Big in Australia: Marquee man Shinji Ono (centre) leads the way at Wanderers training on Thursday. Photo: Brendan Esposito Western Sydney Wanderers are just 180 minutes away from clinching one of the more spectacular fairytale stories of Australian sport. But the A-League’s greatest prize means much more than glory and sentiment for Shinji Ono.
Just nine months ago, sections of the Japanese media boldly stated that Ono’s decorated 15-year career was over. The former star of the Blue Samurai struggled to finish games and spent lengthy spells languishing in the physio room at his hometown club, Shimizu S-Pulse. With his eminence deteriorating at a faster pace than the condition of his knee, Ono decided to roll the dice once more when he was presented with the opportunity to move to Australia. Now, with the Premiers’ Plate in one hand and the other within reach of the A-League ring, Ono has no doubts that the faith of coach Tony Popovic saved his career.
”In Japan, some people say ‘Shinji Ono is already finished’ … because I didn’t play for five, six months,” Ono says. ”I just believe in myself all the time that I can do more. At the time, Tony Popovic called me and [asked] if I want to, to come to our team to play. I was very happy, he saved my life.”
Ono assured the Wanderers boss that the worst of his injury woes were in the past but he was still struggling to regain match fitness. With a new team, in a new league, in a new country, Ono had little information to predict his performance. His task of guiding the Wanderers became all the more difficult when he was immediately branded one of the three poster-boys of the competition. Arriving only a matter of days after Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey, Ono was warned that his reception at Sydney was not going to be a quiet affair. The 33-year-old was still unprepared for the fanfare and subsequent pressure that greeted his entrance.
”[There] was big pressure because before five, six months I didn’t play before I came here. Not one game. So I don’t know how I can do, how I can help, I didn’t know,” Ono says. ”Because Del Piero and Heskey score a lot before I score, I have also big pressure … The people like big names, but I told you all the time, I’m not big player like the other two players. I have some big pressure but also the same time, I always thought when I score one, the next goal comes so quickly. I knew that. I always try to have patience and just believe myself to try to have hard work every day.”
Twenty-four games, seven goals and one premiership later, Ono relieved the burden of expectation and attributes his success in the A-League to a coach he says is the best he has ever played for.
”First thing, I believe him, I just didn’t know about this team,” Ono says. ”I have been together with this team, training with the boys and I believe. After more time training with the team, I believe more.”
After shaking off a niggling groin injury and declared fit to play in Friday night’s semi-final against Brisbane Roar, Ono reiterates his disinterest in the Japanese media’s opinion of him. Although there’s no hiding his desire to prove a point to some of his doubters in his homeland. The Wanderers have already secured their path to next year’s Asian Champions League, and while the group stage draw remains some time away, Ono has his hopes set on only one outcome.
”I hope to play any Japanese club,” he says. ”It doesn’t matter which … We have confidence to beat them. Already we’re excited to play Asia but now we have play-offs, we want to achieve more with the club. We want to get another title.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.