Shinji Ono will end his remarkable 26-year career at the end of the season. The Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo midfielder announced today, on his 44th birthday, that he will retire at the end of the year.
Ono began his career with Urawa Reds in 1998, winning J.League Rookie of the Year and J.League Best XI honors, to go along with Asian Young Footballer of the Year and MVP of the AFC Youth Championship all in his first professional season.
Three years later, Ono moved to Europe when he joined Feyenoord. He became the first Japanese player to win a European trophy when he helped the Dutch side to the UEFA Cup.
A return to Saitama was on the cards after that, with Ono winning the J1 League, Emperor's Cup, Super Cup, and AFC Champions League in a stint that ran from 2006 to 2007, before going back to Europe to briefly play for VfL Bochum in Germany.
Ono also spent time in Australia at Western Sydney Wanderers, where he won the A-League Premiership in 2012-13.
The dynamic midfielder made a name for himself beyond Urawa in Japan, turning out for Shimizu S-Pulse, FC Ryukyu and Sapporo over the years, in addition to starring for the Japan national team. Ono was on the squad for the Samurai Blue's first three World Cups in 1998, 2002 and 2006, and won Asian Footballer of the Year in 2002.
Few Japanese players have ever brought the creativity and flair that Ono did, and to do so for 26 years is nothing short of spectacular. He is truly one of a kind and his mark on the J.League will never be forgotten.