End of the line

As anyone who’s ever seen an American teen drama knows, closure is vital. It’s also not especially easy…


It’s never easy bringing a relationship to an end. Breaking up with somebody, deciding to change jobs, or finally throwing out that pair of socks with the holes in; choosing the right moment is key.

One last time? After the next pay-cheque? Keep them as a back-up, “just in case”?

For footballers and their clubs it is often just as difficult to call time on an association, and this time of year is busy on that front. With the J.League off-season and the European transfer window having just swung open there are no end of comings and goings and will-he-won’t-hes to keep everybody occupied.

The biggest stories in the Premier League involve Frank Lampard, Theo Walcott and, as always, Mario Balotelli, all of whom’s futures are the subject of daily speculation.

For 34-year-old Lampard the writing is on the wall and it is nigh-on certain that his 12-year spell at Chelsea will conclude at the end of the season. The player seems keen to remain at the club where he has established himself as a great during their most prolonged period of success, but the prospect of becoming an increasingly peripheral figure is not appealing – particularly with the Brazil World Cup still a realistic target – and there will be no shortage of suitors both at home and abroad.

Tatsuya Tanaka rarely made it out of a bib due to persistent injuries

The protracted saga involving Walcott looks to have been resolved in the opposite direction, and after fluttering his eyelashes at a number of rival clubs and thrown some tantrums about his wage offers and whereabouts on the pitch he inconsistently runs about it appears that Arsenal do love him after all and will give in to his demands.

Balotelli is less of a long-term commitment kind of guy, and his tempestuous spell at Manchester City seems permanently to fluctuate between all-conquering love and leave-you-and-never-speak again. Last time I checked he was fighting with his coach Roberto Mancini on the training pitch, and whether they’ll have kissed and made up or be going through a messy divorce by the time you read this is anybody’s guess.

There’s no shortage of activity in the rest of Europe, too, although the biggest story doesn’t involve a player but a manager.

Jose Mourinho has, for a change, fallen out with everybody and seems to be on a one man mission to destroy Real Madrid from the inside. Communications with the Spanish media and the hierarchy at Real broke down long ago, and with the supporters now also on his back with the side way behind Barcelona in the title race the self-proclaimed “Special One” decided that it would be a good idea to drop fan favourite and club icon Iker Casillas from the starting eleven.

It seems odds on that the Portuguese will be seeking new employment in the summer as a result, although with his record there won’t be any difficulty finding a new squeeze.

Masashi Nakayama, Sapporo, April 2001

Of course, painful farewells and teary-eyed reconciliations are not exclusive to the European game and there has been plenty of action in Japan as well.

The end of 2012 saw emotional departures for Tatsuya Tanaka, who ended his 12-year association with Urawa Reds to move to Albirex Niigata, and Masashi ‘Gon’ Nakayama, who after two years in the Consadole treatment room decided to call time on one of the greatest careers in Japanese football at the grand old age of 45.

The difficulty in bringing an end to a career out on the pitch is, however, perhaps best-encapsulated by Gon’s fellow golden oldie, Kazu.

The striker turns 46 next month but will be registered at Yokohama FC for the ninth consecutive season, despite having scored a handful of goals just once in the last 12 years.

Of course Kazu has not been about the stats on the pitch for some time, and it could be argued that his presence brings far more to his club than the odd goal.

However, there is something of the lover desperately clinging on when a flame has long since burned out about his insistence on delaying retirement, and I can’t help but feel that a move into coaching or an ambassadorial position would be best for all concerned.

You can’t blame him for not wanting to hang up his boots though; saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do.


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