It's all about Ono

Remember when Michael Ballack was thought of as the man to lead the Wanderers? Turns out Shinji Ono was the perfect choice all along.

What is Michael Ballack up to these days? The ex-Germany skipper spends much of his time acting as a media pundit on American television.

He certainly doesn-t lead the Western Sydney Wanderers around the park. That honour goes to one Shinji Ono - a man many Wanderers fans were quick to claim they didn-t want before the campaign kicked off.

Ono-s arrival in Australia was a peculiar one. In a roundabout way, Wanderers fans can thank their crosstown rivals Sydney FC for it.

When the Sky Blues signed Italian great Alessandro Del Piero, it triggered an unprecedented wave of media and fan interest.

Not even Dwight Yorke dominated the headlines like Del Piero did, and it made Football Federation Australia sit up and take notice.

They soon gave the go-ahead for the Wanderers to sign a marquee man of their own and for a few days at least, that player looked likely to be Ballack.

Speculation was rife that his arrival was imminent, so when the Wanderers signed Ono from J. League outfit Shimizu S-Pulse instead, there was almost a sense of anti-climax surrounding the deal.

Yet from humble beginnings, Ono-s first season in the A-League could finish in the most climactic fashion of all, as the Japanese playmaker prepares to line up on Sunday looking to fire the Wanderers to an A-League title at the first attempt.

His strike in the semi-final against Brisbane Roar was one of the goals of the season and said much about the kind of player Ono is.

For over an hour the 33-year-old had turned in an industrious display, spraying the ball around the midfield with aplomb, peppering Michael Theo-s goal with accurate strikes from distance and generally urging his side forward at every opportunity.

However, with the Roar threatening a comeback it was a moment of sublime skill which summed up Ono-s value to the Wanderers, as the man known as ‘Genius- pulled a goal out of nothing to lob Theo with a stupendous left-foot chip.

It was a goal of the highest quality but not necessarily out of the ordinary for the 2002 Asian Footballer of the Year.

Ono is no average footballer and had it not been for a succession of debilitating injuries, he surely would be considered alongside Hidetoshi Nakata as one of the greatest Japanese players of all.

There-s a reason Ono is considered one of the best players to have ever graced the Dutch Eredivisie, where he led Feyenoord to a second-place finish in 2004 - not to mention the 2002 UEFA Cup title.

In between stints in the Netherlands and Germany - where Ono endured three injury-riddled seasons at Bundesliga club Bochum - the inspirational midfielder turned out for Japanese sides Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse.

He was signed by his hometown team Shimizu to try and lead the Shizuoka club to the J. League title, but after surprisingly being deemed surplus to requirements by coach Afshin Ghotbi, Ono is now just one step away from firing Western Sydney to a championship crown instead.

He-s already labelled coach Tony Popovic the best he-s worked with during a long and storied career, and were it not for Popovic turning out for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the latest 1990s, A-League fans might have missed out on watching one of the competition-s most entertaining players.

Western Sydney-s run to the grand final has been labelled a ‘fairytale- by many, but the truth is their success has been built on a platform of hard work.

That-s something former Japan international Ono knows all about and at the ripe old age of 33, he-s fitter than he-s been in years.

Del Piero might have stolen the headlines for much of the campaign - and will no doubt poll highly in the Johnny Warren Medal stakes - but Ono has arguably been more effective in leading his side into the finals.

All he needs now is a championship medal to cap an unforgettable first season in Australia.

Michael who?