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Ogura's J.League career is finally over

20 Feb 2006(Mon)

February 17, 2006: The article I read the other day was only three or four paragraphs long, but it still made a big impact.

The subject was Takafumi Ogura, and the announcement that his J.League career was finally over.

The reason why it was such a short news item is obvious: because Ogura, now 32, had not played in the first division since 2002, and was a fading force before that.

But I will never forget the comments of Arsene Wenger after Ogura, young and fit, had scored twice for Grampus in the 5-1 demolition of Kashima Antlers in the Emperor's Cup semi-final in 1995.

I was visiting Tokyo at the time from Hong Kong, and wanted to see the match and also catch up with Wenger, whom I had met in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in the autumn of 1994, after he had left Monaco and before he became Grampus coach.

In the after-match press conference, Wenger was asked about Ogura, and said that Ogura "could be as good as he wanted to be." This was high praise indeed from Wenger, who recognised all the qualities in Ogura to make him a success at the highest level, on the international stage. The raw material and the natural talent was there, Wenger was saying, and it was now down to attitude and a strong work ethic on behalf of the player.

But professional football can be very cruel as well as kind, and only two months later, during Japan's Olympic team training camp in Malaysia in February 1996, Ogura suffered a serious knee injury, ruling him out of the final qualifying round and also the Atlanta Games.

Ogura, it is widely regarded, was never the same again, and after leaving Grampus in 1999 he drifted from JEF United to Verdy to Sapporo and finally to Kofu, where he played from 2003.

Nicknamed "Lefty Monster", Ogura will be remembered as one of the best left-footed players Japan has ever produced. With a powerful physique, and a 1.83-metre frame, he had it all, but was never able to fulfil his potential due to that terrible injury.

He had already scored a goal for Japan against a star-studded France team in the Kirin Cup in May 1994, albeit in a 4-1 defeat, and the following season netted 14 goals in 37 league games for Grampus, in Wenger's first season as coach (and five goals in five Emperor's Cup games).

A couple of days after reading the short article on Ogura, I saw him on TV on Saturday night in a football show, still in good heart.

No one will ever know how good he could have been, but he proved, throughout his career, that he did have the right attitude and a strong work ethic to match that early talent.

And that's just what Wenger would have wanted to see.

ends

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