• Kyodo


Japan right back Hiroki Sakai bid farewell to French club Marseille on Monday, all but confirming his reported transfer back to the J. League with Urawa Reds.

“At the end of the season, I decided to leave Europe and put an end to my Marseille dream,” the 31-year-old wrote on his Instagram. “When I arrived in Marseille, I had decided that OM would be my last European club and I did not change my mind.”

Sakai, a Kashiwa Reysol youth product, joined German outfit Hannover in 2012 before signing for Marseille in 2016 and quickly established himself as a regular at the club.

“It’s been the best five years. I have no regret whatsoever,” Sakai told Kyodo News. “Marseille are a club I want to treasure throughout my life. I realize I cannot find a place I want to go to away from here in Europe.”

The 183-centimeter defender, rated for his all-around ability and stamina, has played 64 games for Japan and scored one goal. He was part of the 2014 and 2018 World Cup squads and also played in the London Olympics team in 2012 when Japan finished fourth.

Sakai is expected to be part of the Japan Olympic team for the Tokyo Olympics after manager Hajime Moriyasu named him, alongside Sampdoria defender Maya Yoshida and Stuttgart midfielder Wataru Endo, as the three overage players likely to make the final squad.

Sakai missed the final game of the season on Sunday with a knee injury as Marseille drew 1-1 at Metz.

“With 184 games played, I have always given everything of myself for this beautiful jersey and all the moments of happiness, and even those of sadness, will remain for me a real treasure,” Sakai wrote on Instagram.

“My family and I loved living here and I hope to meet you one day in a packed Velodrome stadium. I wish OM every success for the future with coach (Jorge) Sampaoli and I say a big thank you again and sayonara.”

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