Born: 24 June 1978 in Kanagawa (Japan)
Height: 1.78 m
Weight: 69 kg
Clubs: 1991-1994: Nissan FC. 1997: Toko Gakuen High School. 1997-2002: Yokohama Marinos (146 matches, 33 goals). 2002-2005: Reggina (Italy; 81 matches, 11 goals). Since 2005: Celtic (Scotland; under contract until 2009).
Honors: 2000: Asian Cup winner. 2001: J. League Cup winner. 2004: Asian Cup winner. 2005: Scottish League Cup winner took part in the FIFA Confederations Cup (3 matches, 1 goal). 2006: Scottish Premier League winner took part in FIFA World Cup TM (3 matches, 1 goal). 63 caps (16 goals) for Japan.
The real golden boy
Japan’s Shunsuke Nakamura has proved in Scotland that he belongs to that breed of footballers who positively shine when they are under the spotlight at work but actively avoid the limelight while off duty.
The Japanese international midfielder has produced his best Celtic performances in the intense glow of the UEFA Champins League and he also prospered at last year’s FIFA World Cup TM, but when he is not terrifying goalkeepers with his set-piece prowess, working on his free-kicks or shooting the occasional promotional advert, Nakamura is a humble man. He likes nothing better than relaxing with his wife and two-year-old son in the comfort of their Glasgow home, taking a walk in one of the city’s parks or occasionally going ten-pin bowling with friends.
The 28-year-old certainly will not be found taking advantage of the many pubs and clubs that make up the city’s renowned nightlife and when his son is asleep he is more likely to be honing his computer games skills or watched a specially imported Japanese movie.
“When he is playing he can produce very special things but outside football he doesn’t do much that you would say is particularly special,” says Glasgow-based Japanese journalist Shin Toyofuku. “He doesn’t drink alcohol apart from the odd glass of wine with a meal. He certainly won’t be found drinking beer, whisky or even sake. He isn’t one for partying. As for eating, he says he will try anything but I’m not sure if he’s got round to sampling haggis yet. I know he really enjoys eating at Glasgow’s Japanese restaurants because there were none locally when he played in Italy and he imported his own food to cook himself. He likes the city’s Chinese and Italian restaurants too.”
Nakamura, nicknamed the “Hooped Ninja” or “Super Naka” by Celtic supporters in homage to his dead-ball artistry, vision and work ethic, appreciates the warmth of Glaswegians but is not impressed with every aspect of Scottish life.
“He’s found the people of Scotland to be very open and kind,” added Toyofuku, who like Nakamura is one of around 150 Japanese residents in Glasgow. “The locals are very open and friendly towards him, which is contrast to Italy, where he found people could be very aggressive. He gets on well with Scottish people but he is not too keen on the climate. He says it is bad. It always seems to be raining and cold in Glasgow and darkness arrives too quickly. He suffers sometimes because at Reggina in southern Italy the temperature was always nice and warm.”
When Nakamura joined Celtic from the Serie A club for USD 4 million in July 2005, his wife and baby initially remained behind in Japan for six months and he ran up huge phone bills sending 40-second video messages to his loved ones.
They were eventually re-united and Nakamura went from strength to strength , helping Celtic regain the Scottish Premier League crown from arch-rivals Rangers in his first season.
Such was Nakamura’s professionalism, he moved from the city suburbs to central Glasgow to be nearer the club’s training ground and cut out the 40-minute journey to work – thus giving him more time to spend with his family and to cultivate his sublime dead-ball skills.
They came to the fore when Celtic took on Manchester United in the Champions League and after slamming one long-range effort past Edwin wan der Sar in a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, he repeated the feat at Parkhead and propelled Celtic into the knock-out phase of the competition for the first time.
A genius at work
Nakamura is clearly a perfectionist and indeed admitted that after failing to score with one of his two free-kicks in a subsequent game against AC Milan, he did not get a wink of sleep.
“When he scored that goal against United, it was headline news in Japan morning, noon and night,” said Tokyo-based English author David Peace. “He is a cultural phenomenon over here, a real golden boy, and has allowed the Scottish Premier League to assume centre stage from its English counterpart in terms of media exposure and interest. The sales of the famous green and white Celtic shirts have increased exponentially thanks to him. But there are regular rumors linking him with other clubs, mainly in Spain.”
While the number of subscribers to television coverage of the Scottish Premier League in Japan has soared from 100,000 to 1.2 million since Nakamura’s arrival, his reputation as a footballer has also risen. “He has no right to play the football he does against big, strong, sometimes brutal, players on pitches that are not conductive,” said Celtic manager Gordon Strachan. “We have a lot of quality players, but I turned to my assistant during a recent game and said we’re witnessing a genius at work. If you are talking a pure, pure footballer, he is as good as there is. Watching a beautiful footballer like him is something that keeps me happy.”
An impeccable professional
Nakamura has proved himself able to cope with the physical demands of the Scottish game, an aspect that hampered him after his arrival in Italy in 2002, where the “Baggio d’Oriente” failed to live up to expectations. Like Robert Baggio, Nakamura follows a branch of Buddhism known as “Soka Gakkai” but was unable to emulate the Italian at a struggling club whose fans even jeered their own player.
There is no doubting Nakamura’s popularity in the Celtic half of Glasgow. Ronnie Cully, who covers Celtic’s fortunes for the ?Glasgow Evening Times’, has been impressed by the down-to-earth personality of a player he says “operates in his own little balloon.” “There’s nothing flashy about him off the field and he even drives a Honda supplied by the club’s sponsors instead of the Porches, Mercedes or Bentleys that usually dominate players’ car parks,” said Cully. “He runs away from the spotlight when he’s not playing. He has been an impeccable professional.”
After an impressive first season yielded seven goals in 39 games, the playmaker’s contract was extended by a year to 2009 during the World Cup, where he played in Japan’s three matches, scoring the opener in a 3-1 defeat by Australia.
Nakamura may not speak much English but with an interpreter constantly by his side there have been no communication problems between him and the coach. “I can put something in a training session and he knows it instantly,” Strachan said. “He’ll pick it up quicker than anyone who speaks English. His memory is fantastic.”
Strachan believes Nakamura sets a perfect example for young players and his own club to follow. “You want to get kids to copy Naka as young as they can, and that’s why we need to find out what he has been doing since he was ten,” Strachan said. “Our performances are analyzed using computer technology, and this shows he runs more than anyone in the team. I’ve told the fitness coaches and doctors to ask Naka precisely what he has been doing since he was ten years old in terms of preparation for games. We can learn so much because Naka’s durability is incredible.”
Now, as a second successive Scottish title looms, not only is he regarded as Celtic manager Gordon Strachan’s best signing, Nakamura is rated as certainly to be named Scottish player of the year this summer.
Typically, though, the selfless Nakamura is not motivated by individual accolades. “I don’t bother about awards like that, I’m more interested in making sure the team does well,” said Nakamura, whose summer holidays will be curtailed by international action. “It’s my second season with Celtic and I feel I’m used to how the game is played in this country. I can read how the game flows. I feel in tune with my team-mates. Some players might leave Celtic and some might arrive during the summer but my main objective would be to reach the latter stages of the Champions League again.”