Seeing as it is World Cup season, this week’s Forgotten Friday will look at a player who made his name at the World Cup in 2002.
It was a hugely successful tournament held in Japan and South Korea. For ourselves, the Irish have fond memories of the tournament for a variety of reasons. The country was split in two before the tournament as Roy Keane was sent home, but then the country reunited as the Irish performed well exiting to a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Spain.
It was a great tournament. France and Portugal failed to qualify from their groups. There was redemption for Ronaldo, who finished the tournament as top goal-scorer leading Brazil to lift the famous trophy. There was Turkey’s third place finish. We witnessed Senegal’s run to the quarter-finals. But the performance of the host nations provided some of the best moments of the tournaments.
South Korea’s run to the semi-final saw them claim the scalps of Italy and Spain, only to fall to Germany and Michael Ballack. They will be remembered more fondly than the performances of Japan who also had a very good tournament. They topped their group ahead of Belgium, Russia and Tunisia only to narrowly lose to Turkey in the second round. Japan played well as a unit, but one player stood out above all the rest, Junichi Inamoto.
Inamoto played a hugely influential role in getting Japan out of their group. His two goals in the group stage were instrumental in securing the points they required. He scored a cracking goal in the first game against Belgium that gave Japan a 2-1 lead. Belgium clawed back to get a draw but it was still a good start for the Japanese. Inamoto then scored the winner as Japan defeated Russia 1-0. These two goals helped to secure four points, and then a final group game win over Tunisia led to a place in the second round. They lost to 1-0 to Turkey but Inamoto’s stock was high at the end of the tournament.
This was the peak of Inamoto’s career and these moments made the world of football take notice. He was on the books of Arsenal at the time of the 2002 World Cup but his World Cup antics did not do enough to secure a future under Arsene Wenger. He moved to Fulham after the World Cup where he made an impact. He scored a hat-trick in one of his early games, an Inertoto Cup tie against Bologna. He also scored a winning goal at Old Trafford during his time at the London club.
After two years at Fulham, he moved to West Bromwich Albion but this was where his career in England started to decline. A loan move to Cardiff City soon resulted which was unsuccessful. He later moved to more clubs across Europe; Galatasaray, Eintracht Frankfurt and Rennes, but failed to make a significant impact in other European leagues. After these spells he returned to Japan where his still currently plays with Kawasaki Frontale.
His international career never replicated the heights of 2002 as both Inamoto and Japan failed to build on any momentum they generated after hosting the World Cup. He did play in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments but achieved very little. He only added two more goals to his international tally in eight years and to many people Inamoto will go down as a ‘one hit wonder’.
He had one good tournament and basically made a career out of it. He played in various leagues all over Europe before returning to Japan to finish out his career. There is a saying that clubs should never buy a player after a good major tournament and Inamoto may be proof of this. He had very few highlights after 2002 and is most definitely a forgotten star of football.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena