Lap of Honour: Okubo returns to Kawasaki
Going back to your old club. It's seldom done. Times change. People change. Too often when you decide to go home the old neighbourhood is changed beyond recognition. You moved on without it but never expected it to do the same. It can be painful to discover your memories are gone.
Imagine then the pain of Yoshito. He craved a J.League title and really could have won one with Kawasaki. He finished top scorer for Frontale in 2013, 14, and 15. In those first three years he had become an icon. His goals put Kawasaki in the Asian Champions League but his advancing years became apparent for the new head coach at the start of the 2017 season. Toru Oniki sold the striker to rival club FC Tokyo.
These clubs aren’t exactly bedfellows. The Tama River keeps them from one another's throats. This is a rivalry as intense as Real Madrid and Barcelona. A traitor like Luis Figo might choose to switch sides of his own free will but there was no greater insult for Okubo than to be sold to Tokyo.
Okubo is a professional though. He performed the job required at the Ajinomoto, if to a lesser extent. Eight goals in 28 league games wasn’t the forward J.League fans expected to see. Not when he scored 27 in his first campaign for Kawasaki.
Still, his time in the Red-and-Blue strip will always be remembered for an infamous goal in the Tamagawa Derby. He scored the third goal against his old side in added time as Tokyo won 3-0. Overcome with emotion, he didn’t know whether to celebrate or cry as he hit the ground, head in hands.
The season progressed. Okubo remained part of the Tokyo team but continued to be a shadow. The team finished 13th, a fairly mediocre season for all involved. There was no chance at glory, none for tragedy either.
Kawasaki, however, went on to win the title in dramatic fashion on the season's last day. They had done it, absent all of Okubo’s hard work. It was surely a depressing scene. He had given so much, primed the team for this season, then was missing in action when they lifted the trophy. Could it be of any worth to him at all? He still doesn't have a J.League title to his name, despite being a central figure of Kawasaki Frontale in the modern era.
With the dust settling on the 2017 season, the 2018 campaign springing from the soil. Okubo announced he would be moving back to Kawasaki Frontale after just one year with its fierce rival. The transfer details are hazy, figures largely substituted with question marks. But now he’s home.
Or as he’d say, "Tadaima."
Toru Oniki, the manager, also appreciates how much the club can flow through your veins as a player. He made over 150 appearances for Frontale during his playing career. he'd made Okubo a martyr to the cause then revived him.
What is to be made of the situation? Can we call it a lap of honour? The team won without him. You don’t do a lap of honour if you finish 13th. He had brought them to verge during a long, unrewarded tenure with the squad. Other than goals, he’s achieved very little for Kawasaki.
He remains a club icon. Surely he deserves some kind of triumphant run, even if we can’t call it a victory lap?
There was a time when Steven Gerrard dabbled with the thought of moving to Manchester City. Imagine he had. It would have occurred in the summer preceding that night in Istanbul. What if the Reds had won without him, then brought him back. What would his status be now? Would he be the same legend? Probably not.
Stevie would be welcome but separate. Not part of the squad that defeated the mighty Milan on the biggest stage of them all. He'd be a shadow in the wind, reaching out to grasp something he cannot have. Like Sauron after the One Ring is destroyed. Or like Okubo.