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PersonalFullname: Shunsuke Nakamura
aka: Naka, Nakamura Shunsuke
Born: 24 June 1978
Birthplace: Yokohama, Japan
Signed: 29 July 2005
Left: 23 June 2009
Position: Midfielder (right-midfield)
Debut: Celtic 2-0 Dundee Utd, SPL, 6 Aug 2005
International Caps: 98
International Goals: 24
Celtic beat off strong competition from teams from Spain and Germany when Gordon Strachan signed Nakamura for £2.5 Million in July 2005. It was quite a capture and we were to be in for a treat.
The Japanese International playmaker was blessed with great vision, passing ability, and a wonderful left foot. He was a specialist set-piece taker and scored a number of fantastic free-kicks for Celtic. He immediately impressed in his debut at home to Dundee United when he was unlucky not to score in the opening minutes before putting on a display laced with sublime skill.
Despite that flying start the man known to the Hoops support simply as ‘Naka’ obviously took time to settle into the pace of the Scottish game and a new culture. But settle he did and by the end of his first campaign the midfielder had already shown that he was capable of moments of real magic, both from dead ball situations and open play.
In season 2006/07 Naka returned from the World Cup in Germany and showing that he had learnt form his first year in the SPL he began to display a consistency to match his technical brilliance. His work-rate improved and was impressive.
Sensational free-kicks were his trademark and no matter the pressure of the occasion Naka always seemed able to deliver. In two Champions League ties with Manchester United the Japanese ace beat Edwin Van Der Sar with two stunning dead ball strikes. The second, at Parkhead, was particularly spectacular and gave Celtic a 1-0 victory and qualification to the competition’s last 16 for the first time and signalled the greatest celebrations in Scotland for many a year. It was also a superb last gasp Naka free-kick at Rugby Park that gave Celtic a 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock and sealed the league title.
But it would be very wrong to dismiss Naka as just a free kick specialist as his ability meant he was so much more than that. His touch and vision was superb and his talent to spot and deliver a pass was unrivalled in Scotland. His creativity in open play was wonderful to watch and when Naka was on song he was a joy to watch.
While his free-kicks were spectacular, in open play his skills and touches are more subtle but equally effective and he was capable of splitting open a defence with just one or two touches.
Having helped Celtic secure the league and Scottish Cup Naka picked up his own double by claiming the Player’ Player and Football Writers Player of the Year awards. It was just reward for an immense contribution to a superb season.
In season 2007/08 Naka was hit by injuries and fatigue as almost two years of non stop football began to catch up with him. It didn’t however stop him from producing some more moments of magic and without hitting the heights of the previous campaign Naka remained very much a key man who was instrumental in bringing the title back to Paradise for the third year in succession.
A trademark free-kick against St Mirren gave Celtic a late winner at Love Street but it was his superlative strike against Rangers at Celtic Park which will be remembered for eternity. Showing excellent touch to bring a Gary Caldwell through ball under control Naka hit an unstoppable swerving and dipping half volley from 35 yards which rocketed past a bewitched Allan McGregor in the Rangers goal. It was unquestionably one of the greatest Old Firm goals of all time.
Naka was inspirational that night as Celtic grabbed a vital 2-1 victory to put them back in contention in the championship race and sent shivers down the spineless backs of Rangers. Ranked by many as the best goal under Gordon Strachan's regime, and that's saying something taking in some of the class of Naka's goals.
Naka's last season was 2008-09, and due to injury he was a shadow of his former self. He still applied himself as best as he could, but the hamstring/groin injuries played a crucial role in dampening the threat from his set-pieces. In effect, he scored just one free-kick during that season, and his corner kicks were so poor that many believed he should have been retired from the role. He stuck out as best he could, and played a competent role but was little use at many a time in what was a poor season for the squad as much as himself.
His final season was overshadowed by stories that it was to be his last, and he stuck out for the whole season despite overtures from Japanese clubs . In June 2009, Naka signed for Espanyol, for a last hurrah before going back to Japan but his time there petered out, and the injury just lost him the edge there as it did at the end with Celtic. He soon returned back to Japan.
