By any standards Yasuhito Endo is a player of sublime technique. Even in Japan, where creative technicians are eulogised, Endo is seen as one of the best midfielders the country has ever produced for his piercing passing, vision, leadership and uncanny knack for scoring goals. The Gamba Osaka playmaker may not be physically strong, but he is renowned for his cool head, ability to wrong foot defenders and finishing ability with either foot.
As gifted player that he is, Endo, who has reached iconic status in Japan, reveals that his aspiration for perfection remain as strong as ever in a recent exclusive interview withFIFA.com.
"My motivations come from my strong desire for improvement," the former AFC Player of the Year said when asked how he has been able to maintain his top form over many years. "I am always longing to become as skilful as possible."
Consistent performerEndo has been among Japan's most dependable performers in recent years. The oldest of the current national squad under Alberto Zaccheroni, Endo, who will turn 34 on 28 January, is the country's most capped player with 140 international appearances, scoring 12 goals.
He scored three times to help Japan qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In the consequent global showpiece, Endo played a pivotal role, including netting against Denmark with a sublimely-taken free-kick as his side stormed into the second round on foreign soil for the first time.
Four years have elapsed but Endo's eye-catching form hasn't deserted him. The Japan No7 continued his inspirational role throughout Asia's qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ as Japan sealed progression almost unchallenged. Despite his contribution, though, the modest player attributed their qualifying success to Zaccheroni's guidance.
"I think that he is a very good manager," he said of the Italian tactician. "He worked well and (his approach) is adapted for the team."
For me, the real success can only be judged by the result during the World Cup, whether we can progress or not.
Aside from excelling with country, Endo's club form was equally notable. Former Asian champions Gamba suffered a shock relegation to the second division after a disastrous season in 2012, but Endo and Co rallied last year to become champions and earn their return to the top flight.
"It meant a lot for us," remarked Endo, who has been devoted to the Gamba cause since 2001. "After all, we realised our aim of the season. A club, like a player, has its good times and bad times. But despite all the ups and downs, we should work hard and try to give our best."
Global ambitionsIn a sense, Japan's smooth qualification for Brazil 2014 has further cemented their place among Asia's big boys, with the media lauding Zaccheroni's charges to be the best Japan team in history.
"It is difficult to give complete comments on a team," he said with a note of caution. "Because it is hard to judge what is a success. For me, the real success can only be judged by the result during the World Cup, whether we can progress or not, and so forth. (To achieve that), we have to grow every day."
However, Endo is by no means less ambitious. With the world football's extravaganza kicking off in less than five months, the expectations are ever-growing for the Samurai Blue to have a breakthrough tournament and the Japanese midfielder didn't hide his intention of making history.
"I don't know if we can better our results from the last World Cup, but we aim to win every match till the last. For me, personally, I would like to try hard in every match and to become as skilful as possible."