Shinji Ono might have gone quietly into the night but his genius will linger long in the memory

Japan legend Shinji Ono's 25-year career came to an end on Sunday when he played his final game at the age of 44 -- fittingly against Urawa Red Diamonds, the club where it all began back in 1998. Masashi Hara/Getty Images

At the ripe old age of 44, Shinji Ono finally called time on his career on Sunday.

25 years after he made his professional debut, Ono led Consadole Sapporo out one last time in their J1 League season finale -- poetically against Urawa Red Diamonds, who he debuted with -- before coming off in the 22nd minute to a rapturous ovation at Sapporo Dome.

His swansong was to be his sole league appearance in 2023. He also featured in the one league game last term, and mustered just four the previous year.

Having played just 35 league minutes in these past three seasons, it has been apparent for some time now that Ono's storied career was slowly but surely coming to an end and yet, that hardly means he has not contributed to Consadole in recent years.

The sheer presence of a figure as influential and respected as Ono means his value -- in recent times -- has come off the field rather than on it.

During his spell with Consadole, Thailand star Chanathip Songkrasin recounted how Ono, even into his forties, was still one of the most technically gifted players in training.

A quick glance at his physique, even from his final outing on Sunday, suggests he could even handle the physical demands of playing on even for another season or two.

But as has been the case throughout his career, injuries have not been kind to Ono and they certainly taken their toll.

It is perhaps for that reason, as well as his aversion to the limelight, that the 56-capped Japan international is not always mentioned in the same breath as other luminaries from his generation such as Hidetoshi Nakata and Junichi Inamoto, and even those who followed in their footsteps such as Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Yet, as his career came to an end on the weekend amid little fanfare outside of Japan, it can be guaranteed that his brilliance will live on in the memories of those who had the pleasure of watching him in the past.

His raw talent saw him become the youngest player in the Japan squad for their FIFA World Cup debut in 1998 at only 18.

After starring consistenly for Urawa, Europe soon came calling in the form of Eredivisie giants Feyenoord and it did not take long for him to establish himself as a important first-team player -- winning the now-defunct UEFA Cup along the way in 2002.

Equally adept on either foot with a glorious passing range but with his greatest weapon arguably his vision to see the play before it unfolded, Ono was at his best when he was allowed the freedom to roam wherever he wished on the pitch.

Netherlands legend Wesley Sneijder was once quoted identifying Ono as his toughest direct opponent, while his Japanese nickname (天才 or tensai) simply means "genius".

Even in his later years, when he made Australia's A-League his final overseas stop, it did not take long for him to be adored by the Western Sydney Wanderers faithful -- especially after a world-class brace that inspired a win over Melbourne Victory.

The first saw him effortlessly control a looping clearance while moving away from goal before throwing in a a casual juggle that got him facing the right direction and then clinically firing through the legs of a defender and into the bottom corner, all without the ball ever touching the ground once.

The second, far less complicated but arguably more exquisite, saw him receive possession on the edge of the area, steady himself as he took a half-second to assess what his best option was before proceeding to bend a sublime curling effort inside the post.

And when considering that Ono usually preferred to lay on an assist rather than go for goal despite his penchant for the spectacular, it perhaps begs the question just how much more iconic a player he might have been had he just been slightly less selfless.

Now that all is said and done, he may not be among the first names that spring to mind in a conversation around the best players Asian football has produced.

But as he goes quietly into the night -- which perhaps might just be the way he would have preferred it to be -- the genius of Ono will linger on in the memory of those who witnessed it over the past 25 years, all the way from Japan to Rotterdam, Parramatta and back again.