It may be true that Nakamura was not as an explosive talent as the great Lubomir Moravcik and there were games when his influence was snuffed out (usually due to being constantly hacked down). But his genius was a joy to behold, and many believe that if we had a better manager (WGS had many detractors) then we could have gained more from playing him in a central midfield role and building the team around Naka more rather than sticking him out on the wings (and possibly the wrong wing as well!).
With three titles in his three years at Parkhead there is no doubting that Shunsuke Nakamura earned a place among the great Celts for the decade, however he has been under-rated and unappreciated by some sections. Not every player can be the greatest, but Nakamura gave his all and was heavily involved in the play on field. Some critics point out that he was a poor traveller (even within Scotland) but that is excessive, and we can all point to evidence to show otherwise. The general involvement that Nakamura had in play was something that those more knowledgeable about the game would understand and respect. Being on the wing sadly limited his role at times. Regardless, he was a great player for Celtic and we missed him in later seasons, especially for his work at the set-pieces.
We'll all miss him for good character and professionalism, as much as for his moments of genius. We'll also miss the multitudes of Japanese fans we have had the good fortune to meet both in Glasgow and in Europe who have followed Celtic whilst Naka was at the club. They added more colour and culture to our club, and were made very welcome.
|Club||From||To||Fee||League||Scottish Cup||League cup||Other|
|Espanyol||23/06/2009|| ||Free (end of contract)|| || || || || || || || |
| Celtic ||29/07/2005||23/06/2009||£2,500,000||121 (7)||29||12 (0)||1||7 (0)||1||17 (2)||2|
|Yokohama Marinos||01/08/1999||25/06/2002|| |
| ||goals / game|
Honours with Celtic:Scottish Premier League:
- Player's Player of the Year 2007
- Goal of the Season: 2007
- Team of the Season: 2007
- Footballer of the Year 2007
- Naka - "Privilege to be a Celt"
- Ebullient Strachan says playmaker tops list of those he's worked with (The Scotsman)
- Naka - Wins SPFA player of the year 2007 (The Scotsman)
- Land of the Rising Shun (Apr 07, The Sun)
Classic Nakamura Moments1) Winning the League at Killie with a fabulous free-kick.
2) His Hat-Trick at Dundee Utd.
3) His late winner from 25 yards at Love Street v St Mirren.
4) His countless goals against Killie.
5) His two Free Kicks against Manchester Utd in the Champs Lge in 2006
6) His long-range curling shot against Rangers in 2008
7) Completing a 10-15 pass move with a bit of Berkamp-esquie skill to control the ball and place the shot beautifully into the goals (22 Nov 08)
Quotes'Steve Perryman who worked with Nakamura in Italy said that the Japanese could open a tin of beans with that left foot. I myself have seen him take all kinds, which of the 57 varieties is this to be tonight Woooof GOAL!!!'
(Celtic v Man U 21/11/06 (Champs Lge game) Archie MacPherson commentary jut before Naka scored the goal in a lifetime that won us the game and took us the KO phase of the Champs Lge for the first time)
Nakamura said: "I'm delighted to be going back to Italy and especially somewhere as special as the San Siro. It's a fantastic draw for Celtic and for myself as I get the chance to return to Italy and show the people there what I can do.
"I never really showed my best form when I was with Reggina but I feel at home with Celtic and in Scotland. I'm playing for a club who allow me to play the game the way I want to.
"The winning goal I scored against Manchester United was one of the special moments of my career and I would love now to do the same against AC Milan. It would mean even more to me given the time I spent in Italy as a player."
(Daily Record 16/12/06)
"We have a lot of quality players, but I turned to my assistant and said I think we are witnessing a genius at work," he told BBC Sport. "If you are talking a pure, pure footballer, he is as good as there is. "
(Gordon Strachan 5 Feb 2007, after our Scottish Cup win v Livingston)
"I thought it was going to be another long week for us," said Strachan, "but I'm lucky to have a genius on board. When we were awarded the free-kick, I thought 'naw, he can't do it again'. It was asking too much of him, but he did it. He didn't have his best game for us today, but he never stopped showing for the ball and it was fitting that he should score the goal which won the title.
