Former Japan national football team captain Hasebe Makoto enjoyed a successful career in the German Bundesliga. The 38-year-old shows no signs of slowing down, having won the 2022 UEFA Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt and signed a five-year contract extension with the club, with promises of a longer coaching job. late. He is undoubtedly the reference for the growing number of Japanese players who take their talents abroad. A sports journalist who has followed Hasebe since his early days in the J. League takes a look at what helped him thrive for so long in one of the best leagues in the world.
Creation of a character
Hasebe Makoto is hard to pin down. In his 2011 bestseller Kokoro o totonoeru: Shōri o taguri yoseru taming no 56 no shūkan (Priming the Mind: 56 Winning Habits) he describes himself as “serious”, “a leader”, and “calm and collected”. But is that really who he is, or just an image designed for the public?
During his 15 years playing in the German Bundesliga, Hasebe was the epitome of someone who was organised, disciplined and intelligent. At the same time, fans know he’s more than capable of asserting himself when called upon.
Hasebe can get by in German and isn’t afraid to speak his mind to the press. Local journalists often seek him out to speak on matters relating to the club or his teammates, which he does, sometimes sounding more like a manager than a player. He is outspoken yet laid-back, traits that have been important to his resilience on the European football scene.
A native of Shizuoka Prefecture, Hasebe was 18 when he joined J. League team Urawa Reds from Fujieda Higashi High School. He was full of youthful vigor and ambition. Far from being a top rookie, however, he had to fight through disappointment to earn a spot on the roster.
Hasebe spent his rookie season with Urawa playing in the reserve league, and I still remember one game in particular from that time. His family had traveled from Shizuoka to see him perform, but Hasebe never got the green light and was stuck on the bench for the duration of the contest. Adding insult to injury, he was the only player on the roster to see no playing time. It was an embarrassing snub. After the game, I spotted him standing off to the side, alone. “They’ve come all this way,” he whispered tearfully, burying his head in his hands.
By his second season, however, Hasebe had earned a starting spot on Urawa’s senior team. He made his debut in a league cup contest, taking to the pitch as his family watched proudly. The event was made all the more emotional as her mother clutched a framed photo of Hasebe’s recently deceased grandfather. What was supposed to be a red day, however, ended in bitter disappointment for Hasebe when he was sent off for a second booking. Even now, I remember the despondent look on his face as he let down his family and others who had come to support him.
Hasebe overcame these setbacks to gradually build a reputation as one of the best players in the league. In 2008, wanting to play abroad, he set his sights on the Bundesliga. In Germany, he gradually built a reputation for poise and confidence through his exploits in one of Europe’s top leagues, traits he also displayed as captain of the Japanese national team. He solidified his public image with his aforementioned book, in whose pages he exhibited his intelligence by exposing the daily habits and thinking that had placed him at the pinnacle of Japanese football.
be able to stay
Outwardly the image of confidence, in reality, Hasebe had to learn to deal with the trials and tribulations of playing abroad. When he joined Wolfsburg from Urawa, for example, the stress of adapting to the customs and language of a new country and the pressure of playing in one of the world’s top leagues triggered a country so intense that he considered returning to Japan after only a month in Germany. To get through this, he called his family almost daily to discuss his concerns.
Not wanting to be intimidated by his insecurities, Hasebe set out to adapt to his new surroundings, including making a point of learning German. I visited Wolfsburg shortly after he joined the club and was impressed with his dedication to this quest. One evening, when inviting me to dinner, he showed up with an electronic dictionary (smartphones hadn’t yet taken hold) which he used to bombard the young woman who was serving us with questions.
“I’ve become a regular here,” he said before admitting that his clientele was more than culinary: the waitress helped him with his German. I was surprised to see this side of Hasebe, but he stressed that now was not the time to be shy. “I will never learn to speak competently unless I step out of my comfort zone.”
Hasebe is a meticulous person and in a way this helped him adapt to life in a foreign country. For example, he carefully plans each day in advance, including when he’ll wake up, where he’ll go, what he’ll eat, and even when he’ll get home. This has earned him a reputation for meticulousness, but since he derives great satisfaction from following his plans to the letter, it’s not a trait he needs to work on.
Such attention to detail contrasts with the irregular schedules imposed on professional players by the whims of managers, who may reward a team with extra days off after a win or suddenly call everyone to train after a loss. However, here too, Hasebe has learned to adapt and even use the constant reshuffling to his advantage, for example sneaking around places like Paris or Rome when there is a sudden break in the training schedule.
“Living in Germany taught me to be resilient,” he laughs. “When events throw a spanner in the works, I am content to take the blows.” Such was the case when Hasebe found himself stranded 360 kilometers from home after an away game.
Bundesliga players are subject to random doping tests after matches as part of the league’s anti-doping policy. However, the rigors of play can strip bodily fluids to the point that a player may need several hours to produce the amount of urine needed for a test. After such an incident, Hasebe walked out of the testing area to find that the team bus had left without him. With no other option, he hitchhiked with one of the club staff.
Traveling down the highway at about 200 kilometers per hour, the car made the return trip in about three hours. “We pushed the bus back,” Hasebe laughs. “It was one of many remarkable experiences I have had.”
Hasebe’s meticulous planning has become a favorite topic for football journalists in Germany, who like to poke him about his eccentricities, knowing he will respond with complete sincerity. For example, a reporter might ask if he still follows his daily routine of arriving at the clubhouse two hours early to warm up, going straight home after practice to soak in the tub for half a hour, then go to bed at 10:30 a.m. , fully aware of what the answer will be.
Hasebe, for her part, isn’t shy about playing straight during these lighthearted interactions. “It’s easier to meet people’s expectations,” he says with a smile. “If people assume something about my personality, like I’m hyper-organized, then that’s what I give them. I’ve learned that it’s easier to adapt to people’s perceptions, even if it’s is not who I really am as a person.
World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, July 2, 2018. He captained Japan at the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups. (© Jiji )”/>
Preparing for a new role
Professional soccer players are usually keen to consider their next pre-retirement decision, such as going into business or getting a coaching license. Hasebe, on the other hand, remained laser-focused as always on his playing duties.
However, his stance changed after he signed a five-year extension with Eintracht Frankfurt which will keep him at the club until 2027. Hasebe has committed to play for the 2022-23 season, but said he has intend to take it back year after year after that. He has also signed a contract giving him a coaching job at the club when he retires, raising the possibility of him hanging up his boots sooner rather than later.
“I spoke with the team about a coaching position later,” admits Hasebe. Although he hinted that this next season would probably be his last, he stops short of drawing the curtain back on his playing career. “It’s over a year away. I might finish the season and find that I’m not quite ready to quit. »
As part of his new contract, Hasebe will take a coaching course through the German Football Federation governing body’s Players Pathway program with the aim of obtaining his UEFA B coaching licence. from his course work and his playing duties, he will make his debut as a manager by coaching young adolescent players.
Hasebe has expressed his intention to stay in Germany after he finishes playing, and obtaining his coaching license will set him on a new career path in his adopted country. He acknowledges, however, that the transition from player to manager will take time. “I find out how different the two are. At the moment, I still prefer to enter the pitch rather than watch from the touchline.
The passion and poise that Hasebe shows is what makes him so exciting to watch as a player. These traits will definitely stand him in good stead as he prepares for the next stage of his football career.
(Originally posted in Japanese. Banner Photo: Hasebe Makoto, centre, celebrates with his Frankfurt teammates after winning the UEFA Europa League Final in Seville, Spain, May 18, 2022, giving the club his first major title in 42 years. © Kyōdō.)