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[ODDS and EVENS] Makoto Hasebe, 40, Leaves Big Impact on the German Bundesliga

Former Samurai Blue captain Makoto Hasebe spent the bulk of his pro soccer career in Germany, earning the respect of his peers along the way.

Makoto Hasebe has had a noteworthy professional soccer career, in part due to his longevity as a player. But perhaps even more for his durability and consistency.

Season after season, especially during the bulk of his career in the German Bundesliga (since 2008), the Shizuoka Prefecture native had a rock-solid presence in the lineup as a center back or defensive midfielder. After stints with VfL Wolfsburg (2008-13) and FC Nurnberg (2013-14), Hasebe became a fixture in the Eintracht Frankfurt lineup when he joined the squad before the 2014-15 campaign.

In addition, he had a long stint as the Japan national team captain (2010-18), an indication that a string of Samurai Blue managers (Alberto Zaccheroni, Javier Aguirre, Vahid Halilhodzic and Akira Nishino) valued his leadership skills on and off the field. He appeared in three FIFA World Cups in that span and earned 114 caps with the national team.

Makoto Hasebe
Japan's Makoto Hasebe plays against Denmark in a 2010 FIFA World Cup match in Rustenburg, South Africa. (KYODO)

Hasebe also appeared in 20 or more Bundesliga matches in each of his first seven seasons with Eintracht.

Now 40 ― he celebrated his birthday on January 18 ― Hasebe said he's ready to begin the next chapter of his life. On Wednesday, April 17, he revealed this will be his final season as a player. Eintracht will play their final Bundesliga match on May 18 against RB Leipzig.

He's played the sixth-most matches (383) in the history of the German Bundesliga.

Makoto Hasebe
Makoto Hasebe (KYODO)

Makoto Hasebe Makes a Formal Retirement Announcement

"I will retire from football at the end of this season," Hasebe was quoted as saying by Reuters on Wednesday. "I'm announcing that today because I want to concentrate on the run-in [to the season's end] with the team.

"We really want to secure sixth place and I'm looking forward to watching Eintracht in European action from the couch next season, or traveling with the great fans and watching the games from the stands."

According to the Reuters report, Hasebe plans to begin working as a coach for Frankfurt's soccer academy after the season.

With each of the Bundesliga's 18 clubs having played 29 matches this season (through Monday, April 15), Eintracht are in sixth place with 42 points (10 wins, 12 draws, seven defeats). Leverkusen have already wrapped up the season title with 79 points (25 wins, four losses).

Hasebe has played a limited role this season, stepping onto the pitch in just seven Bundesliga matches.

This is, of course, nothing unusual for a player after more than 20 years in the pros.

Hasebe made his J.League debut with Urawa Reds in 2003. He helped the squad achieve success in various competitions, including back-to-back Emperor's Cup crowns in 2005 and '06, the Japanese Super Cup in 2006, the J.League season title in 2006 and the Asian Champions League title in 2007.

Makoto Hasebe
Former VfL Wolfsburg player Makoto Hasebe in action in an August 2013 file photo. (KYODO)

Hasebe Embraced His Role as a Mentor

At this stage of Hasebe's career, in the final countdown to retirement, he acknowledged that he's content to mostly serve as a mentor to Eintracht's younger players. And there's a specific way he goes about doing this.

"Of course, I'm the oldest player," Hasebe said in a January 2024 interview with the Bundesliga's official website. "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. [And] I think I can play that role."

Eintracht collected a pair of major trophies during Hasebe's tenure with the club, winning the 2017-18 German Cup and the 2021-22 UEFA Europa League. And VfL Wolfsburg claimed the 2008-09 Bundesliga season title.

Makoto Hasebe
Makoto Hasebe (right) and Eintracht Frankfurt teammate Daichi Kamada celebrate the team's Europa League title in May 2022. (KYODO)

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Savoring Success and Celebrating with Teammates

So Hasebe has experienced the thrill of victory in various stages of his career. Equally memorable as his pro career winds down is the camaraderie he's shared with his Eintracht teammates and the coaching staff.

This was evident in how he described celebrating one of the biggest days of his life, his 40th birthday, on January 18.

"The coach and the sporting director gathered all the players in a meeting room and then gave me their personal messages," Hasebe told Bundesliga.com. "That was very special because they don't do that with other players." 

Hasebe then said, "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."

Only a few months later, Makoto Hasebe should keep the memories of his 40th birthday celebrations in his mind's eye forever ― just like any big goal he witnessed or was a part of during his career. And the positive impact he made in game and seasons along the way.

For example, after a scoreless draw in a UEFA Champions League match in October 2022 against English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp commended Hasebe's role in preventing Harry Kane from scoring.

"Today, against Harry Kane, he's probably physically not as strong but he had him under control," Trapp said, according to German broadcaster DW.

"You know you can give him the ball and he gives the team the confidence it needs. He's a hugely important player for us..."

Trapp's words remain a fitting tribute to Hasebe.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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