“Oh no!” is not a phrase fans of Western Sydney Wanderers will be hoping to hear Simon Hill bellow in his polished Mancunian accent any time soon.
But they may hear a derivative of it if the Hyundai A-League’s newest club signs one of Japan’s greatest ever talents.
Shinji Ono is on the verge of signing for the Wanderers after falling out of favour with his hometown club Shimizu S-Pulse.
Should they land their target, Wanderers officials will hope Ono can make a name for himself on the pitch and not for the succession of debilitating injuries that have cursed the career of one of Asian football’s most enigmatic players.
The likes of Yasuhiko Okudera, Kazu Miura and Hidetoshi Nakata may have earned greater global acclaim but few would argue that in his prime, Ono trumped them all in terms of sheer natural ability.
It’s not for nothing he featured as an 18-year-old at Japan’s first ever World Cup finals before starring in the Feyenoord team which won the UEF A Cup in 2002 four years later.
Sadly for Ono his first spell in European football was plagued by injuries and resulted in him returning to his first professional club, J. League giants Urawa Reds.
But the mercurial midfielder soon picked up where he left off, so much so that after a brief second spell with the Saitama side Ono was on his way back to Europe, this time joining Bundesliga outfit Bochum.
Yet again Ono found himself struck down by injuries and after playing barely 30 games for the German club, he asked that his contract be terminated to return home to spend more time with his young family.
And there was one J. League club determined to make Ono feel more at home than any other – his hometown team Shimizu S-Pulse.
As a teenager Ono learned his trade at the famed Shimizu Commercial High School, long renowned for producing some of Japan’s best ever football talent.
I used to live just down the road from the school and once asked one of its physical education teachers who the best player he’d ever seen grace the school’s pock-marked dirt pitch was.
“Shinji Ono” he replied without hesitation – not a bad endorsement for a school which produced such famous players as Hiroshi Nanami, Toshiya Fujita and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.
The teacher in question was a former professional player and he was far from alone in being impressed by Ono’s skills.
In the German sports magazine Kicker, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck called Ono a “remarkable player … extremely creative and technically accomplished.”
He possesses “an extraordinary shooting technique and an extremely dangerous free-kick,” added a man who knows a thing or two about Ono – Osieck was his coach at Urawa in 2007.
But it’s all gone pear-shaped for a player who won 56 caps in a decade-long career for Japan, with Ono now being squeezed out by a Shimizu side looking to regenerate.
With S-Pulse desperate to end a 20-year J. League title drought, the Shizuoka club are keen to get high-earners Ono and fellow hometown hero Naohiro Takahara off their books in a bid to start over.
Shimizu’s loss could be Western Sydney’s gain but even if the Japanese star arrives at half the cost of former Germany captain Michael Ballack, he still represents a gamble.
For one thing he hasn’t played a full 90 minutes for years and even if he wanted to, it’s questionable Ono’s injury-riddled knees would even hold up in the rough and tumble of A-League football.
And even if he’s match-fit – Ono’s last taste of J. League action came as far back as July 28 – there’s still the question of how quickly he can integrate into a new club far from home.
Gamble or not, Ono will forever remain one of the most talented players in Japan’s recent football history.
Today is his birthday, so now is the time for Wanderers fans to roll out the tatami welcome mat, wish him a happy birthday and say “oh yes” to the prospect of Shinji Ono lighting up the A-League.
The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.
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