Ono takes his bow as Asia's Player of the Year

Japan and Feyenoord star Shinji Ono received his AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Player of the Year 2002 at the Urawa Reds Stadium where he made his name.

Japan and Feyenoord star Shinji Ono received his AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Player of the Year 2002 at the Urawa Reds Stadium where he made his name.

"This award will undoubtedly inspire me to scale greater heights in promoting Asian football to the masses. I would like to thank the AFC for this award and Feyenoord for making me the player I am today," said Shinji Ono, after receiving the Player of the Year Trophy. — Pic. AP-

In front of the adoring Reds' fans, Ono stepped onto the pitch before the start of the game between his old team and his current one to accept the award from AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam.

"I am extremely delighted to win this award as it recognises my efforts and contribution to Asian football," said Ono on picking up his award.

"This award will undoubtedly inspire me to scale greater heights in promoting Asian football to the masses. I would like to thank the AFC for this award and Feyenoord for making me the player I am today."

Ono is a firm favourite with the Urawa fans and will long be remembered for staying loyal to the club after they were relegated to J2 (Second Division) in 1999. He was instrumental in leading the Reds back into J1 the following season.

Hammam paid a warm tribute to the midfielder, praising his performances for club and country.

"Shinji is the perfect winner for the AFC Player of the Year 2002 as he has displayed enthralling performances in Europe by winning the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord. This was a proud achievement for an Asian player, coupled with the fact that he is an automatic choice for first-team selection," said the AFC President.

"Ono also played a big part in Japan's excellent run to the second round of the FIFA World Cup, an achievement that delighted not only Japanese but all Asian football fans. We acknowledge his football prowess and are happy to present the 2002 award to him."

Ono is the third Japanese player after Masami Ihara (1995) and Hidetoshi Nakata (1997 and 1998) to scoop the most prestigious individual honour in Asian football since the awards were inaugurated in 1994. He is also the first person to win both the AFC Player of the Year and AFC Young Player of the Year titles, having won the latter in 1998.

The 23-year-old helped Feyenoord win the UEFA Cup last year, which made him only the second Asian to win a major European title after Korean Cha Bum-kun, who won the same trophy with German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt (1979/80) and Bayer Leverkusen (1987/88).

Ono also played an influential role in the Japan side that reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup for the first time, inspiring unprecedented support for the national team.

AFC Player of the Year Awards 2002: AFC Player of the Year: Shinji Ono (Japan and Feyenoord); AFC Young Player of the Year: Lee Chun-soo (Korea Republic and Ulsan Hyundai); AFC Coach of the Year: Guus Hiddink (Korea Republic); AFC National Team of the Year: Korea Republic; AFC Club Team of the Year: Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan); AFC Futsal Team of the Year: I.R. Iran; AFC Referee of the Year: Toru Kamikawa (Japan); AFC Assistant Referee of the Year: Ali Al Traifi (Saudi Arabia); AFC Fair Play Award: Korea Republic.