As Tomoya Inukai headed home the last-minute header that salvaged a point for Kashima Antlers on Sunday night, Atsuto Uchida knew that his career on the pitch is now well and truly over. Kashima’s 1-1 draw with Gamba Osaka at the Kashima Soccer Stadium was Uchida’s last match as a professional player, as earlier in the week, the 32-year old have announced his retirement from football once his contract with Kashima runs out at the end of August.
It was a book-ends type of ending for Uchida – the Shizuoka Prefecture native had started off his career as a spritely professional footballer at the age of 17 with Kashima in 2006 and 14 years later the right-back finished off his footballing adventure at the very club that he first represented. Uchida’s 14-year long adventure saw him revered as a legend at two clubs – Kashima, for whom he made 148 league appearances across two separate stints, and German Bundesliga giants Schalke 04, where he made 104 league appearances for the Royal Blues. Uchida also made 74 appearances for the Japan national team during his career, proving himself as a regular with the Samurai Blue squad.
Together with Kashima, Uchida won a menagerie of accolades – 3 J.League 1 titles, two Japanese Super Cups, an Emperor’s Cup, and an AFC Champions League title. Uchida also have won some silverware with Schalke, winning the 2010-11 DFB Pokal and the 2011 DFB Supercup with them. Last but not least, Uchida have also won an AFC Asian Cup with Japan in 2011.
The later years of Uchida’s career saw him battling a number of injuries, ranging from a combination of patella tendon irritation and knee injury during his final years in Schalke, a hamstring injury that limited his tenure at then 2.Bundesliga side Union Berlin to only 2 league appearances, and a number of knee and thigh injuries that kept him in and out of the Kashima squad during his second stint there. Uchida kept on persevering though and he kept pushing on forward, culminating in his final title as a professional player – the 2018 AFC Champions League trophy. Uchida was sidelined throughout the final, however he scored a crucial goal in the semifinal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings that ensured Kashima’s passage to the final.
After Sunday night’s match against Gamba was concluded, Uchida was given the time and space to give some parting remarks to everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. Uchida also received a number of parting messages from Kashima legends and other figures within the club, including a bouquet of flowers from none other than Brazilian legend Zico, whose name, like Uchida’s, was associated with Kashima’s footballing history.
“I see my veteran teammates putting their careers on the line everyday, the thing that has been the foundation of Kashima’s many trophies,” Uchida said, as quoted from Mainichi, “Because my body is not getting back to what it was before, I feel I am unable to provide that kind of example for my younger teammates. The weight of playing for my country, wearing the Japanese flag on my uniform, the pain and joy of playing in frantic German stadiums are now my treasures.”
We at Football Tribe Asia would like to wish Uchida a very happy retirement, a huge thank you for your contributions to not only Japanese and German football but also the sport in general, and a big good luck for your future endeavors!