"He has played more minutes for us than anyone else this season and covered more ground than any player. He has looked physically and mentally tired recently, but he still managed to produce when it mattered. He is the most technically gifted player I have ever been involved with in the game.
"I played with guys like Bryan Robson and Kenny Dalglish, who were fabulous footballers, but for a sublime touch, Naka is the best. "WGS on Nakamura 22/04/07, just after he scored an injury time free-kick winner v Killie to win us the league 2006/07
"There are good teams and good players. But who gets you out of your seat saying: That's fantastic, there is something different?' There are not many. But Naka's certainly one."
WGS on Nakamura 21 April 08 (Evening Times)
"It's not a love affair, it's just that I still remember playing with great players like Bryan Robson, Gary McAllister, Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish. He is terrific. He has got a strong mind and nothing upsets him. He will go down as the most-kicked player in the SPL by a million miles and nothing fazes him."
WGS on Nakamura (Sep 08)
"I admire the environment, where fans raise the level of footballers.
The cheer changes in response to how we play the football. The cheer for a good but unspectacular play makes us happy, makes us feel the fans are watching our play, and tells us how good the play was. And this is the long tradition here, and the tradition gives celtic fans a great eye for football, and that makes footballers better and better."
Nakamura on Celtic (rough translation, Nov 08, link)
Japanese view on Celtic & NakaCeltic matches are always the top news in the sports tabloids these days (partly because our own league is in the offseason though). I would say that a large percentage of the public -- even the ones who arent avid football fans -- are at least aware of the team's name and what country Nakamura plays in. Thats pretty high exposure.
I think it is hard to compare the situation to the hype surrounding Nakata, though. You have to keep in mind that when Hide Nakata went to Europe there really wasnt anyone else with an international profile. FUrthermore, Nakata was always a relentless self-promoter (a lot like Beckham), and he made sure that the "Nakata myth" was always several sizes bigger than Nakata, the player. He was the brains and marketing force behind those shops you are talking about, and he was making four or five times as much money from things like that than he made from playing football. He also had his own TV shows, his own web services, his own clothing brands . . .
Nakamura doesnt seem to be interested in that sort of "fame for its own sake". He has already achieved more in terms of football accomplishments than Nakata ever did (the only title Nakata was ever involved in was the scudetto at Roma). but he still isnt as "famous" as Nakata was -- and still is.
But I get the feeling that Nakamura prefers it that way. He is a footballer, not a marketing executive, and I think he wants his legacy to be on the pitch, and not in some high street store or on a TV advert. In addition, you have to consider that Nakamura isnt the only player in Europe, so naturally there isnt the same amount of hype behind him. There are about a dozen Japanese players in Europe now, and though none have as high a profile as Nakamura, it is still bound to mean that Nakamura will not attract the obsessive attention that Nakata did. Again, I think he probably prefers things that way.
(by Ken Matsushima of The Rising Sun News (website) on KStreet forum 7 Feb 2007,
The Naka effect for Celtic140,000 shirts. The vast number of Celtic replica tops sold in Japan. 50,000 hits. The number of visits Celtic's Japanese website receives weekly in Japan. 20,000 DVDs. The number of Celtic season's highlights discs sold in Japan. £850,000. The fee paid to Celtic in return for the Glasgow club turning up to play a friendly against Yokohama F Marinos in Japan last August. 10%. The percentage of football merchandising sales in Japan generated by the Nakumara brand. 15. The number of Nakamura-inspired items of merchandise on sale in Celtic's Japanese website, that range from T-shirts, hats, key fobs to commemorative stamps and jam.(From Scotland on Sunday June 2007)
STRACHAN PRAISE FOR NAKAMURAWGS on Nakamura (26 Sep 08)
By Ronnie Esplin, PA Sport
Celtic manager Gordon Strachan will never forget the impact Shunsuke Nakamura has had on his football life.
