A Bundesliga, UEFA Europa League and DFB Cup winner, as well the German top flight's record Japanese appearance-maker, Makoto Hasebe has enjoyed a brilliant career. Although the Eintracht Frankfurt fan favourite turned 40 at the start of 2024, he told bundesliga.com he's not quite ready to hang up his playing boots just yet...
bundesliga.com: How did you celebrate your 40th birthday, especially with your team?
Makoto Hasebe: "The coach and the sporting director gathered all the players in a meeting room and then gave me their personal messages. That was very special because they don't do that with other players. On the other hand, I also followed the German custom and served Japanese food to my teammates. I invited a chef from a Japanese restaurant here on the training pitch and invited everyone. Everyone was very happy."
bundesliga.com: How do you see your role at Eintracht Frankfurt today?
Hasebe: "Of course I'm the oldest player. Instead of talking to the other players a lot and giving them advice, I would rather show the younger players my daily behavior and my attitude towards football so that they can feel something of it and it can have a positive effect on the team. I think I have been able to influence the younger players in this way. For example, they ask me for advice and we prepare together before training. I see it as my job to have this kind of positive influence on the team. I think I can play that role."
bundesliga.com: How do you condition yourself for the battle against young players? Do you have a special fitness programme?
Hasebe: "I don't think there is one right answer in the professional world: 'This is really the right way'. Every athlete has their own training method, and athletes who achieve results with this method are considered to be correct and successful. For me personally, how I work and how I feel is more important than what others say about me. That's why I always organize what I need to do and then put it into practice. I think I've been able to play for so long because I've always done that, so I'm proud of what I've worked on. Also, the teammates, managers, coaches and sporting directors I've met, the environment around me, the fans and the team have been very important for me to be able to play for so long.”
bundesliga.com: How much longer do you want to play as an active player? Forty-three years and six months is a record in the Bundesliga.
Hasebe: "I don't want to look too far into the future, I want to focus on one day at a time, one game at a time. That's why I'm honestly not thinking that far ahead yet. I'm getting older and of course I realise myself that I won't be able to play football for that long. I don't think I have that long left to play football professionally, so I just want to enjoy every moment. At the moment, I'm enjoying every single day."
bundesliga.com: What do you want to do after your career as a footballer?
Hasebe: "Of course I would consider becoming a football coach. There are many other options in football. For example, I could become a sporting director or manager, or I could leave football. I am still an ambassador for UNICEF Japan. When I finish my current career, I can do more footwork as an ambassador and go to different places. There are many things I want to do, so I want to think carefully about the cards I have in my hand before I decide. At this stage, nothing has been decided yet."
bundesliga.com: You are currently studying to become a coach. From which perspective do you view Eintracht's games: as a player or as a coach?
Hasebe: "Since taking part in the coach training programme in Germany, I have gained a more detailed perspective, not only in terms of tactics, but also in terms of team management. The current coach, Dino Toppmöller, is very detailed tactically and has a lot of knowledge that I didn't have before. Working with him has been very good for me and brings me a lot. I learn something new every day."
bundesliga.com: In November of the year before last, Eintracht played a friendly match in Japan, which was a triumphant return game for you. Do you remember anything like the cheers of the fans and the atmosphere at the time?
Hasebe: "Unfortunately, I couldn't play for long as I was still injured and not in the best condition. What made me happier than the game was when I saw the Urawa jersey and the national team jersey labelled Hasebe at Saitama Stadium, my old stadium, and of course in Osaka. After the game, I walked around the stadium and was very touched when I saw that many people had brought my jersey from back then. As I normally live in Germany and have retired from the national team, I don't often meet Japanese football fans, but I will never forget the feeling of happiness I felt when I walked round the stadium one last time."
bundesliga.com: You are a legend of the Bundesliga and Eintracht Frankfurt. What does Eintracht Frankfurt mean to you?
Hasebe: "When I came to Eintracht Frankfurt, I was already 30 years old. When I came here, I had no idea that I would play for another 10 seasons. Back then, Eintracht were always fighting to stay in the Bundesliga and our goal was to stay in the Bundesliga. In the last 10 years, we've been in the Champions League, won the Europa League and the cup and the team has become bigger and bigger, and in recent years we have developed into a team that always has the goal of playing in the Champions League. I'm particularly pleased with the team's development because ten years ago I had the experience of fighting to stay in the league and playing in the relegation play-off. The last 10 years have been a really great experience for me and I feel that this team has become my favorite club. I've been here the longest as a player."
