thumbnail Hello,

In the first in our series of profiles on legendary J-League players, Goal reflects on the career of Gamba Osaka and Japan star Yasuhito Endo

Few players have marked the history of Japanese professional football through the years as Yasuhito Endo has.

Although his loyalty to Gamba Osaka has limited him to just six club trophies between 2005 and 2009, his individual achievements and his record with the country’s national team make him one of the greatest Japanese players ever.
Endo can comfortably occupy any position in midfield, but has excelled as a playmaker. He's gifted with an innate sense of positioning, a skill that has helped him to shine despite his lack of speed.

His capacity for reading the game has allowed Endo to be as proficient at stealing and intercepting the ball as he is at quickly and proficiently distributing it. He also has a very respectable record as a goal-scorer, thanks to his accurate and lethal lethal free kicks.

Endo was born in 1980 in Kagoshima. While the city, located at the very tip of Kyushu, still lacks a professional football team even, “Yatto” grew up in a football family along with two brothers who also played the sport, and as a teenager became a star at Jitsugyo High School, one of the top schools for football in Japan.

Endo had a traumatic introduction to professional football; after moving to Yokohama to join Fluegels in 1998, the club folded at the end of the season due to financial troubles.

"It was totally shocking," he recalled in a 2011 interview, "My teammates and I feared for our careers; we really had no idea of what would be of us."

Endo luckily was picked up by Kyoto Purple Sanga, where in 1999 and 2000 he played alongside talented players such as Kazuyoshi Miura and fellow Jitsugyo product Daisuke Matsui. Yet despite the wealth of talent, Sanga were relegated at the end of the 2000 season and Endo moved some 50 kilometers west to Gamba Osaka.

Beginning in 2001, Endo gradually became a key player for and ultimately the symbol of Gamba, where he was a crucial player in the campaigns that marked the best years of the club history.

Endo is famous for his cool demeanor on and off the pitch, with a no-nonsense attitude in interviews. A rare J-Leaguer without an interest in automobiles, he’s in fact teased by teammates for being a slow driver. The proud father of four children, Endo is also the author of several books and a weekly column called “Ashita yarou wa baka yaro, which translates as "It’s silly to do tomorrow what you can do today."

In 2005, Gamba Osaka snatched their first J.League championship title in dramatic fashion as cross-town rivals Cerezo stumbled on the league’s final day. Three years later, still led by Endo, they convincingly won the AFC Champions League with an undefeated campaign culminating in an aggregate 5-0 victory over Adelaide United.

In the prime of his career, Endo became known for his unique penalty kicking technique. He would study the movement of the goalkeeper during his approach, delivering the ball with extreme accuracy to the opposite post with a low, rolling kick. On December 18 2008, this ‘koro-koro’ (‘slowly rolling’ in Japanese) kick beat none other than Manchester United’s Edwin Van der Sar in the semifinal of the FIFA Club World Cup, just one of many highlights in Gamba’s memorable 5-3 defeat.
Endo got his first call from the national team in 2002, collecting a record 146 caps since then. He was a substitute player at the 2006 World Cup, but by South Africa had turned into the fulcrum of Japan’s game.

On June 24 2010, he scored a memorable free kick against Denmark in the third and final game of the group stage. "As soon as I kicked, I ran to celebrate the goal: I knew that it was going in," he commented about that magic moment. The game ended in a 3-1 victory for the Samurai Blue, worth a historical qualification to the Round of 16.

While Gamba have failed to collect any silverware since 2009, Endo’s individual achievements are legendary. Despite the club’s infamous 2012 relegation, in that year he was selected to the J-League’s Best XI for the ninth season in a row. In the following season, Endo promptly led his club back into the first division, and was naturally named the year’s best J2 player.

At 34 years old, Endo remains captain of Gamba Osaka and played in Brazil with Japan in his third World Cup. The only disappointment of his unforgettable career is that fans outside of Japan were never able to see his skills on display at a foreign club.

Follow Goal's J-League coverage on Facebook via the Goal x J-League page!