Unless you happen to be a hard-core fan of Omiya Ardija, chances are that the name "Hideyuki Ujiie" doesnt exactly roll off your tongue when you start thinking about Japan's footballing greats. However, for a short period of time, Ujiie was as much of a household name as Shinji Ono, Shunsuke Nakamura or Yuji Nakazawa. That is because Ujiie was a member of the so-called "Golden Generation" -- the group of youngsters who travelled to Nigeria in 1999 and turned the football world on its ear, vaulting Japan suddenly and permanently from total obscurity into the ranks of leading football nations.
But while most of the other members of the Golden Generation went on to starring roles either on their club teams or in the full National Team, Ujiie was left behind as Troussier put together his squad for the 2000 Asian Cup in Lebanon, and he never again had the opportunity to wear the Samurai Blue jersey.
Nevertheless, Ujiie will certainly be a familiar name to fans of the Saitama Squirrels. After taking off his national team kit for the last time, he took up a spot in the deep midfield for Omiya, and battled away in the trenches for five long seasons. However, as time went on, J.League teams began to lose interest in players who could fill the role of a hard-tackling, unforgiving defensive midfielder who is unable to dribble or score. This trend affected many other players who were created in this same mold, even some who achieved greater fame, such as Tomokazu Myojin and Kazuyuki Toda.
By 2006, Ujiie was finding it difficult to get playing time in the J.League, and moved to Thespa Kusatsu -- then just a small club in Tochigi Prefecture which was trying to build momentum for an eventual bid at promotion to the J.League. That would be the end of his career as a player.
Though his pro career may have ended, Ujiie can still claim to have achieved a level of success that only a handful of footballers in Japan can match -- second best in the world