the round of sixteen. It is a challenge for us but we will do our utmost to achieve the best possible result.
What goals have you set for yourself in the year to come?
I will work harder to play better football with the top of my priority list being to do well with the national team. We are all aware what the World Cup means for us so we will try to overcome all difficulties to live up to the expectations.