Eintracht Frankfurt's Makoto Hasebe, a Bundesliga title winner with Wolfsburg and one of the most consistent top performers in the German top flight for more than a decade is now the league's all-time leading Asian appearance maker. And he has no plans to stop just yet...
The 36-year-old former Japan captain played his 309th Bundesliga game in Eintracht Frankfurt's 2-0 loss to Mainz on Matchday 30, edging ahead of South Korean icon Cha Bum-kun to earn top spot in the continental chart.
"I'm very proud to have played more Bundesliga games than any other Asian player. But for me, it would have been much, much more important for the team to win," Hasebe, who was already his country's most prominent Bundesliga export, said. "We weren't as good as we needed to be today. We were lacking something in all areas."
That is not an accusation that can be levelled at Hasebe. "It's my task to show quality. It doesn't matter where," he once said, and he has impressively backed up that rhetoric with the proof of his on-pitch performances wherever his coach has picked him to play.
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After joining Wolfsburg from Urawa Red Diamonds in January 2008, Hasebe made his Bundesliga debut against Arminia Bielefeld a month later as a midfielder, but oscillated between there and defence with equal effect in his 135 top-flight appearances for the Wolves.
Hasebe, Brazilian metronome Josue and the strong-running Christian Gentner were the engine room of Felix Magath's 2008/09 title-winning side. While Edin Dzeko, Grafite and Zvjezdan Misimovic's brilliant interplay and sizzling skills tore teams apart up front, the graft Hasebe & Co. provided laid the foundations for the club's historic success.
Magath: 'Can play in every position'
And not only is Hasebe willing to literally go that extra mile. With goalkeeper Marvin Hitz sent off and all three substitutes used at Hoffenheim on Matchday 6 of the 2011/12 season, Hasebe became the Bundesliga's first Japanese goalkeeper, standing in for the closing 15 minutes of the match.
"Someone had to fill in," said Hasebe, who picked up the gloves with the scoreline 2-1 to the hosts only for Roberto Firmino to claim a game-clinching third for Hoffenheim. "We had momentum [after getting back a goal in the 67th minute] and I felt like we could have drawn even when I went in goal, so I'm disappointed with the result."
"I was for Hasebe," said Magath. "The Japanese are very disciplined and can play in every position."
That may sound like a tired cliche from the former Wolfsburg, Schalke and Bayern Munich boss, but Hasebe has proven it to be true, and if there is one thing he has shown he hardly ever is it's tired.
The author of a Japanese bestseller 'The Order of the Soul - 56 habits to win', Hasebe has practiced what he preaches with his attitude, sense of self-sacrifice, lung-bursting stamina, and master-of-all-trades versatility key reasons why he has been indispensable for the numerous coaches he has played under at Wolfsburg, Nuremberg and - since 2014 - Frankfurt.
"We're delighted to have been able to sign Hasebe, an experienced player who has proved his abilities in the Bundesliga over recent years," Frankfurt sporting director Bruno Hübner explained having snapped up his man following a single season at Nuremberg. "He just knows what he's doing," said the Eagles' goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, more succinctly but just as effectively.
Trapp should know having been alongside Hasebe for most of the versatile Japanese's career at the Commerzbank Arena. The know-how the Frankfurt goalkeeper witnessed was recognised at international level too as Hasebe captained his country for the majority of the 114 times he played for them, finally quitting the international scene after the hugely dramatic 2018 FIFA World Cup Last 16 loss to Belgium.
Without the burden of extra matches - not to mention the thousands of air miles - Hasebe has been able to put all his considerable energy into Frankfurt's cause.
He has featured 21 times in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, and played all but two of his club's UEFA Europa League matches where Hasebe's big-game nous has come to the fore.
"He's one of the most intelligent defensive players in the Bundesliga," said Frankfurt boss Adi Hütter, who has most often used Hasebe at the heart of the defence, exploiting his ability to both stop opponents and start his own team's attacks with first-class distribution from the back.
"Makoto sprints in the head. Physically, he wouldn't be able to overcome some opponents, but when you already know and feel where the ball is coming, it makes things easier. How he plays, how he reads the game, is incredible. There's no-one better."
Hütter will have been delighted then to see Hasebe recently put pen to paper on a new one-year deal, extending a contract that had been due to expire this summer.
Beyond that, a coaching role with Frankfurt beckons, but - as you would expect for a professional with such a focus - the future remains on the backburner while the present offers the opportunity to extend his Bundesliga record.
"We've already talked about it with the club. But I still haven't started [his coaching badges], it takes too much energy. I would like to focus on just one thing," said Hasebe, who still feels the drive to improve his performances.
"It's important for me that I'm still hungry. Being satisfied would be bad, it would hold me back. I think I can still play better and help the team still more."
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