Consadole Sapporo's former Japan and Feyenoord playmaker Shinji Ono, currently the oldest active player in the J-League first division, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of the season.
Ono, often referred to as a "genius" for being one of the most technically gifted footballers Japan has ever produced, remains the country's youngest to compete at a World Cup at 18 years old during his and Samurai Blue's 1998 tournament debut in France.
Ono was also the first Japanese to lift a major European trophy when he won the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League, in 2002, his first season after moving to the Dutch powerhouse from Urawa Reds the previous summer.
"As my feet, who've been my partners for the 39 years since I met football, are saying it's about time for me to get them some rest, I've decided to end my path as a professional footballer at the end of the season," Ono said in an Instagram post Wednesday, his 44th birthday.
"There are still some games left this season, and I'll keep preparing well to be involved as much as I can."
The Shizuoka Prefecture native joined Urawa Reds in 1998, just months before his first World Cup and guided his nation to the runners-up spot at the 1999 World Youth Championship, now called the U-20 World Cup, in Nigeria, leading a "golden generation" of players that included midfielders Junichi Inamoto, Yasuhito Endo and striker Naohiro Takahara.
Ono, who also played at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, scored six goals in 56 matches for Japan.
At the club level, Ono returned to Urawa from Feyenoord in 2006 and won the J1, Emperor's Cup and Asian Champions League titles with Reds over the next two seasons.
He went on to have stints at Bochum, Shimizu S-Pulse, Western Sydney Wanderers, Sapporo and Okinawa-based FC Ryukyu, then in the Japanese second tier, before returning to Sapporo in 2021.
Ono has scored 29 goals in 206 J1 games. The veteran has been limited to two Emperor's Cup appearances this season.