- Exclusive Interview with Japan's most-capped player Yasuhito Endo
- He set a new J1 appearance record earlier this year
- The 40-year-old talks life philosophy, World Cup memories and much more
World football has recently been captivated by several players in Japan, who have been performing week in, week out at the highest level well into their 40s (and some into their 50s!) respectively. What's the secret to their longevity and approach to life and football?
Perhaps the best-placed person to speak to on the subject is the Japan national team's and J1 League's all-time leader in appearances, Yasuhito Endo. Endo has played over 800 matches in his storied professional career and is known for his elite set-piece-taking technique and otherworldly vision and broad range of passing.
Currently on loan from long-time club Gamba Osaka at Jubilo Iwata in the J2 League (second division), FIFA.com caught up with Endo to talk about his career, his standout FIFA World Cup™ at South Africa 2010 and to find out who he is away from the pitch.
FIFA.com: Yasuhito, how does this challenge with Jubilo Iwata compare to everything else you’ve experienced in your career?
Yasuhito Endo: I’m just enjoying football here because the circumstances are so different from my other teams. I played for Gamba Osaka for a long time. Japan is not as big as the US, for example, but the Osaka and Shizuoka prefectures are so different. I’m enjoying my football in this different culture.
Where did your love for football come from? How did it originate?
I was greatly influenced by my older brother, who played football, and I came to love it as well. I was always following him. It was through him that I came to love football so much.
Were you destined to become a midfielder?
Originally I was a striker. I loved scoring goals but when I was 14 I became a midfielder because I thought it would be easier (laughs). Now I know that it’s the more difficult position. You have to run a lot more!
In Japan there are several high-profile players who are still performing at the top level well into their 40s and some even in their 50s. What’s their secret and how can you explain this trend?
I have no idea! (laughs) Japanese people don’t know how to give up. We have that mentality.
South Africa 2010 was a standout tournament for you. What combined to make it such a successful experience for you?
It’s a difficult question but the answer is clear. After we qualified for the World Cup we had some training and preparation matches, but our results were so bad. We hardly won any of those games, so the Japanese people and others did not expect us to play well at the World Cup in South Africa. It meant that our team did not have any pressure from the outside and we wanted to play well after our poor run of friendly results. The Japanese media and fans were saying they didn’t expect anything from us in South Africa. We decided to show real Japanese football. We had that kind of spirit at the time.
Why did you choose to stay in Japan for your whole career instead of playing overseas? Did you have any offers or opportunities that you wish you had taken?
I did have offers from other countries, but I always placed a lot of value on the style of football of each place that I assessed offers from. The styles were never a good fit for my style, so I thought I wouldn’t be happy playing in those countries. That’s why I’ve decided to stay in Japan and have been playing here. I don’t have regrets about staying in Japan, but I still have some hopes that I might play abroad. I still would like to do it.
You’re known for your unique, almost laid-back penalty-taking technique. Does that typify you as a person off the field? Are you a relaxed person outside of football?
I’m very relaxed when I take penalty kicks because I try hard not to think about anything until the last moment, which means before I kick I don’t decide which side I will go. I decide at the last moment. I know that if I miss, it’ll be very embarrassing. I’m the kind of person that, once I leave the training ground, I don’t think about football at all. I don’t watch any matches.
Do you enjoy being a leader and helping to guide the next generation of players? What kind of leader are you?
Most importantly I want to show them good football and to play well. I want to show by example not only by words. On the pitch during matches I want to help them by playing well and giving them my best passes. Of course during training I also want to give advice to the younger players.
There’s a lot of talk about the traditional No10 playmaker role disappearing from the higher levels of football, with speed and power seemingly prioritised more. Do you agree with that and, if so, do you think there’s a lack of creativity in the game these days?
I have noticed that the trend has been changing. People do seem to value power and speed. I loved No10s growing up and wanted to play like Platini, Zico, Maradona and Cruyff. I want the No10 role to come back to the world of football. This is my desire.
You still have years ahead of you in your career to enjoy, but once you do retire, what do you want to do with your life?
After retirement? I haven’t decided anything. I will want to take a rest and I want to travel. I’ve been playing and working hard for a long time and I haven’t had time to travel, so I’d like to do that for a period of time. I want to see as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as possible.
What has football taught you after all these years? What lessons have you learned about life?
Football has taught me everything. I’ve met a lot of people. These friends are precious to me. I grew up with football, got to see many different countries as a footballer and I learned many things from different cultures. When I play, I can move people and give happiness to people. This happiness returns to me. That’s why I play this game.