It’s been more than 11 years since Yuto Nagatomo stood behind a microphone at the center of the Ajinomoto Stadium pitch, whipped out a pair of black sunglasses — partly out of bravado, but also to hide tears that had started to well after his former Meiji University head coach had presented him with a ceremonial bouquet — and told FC Tokyo fans that this would not be the last time they saw him as he prepared to join Italy’s Cesena.

“This isn’t farewell,” he said on July 17, 2010. “I want to become the world’s best fullback and wear the blue and red uniform again.”

Nagatomo’s European journey may have begun in the small city less than 10 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, but it continued on to Milan, Istanbul and finally Marseille, France, before he decided it was time to come home and make good on his promise.