Makoto Hasebe: Eintracht Frankfurt's record-setter still going strong
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, after penning a new one-year playing deal with Eintracht Frankfurt, he isn't done just yet...
The 39-year-old former Japan captain played his 309th Bundesliga game in the 2019/20 campaign, edging ahead of South Korean icon Cha Bum-kun to earn top spot in the continental chart.
At signing fresh playing terms until 2024, and a "follow-up contract" that will keep him in Frankfurt until 2027 in some capacity, Hasebe has 368 such games under his belt and is fourth on the list of the Bundesliga's all-time non-German appearance makers.
Upon breaking his continent's record, in a defeat to Mainz, Hasebe said: "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."
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.
Watch: Throwback - Hasebe "Proud to be Asia's all-time record player in the Bundesliga"
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."
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.
That culminated in making history with the club as they lifted the 2021/22 UEFA Europa League trophy, with Hasebe - who also won the 2017-18 DFB Cup with Die Adler - playing a crucial part all along the way. In the final he entered in the 58th-minute, seconds after Rangers had taken the lead and by the time he left the pitch, Hasebe was wearing the captain's armband and Frankfurt were champions.
"Makoto is the only professional who can decide for himself whether to extend his contract," said Eintracht sports director Markus Krösche after Hasebe's latest extension.
"We're glad he made that decision and that we're staying with us for another year as a player. With his attitude, his discipline and his footballing quality, he is not only an absolute role model in our team, but also an enrichment for our game.
"At almost 40 years of age, he is a Bundesliga star and is also an ambassador for Eintracht Frankfurt and German football beyond national borders.”
Watch: Hasebe welcomed as an official Bundesliga Legend!
His new deal will take Hasebe into a 17th Bundesliga season and he is not only the oldest current player in the division but also Frankfurt's oldest ever outfield player. When he finally does depart, a coaching role with Frankfurt surely beckons for Hasebe, 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 remarkable Bundesliga story.
"I'm very happy that I can and can play football at the highest level for Eintracht for another year," said the Japan icon who was named an official Bundesliga Legend in 2021.
"It's special to be part of the team at such a big and successful club at the age of 40. I will continue to take responsibility, want to be a role model for our young players and lead the way. Frankfurt has become my home, Eintracht is my club. That's why I'm already looking forward to being part of this club after my career."
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