Watch: Eintracht Frankfurt - Japan 2022 tour highlights
bundesliga.com: And what does the Bundesliga mean to you?
Hasebe: "I came to Germany in 2007 and have already played 16 seasons. I had the opportunity to move to other countries and of course there were times when I thought about it. But in the end, I was able to play in the Bundesliga for a long time and found the club of my heart in Eintracht Frankfurt. I'm very happy to be playing in the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga has changed a lot in the last 16 years. When I first came here in 2008, the stadium wasn't that good and there was a lot of long balls and physical contact. Now the stadium is better and the player's environment is much better. There are a lot of fans and supporters and that hasn't changed. I've been in the Bundesliga for a very long time and I'm very impressed with how the Bundesliga is developing now. But of course there are challenges and there is still a lot to do for the Bundesliga to develop in the future, and as one of the players who has been here for a long time, I think a lot about that."
bundesliga.com: You have been active in the Bundesliga for a long time, how do you rate the potential of the Japanese players?
Hasebe: "The basic requirement is that the Bundesliga has rules that facilitate the transfer of Japanese players as well as players from other countries. The German style of football also suits the Japanese. Of course, it doesn't suit all Japanese players. It is a fact that Japanese players have been playing in the Bundesliga for a long time and the way Japanese are perceived is positive to a certain extent. I also think that the Japanese way of training and approaching football suits the Bundesliga very well."
bundesliga.com: The positive impression of Japanese players in Germany can be attributed to you...
Hasebe: "I already seem to think like a half-German, you know. It's a great achievement that not only I, but also many other Japanese players are successful in the Bundesliga."
Hasebe: "Yes, I did. In my second season in Germany, I won the championship with Wolfsburg, and it took a while from then on, but I won the cup with Eintracht Frankfurt and the Europa League. I think I'm lucky. I have a good connection to titles. When I played in Japan, I won a lot of titles with the Urawa Reds. But I'm more fortunate here to have won so many titles without being at a top club like Bayern Munich or Dortmund, and that's a bit of a strange coincidence for me."
bundesliga.com: How has the Bundesliga changed in recent years?
Hasebe: "I have the impression that the Bundesliga is now the right place to develop further. Of course, it's different for big clubs like Bayern. I think there is a trend for German teams to buy players from other countries, for example from France, and if the player does well in Germany, the big clubs from other countries buy him. In my long time in the Bundesliga, I have the feeling that the most important thing for this league is the fans who come to the stadiums and the football culture. After all, in my opinion, the Bundesliga is the Bundesliga because of the fans and supporters. The Bundesliga has the highest attendances in the world and it's great that we have such a sophisticated and wonderful group of football lovers. Nurturing the fans is the most important thing for the future growth of the Bundesliga. It is important to find a balance between nurturing the fans and developing the Bundesliga into one of the best leagues in the world. The same applies to the issue of investors. I think it's very important to find a way to deal with the existing football culture."
bundesliga.com: What have you changed or not changed in recent years?
Hasebe: "I'm not that incredibly stubborn. What really hasn't changed is that there are many things you can sacrifice for the sake of football. Apart from that, I'm flexible when it comes to things that change. You have to be flexible because the environment is constantly changing. People say I'm serious, but I don't stay that way."
bundesliga.com: Have you not changed and adapted to the environment in recent years?
Hasebe: "Yes, I think so.”
bundesliga.com: What is important to you outside of football and what do you prioritise in your private life?
Hasebe: "Footballers actually have time. After training in the morning, we are free at 2 pm. So I can pick up my children and play with them a bit, and I can spend a lot of time with my family. I have games at the weekend and it's not always easy to find time for them. On weekdays, I have more time and try to spend as much time as possible with my family. This is a very relaxing time for me. This time is my private and important time away from football."
bundesliga.com: How do you spend your time in Japan during your holidays? Do you meet a lot of footballers and get advice for your career?
Hasebe: "No, I don't think about that when I'm on holiday. Anyway, I see friends and older footballers. I don't like talking about difficult things when I'm on holiday, so I spend my time with people I know well and see my family."
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