Ono is a good signing, if his body can hold up
Western Sydney Wanderers new recruit Shinji Ono clashes with Socceroos' Brett Emerton during the Australia v Japan group game at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Picture: AFP
Perhaps a sign of getting old is when a player you have long admired is signed by a club you have taken note of, only for the majority of their fans to claim they have never heard of him.
Shinji Ono, one of the most talented Asian footballers of the past 15 years, will sign for Western Sydney Wanderers today.
Maybe a few words on the new man are in order.
With Japan losing 1-0 to Belgium after 59 minutes of a pressure-packed 2002 World Cup opener on home soil, Ono looked up and spotted striker Takayuki Suzuki some 40 yards away.
The then-Feyenoord midfielder proceeded to launch a pinpoint pass which dissected defenders Jacky Peeters and Daniel van Buyten and allowed Suzuki to get in behind the Belgian defence and poke home the equaliser.
Three minutes later, Ono left the pitch.
That pretty much sums up the career of one of the best passers of the ball to ever grace Asian football.
A monumentally influential player on the park – Ono was a key figure in the Feyenoord side which won the UEFA Cup – he is doomed to be the man whose debilitating injuries left him in the shadows of contemporaries Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura.
Perhaps that is why so many Wanderers fans were disappointed by the news Western Sydney would make Ono and not ex-German captain Michael Ballack their first ever marquee signing.
The majority of fans, at least from what I saw, complained that Ono simply wasn’t a big enough name compared to Ballack and that Ono’s signing would do little to boost ticket sales.
I think that’s a legitimate claim and it’s one I’m prepared to sympathise with.
But I have to draw the line at reading from some fans that the Wanderers have missed out on signing a ‘world class’ talent.
Shinji Ono was a world class talent.
On his day for Japan and for Feyenoord, Urawa Reds, Bochum and Shimizu S-Pulse his virtually unmatched range of passing, instinctive vision and superb dead-ball skills made him one of the most dangerous players anywhere in the world.
But was is the operative word.
Since returning to his hometown club Shimizu after an injury-riddled spell in the Bundesliga, Ono has rarely played more than 60 minutes per game.
At the start of this season he usually featured for no more than one half, before being frozen out altogether by S-Pulse officials.
Shimizu are keen to slash the wage bill in order to revamp their squad, hence the recent departure of Socceroos striker Alex Brosque and the impending exit of Ono.
But the worry for Western Sydney Wanderers – or at least it should be – is that even if Ono wanted to play full matches in the A-League, he simply may not have the physical capability to do so.
And with a history of knee injuries – not to mention a total of six major surgeries on a pair of porcelain feet – Ono is about as far from a sturdy, Ballack-like midfielder as you can get.
But that’s partly the point.
It’s not every day a player of Ono’s sheer technical skill is available to the A-League and when someone of his class pops up, they should be snapped up.
The Wanderers should be applauded for signing Ono, not criticised for ignoring Ballack.
But there is absolutely no doubt that signing Ono is a gamble.
If it comes off, the Wanderers should possess the key figure who steers them towards the finals.
If it doesn’t, it will be the sad final chapter in the career of a man whose brain should have made him the star Japanese player of his generation, only for his body to consistently let him down.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman
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