Japan's Endo lauded as best in Asia
When Yasuhito Endo packs his boots and boards the plane from Tokyo to Johannesburg, he will head to the World Cup as the reigning Asian Player of the Year.
Twelve months after he was expected to be crowned the continent's leading player, the Japanese midfielder was finally handed the trophy by the confederation's president, Mohamed bin Hammam, last week.
Missed out in 2008
After surprisingly missing out on winning the award for 2008 - Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov was last year's recipient - there was a sense the 29-year-old's success this time around was as much an attempt to make amends as it was to honour the region's best footballer.
Despite that, though, there are few who will deny Endo's talent as a deep lying midfielder: the only lingering question is whether he deserved to win the title more this year or last.
Throughout 2008, Endo was the creative fulcrum through which his club side, Gamba Osaka, won the Asian Champions League. In a year that featured neither a World Cup nor an Asian Cup - or the climax of the qualifying tournaments for either - that should have been enough to see him lauded 12 months ago.
And yet, somehow, the trophy resided on a Tashkent sideboard for 12 months before finally being thrust belatedly into Endo's hands after a year in which, by his own admission, he fell short of his previous standards.
With Gamba failing to successfully defend their Asian club crown, it was left to Endo's achievements with the national team to reflect positively on him in the eyes of the confederation.
As a regular member of Takeshi Okada's squad, he played his part in Japan's qualification for a fourth straight World Cup finals and it was those performances that mean he will be the first Japanese player to go to a World Cup as the reigning Asian Player of the Year since Hidetoshi Nakata in 1998.
That, though, is not to compare Endo to arguably the continent's finest player in recent memory.
Nakata's success came, largely, while playing his club football in Europe and were the same criteria to exist a decade ago as is in place today, then the former Perugia and AS Roma man would not have been officially recognised in his home continent.
Because, while previously the award was handed out to the man deemed the leading player from the continent no matter where he plied his trade, the current Asian Player of the Year must feature regularly in competitions sanctioned by the AFC.
As a result, high-profile players such as Manchester United's Park Ji-sung, Shunsuke Nakamura of Espanyol or Osasuna midfielder Javad Nekounam are unlikely to receive the recognition their talent deserves no matter how successful they are with their respective clubs.
It seems that, in the current climate in Asian football, it can work against you to be too good or too successful.
Success for Endo after an imperious 2008 would have raised no doubts from any quarter; rewarding him now invites questions he should never have had to answer.
About the Author
Michael Church lives in Hong Kong and has spent the last decade-and-a-half covering soccer throughout Asia and, as a result, is one of the leading authorities on the game across the continent. He is World Soccer's correspondent for the region and during his time in Asia he has covered the performances of the region's teams at the last three World Cups.