The J.League’s first three decades has seen a slew of incredible players grace the pitches all across Japan, but one player has stood above them all. Yasuhito Endo has starred for 26 years, leading his teams to magnificent heights across almost the entirety of the league’s existence, and for that he has been named the J30 MVP of the league’s first 30 years.
Endo is a two-time J1 League champion and also won J2 to go along with five Emperor’s Cup crowns, two J.League Cups and an AFC Champions League triumph.
The midfielder is also an individual standout, winning J.League MVP in 2014, AFC Champions League Best Player in 2008, Asian Footballer of the Year in 2009, Japanese Footballer of the Year on two occasions and a record 12 J.League Best XI honors.
Endo made the jump to professional football in 1998 at 18 years old and was an immediate sensation, helping Yokohama Flügels to the Emperor’s Cup title. He then spent two years at Kyoto Purple Sanga before joining Gamba Osaka in 2001, where he would become a club and J.League icon.
In 20 years at Gamba, Endo would be named the league and continent’s best player while winning every trophy Japan had to offer and Asia’s top club competition. Even when the club slumped and were relegated to J2, Endo led the club back to the top flight and in their return to J1 in 2014, he was simply sensational as he took home MVP honors while Gamba won the domestic treble.
Endo played 605 matches for the Nerazzurri, finally leaving the club in 2020 for Júbilo Iwata, where he would make an impact by helping earn the team promotion to J1.
Now 43 years old, Endo‘s career is still not over. He continues to play for Júbilo, where he is an important player and leader at the club.
Endo’s outstanding play in the J.League also earned him a starring role for the national team. He played a record 152 times for the Samurai Blue, suiting up at three World Cups and winning two Asian Cup crowns as the inimitable playmaker for Japan.
The J.League is 30 years old now and the story of those three decades cannot be told without Endo. Be it his legendary status at Gamba Osaka, the images of him lifting trophy after trophy, the dominant seasons that saw him honored as the best in the country and continent, the brilliant passes that lifted fans out of their seats or the quiet smile and leadership that came to define years of Japanese football, the story of the J.League cannot be told without Endo.
For that, Yasuhito Endo is the J30 MVP.