Much like his conspicuously calm, unflappable playing style, Yasuhito Endo, who holds the Japan and J-League first-division appearance record, signed off without a fuss on Jan. 9.

The 43-year-old midfielder, dubbed "the heart of Japan" by former national team manager Takeshi Okada, guided Jubilo Iwata to J1 promotion last season before drawing the curtain on his 26-year career suddenly and unceremoniously, without even a press conference.

"I felt it's not like me to hold one and talk seriously, and off-season is off-season. I want to thoroughly enjoy it," a typically even-toned Endo said in what passed for a farewell speech, a five-minute post on YouTube.

Japan's Yasuhito Endo (7) scores a free-kick during a World Cup Group E match against Denmark at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, on June 24, 2010. (Kyodo)

The last active player from his first professional club Yokohama Flugels, who disbanded after winning the Emperor's Cup on New Year's Day in 1999 at the end of his first season, Endo went on to spend his entire career in Japan amassing 672 J1 appearances with Kyoto Sanga, Gamba Osaka and Iwata.

The Kagoshima Prefecture native won two J1 titles (2005 and 2014) and one Asian Champions League trophy (2008) with Gamba. Voted among the J-League's best eleven a record 12 times, Endo was also named the best player in 2014 and for the whole of the league's 30-year history on its anniversary last year.

While not blessed with pace or power, Endo had the poise to dictate the tempo and the vision to read the flow of the game, underpinned by immaculate ball control and passing prowess that never left him fazed under pressure.

His ability to bring the best out of his teammates was also treasured by managers and teammates, with current Japan attacker Ritsu Doan saluting Endo upon his retirement as "a really amazing captain who let youngsters play vibrantly," following their time together at Gamba.

A member of the Japan side that were runners-up at the U-20 World Cup in 1999 alongside Shinji Ono and Naohiro Takahara, both of whom also retired at the end of 2023, Endo was on the fringes early in his senior international career, being the only field player chosen but not played by Japan manager Zico at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Japan's Yasuhito Endo (R) in action England during the second half of a South Africa World Cup warm-up match in Graz, Austria, on May 30, 2010. (Kyodo)

Endo finally established himself under Ivica Osim and remained a vital cog under his successors Okada and Alberto Zaccheroni, with his goal from a free-kick against Denmark at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa etched in the memories of many along with his softly struck but cunning penalty kicks down the years for club and country.

After the 2010 tournament, the then 30-year-old could actually have been the first Endo to join Liverpool -- some 13 years before his namesake Wataru, currently captaining Japan at the Asian Cup in Qatar, joined the English Premier League powerhouse also aged 30.

Reports linked Endo with the club then led by Roy Hodgson and while the move never materialized, the imperturbable playmaker went about his business as usual and made his third World Cup finals in 2014 in Brazil en route to racking up a whopping 152 international caps.

Gamba Osaka's Yasuhito Endo scores a penalty against Manchester United during the second half of a Club World Cup semifinal at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Dec. 18, 2008. (Kyodo)

He did not get the level of international recognition he probably merited, but Endo promised to keep delivering for Japan in the next chapter of his life as a coach at Gamba.

"I thank you all for the cheers, boos, jeers, everything for this long time. It's been a really enjoyable footballing career," said Endo, witty to the end.

"I want a player to emerge who can eclipse my numbers, although part of me doesn't want that to happen. But I definitely want to nurture as many captivating players as I can."

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Football: Longest-serving Japan international Yasuhito Endo retires