Despite being nicknamed ‘Grandpa’ by his Eintracht Frankfurt team-mates, Japan veteran Makoto Hasebe, 37, dreams of playing Champions League football again next season after extending his contract with the Bundesliga high-fliers.
The former Japan captain had planned to retire at the end of this season, but on Monday signed a contract extension until June 2022. Hasebe captained the Frankfurt side which beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the Bundesliga last month.
“I’m really happy and proud to be able to play in the Bundesliga next year at the age of 38 — that’s just amazing,” Hasebe told reporters on Wednesday. “A year ago, I was 99.9 percent sure that I would quit this summer.”
However, he is enjoying a new lease of life after switching from centre-back to midfield in January. When Frankfurt offered him an extra year, Hasebe jumped at the chance. “We didn’t even negotiate my salary.”
He made the last of his 114 appearances for Japan in their 2018 World Cup last-16 loss to Belgium in Russia. Hasebe says next season will probably “be my last” before hanging up his boots. More than a decade after playing in the Champions League group stage with former club Wolfsburg in 2009/10, he wants another crack with Eintracht.
Frankfurt, who haven’t played in the competition since losing the 1960 European Cup final to Real Madrid, sit fourth in the Bundesliga, three points ahead of fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen in the race for the Champions League. “It’s a huge dream to play in the Champions League again,” Hasebe said. “That’s a realistic goal, but we have to stay humble.”
Hasebe turns 38 in January, but he has no plans to emulate friend Kazuyoshi Miura, who still plays for J-League side FC Yokohama — at the age of 54. “We meet in Japan every summer and go out to dinner. He’s amazing,” said Hasebe. “We talk a lot about our fitness: he drinks almost no alcohol, always eats healthily and has two or three hours of treatments per day. He is my role model, even if it’s not my goal to play that long. I couldn’t do that.”
Hasebe’s team-mates regularly remind him that his 40s are approaching. “They made up a lot of nicknames: ‘Legend’, ‘Grandpa’, ‘Old man’,” he joked. “In Japan, people just call me ‘captain’ because I was the captain of the national team for eight years.”
Frankfurt visit second-placed RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga on Saturday.