The Japan midfielder has been called up for international duty against Uzbekistan and a warm-up match against the United Arab Emirates next month, which leaves him facing seven matches in 25 days.
Nakamuru has become a cult hero at Parkhead since joining in 2005 but has cited the long-distance travelling as one reason why he could be looking to return to his homeland in January.
While Strachan has refused to concede the 30-year-old is set to leave Glasgow, he offered a tribute befitting a player whose time at Celtic Park is coming to an end.
"I don't think I will forget about Shunsuke when he goes away for a week or two," he said.
"If I'm lucky to be here in 25 or 30 years' time I will still be thinking about Shunsuke Nakamura.
"It's not a love affair, it's just that I still remember playing with great players like Bryan Robson, Gary McAllister, Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish.
"He is terrific. He has got a strong mind and nothing upsets him.
"He will go down as the most-kicked player in the SPL by a million miles and nothing fazes him."
Of the exhausting long-distance trips Nakamura continues to undertake, Strachan said: "He is used to that journey now. Scott McDonald told me that the more times you do it, you more you get used to it.
"When you miss it for seven or eight months and then do the journey, it seems to be a problem."
Shunsuke Nakamura: I should have left Celtic and SPL two years earlierOct 10 2009 (Daily Record)
SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA last night cast a loving eye back on Celtic and insisted the club will always have a special place in his heart. But the former fans' hero has confessed the slipping standards of the SPL made it right for him to quit Parkhead in the summer and that he should have gone two years earlier. Nakamura will meet up with old pals such as Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus today for the first time since quitting Glasgow and heading to Espanyol.
And the 31-year-old opened his heart on his four years under Gordon Strachan at Parkhead and spoke in glowing terms about the club and the adoring fans he left behind. But in the week the Old Firm insist they have to quit the SPL, Naka says he could see the level of football was deteriorating with the changes made through Strachan's reign and with the decreasing levels of finance available to Scottish clubs. In the end he stuck with it for his love of Celtic but admits he now wonders if he should have left in the summer of 2007.
At that point Naka was at the peak of his Parkhead powers having helped take Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time and having swept the boards in the Player of the Year awards. Nakamura said: "I cannot name one thing that is my best memory of Scotland because there were a few. "I played with some good players and the Celtic fans were amazing.
"Gordon Strachan was also very good to me and I liked Parkhead as well and I miss the stadium. So Celtic will always have a special place in my heart.
"Initially, I planned to stay a shorter time at Celtic but Peter Lawwell, the coach and the players helped persuade me to stay.
"There were great people there and I stayed for four years. "But the standard in Scotland was better when I arrived than it was when I left. For example, John Hartson was a very big player for us when I first started. "Good players left Celtic and the other SPL clubs during those four years. The first two years it was better and we did well in the Champions League. "Money played a part and richer clubs came in and took players away from us and that made it much harder to compete in Europe. "I am 31 now but sometimes I do feel I should have gone to Spain or somewhere else at 29. I had offers in my third year to leave Glasgow."
Strachan, of course, had a major influence on Naka and consistently spoke of the midfielder's bravery, enthusiasm and skill. The Asian ace was like an adopted son to Strachan but the player insists the departure of his manager played no part in his decision to go. Nakamura had already informed Lawwell of his intentions and and new boss Tony Mowbray had no chance of changing his mind. He said: "I didn't know Gordon was leaving and his decision was not connected to mine.
I was in my fourth year and my contract was running towards its end. "It was time to try somewhere else and have a new footballing challenge. There was an offer from Celtic to carry on but they knew I wanted to go. I didn't really talk to Mowbray as he understood my intentions and it was time to move."
Nakamura had long hankered for a chance in La Liga and the offer to move to Espanyol was perfect. But the midfielder admits it has been tough to adjust since swapping Celtic for Catalonia. Naka, though, says he is revelling in the more sophisticated style of Spanish football and he is glad to escape the hurly-burly of the SPL.
Nakamura said: "I am still settling down in Spain. It is a completely different culture from Glasgow.
"At this minute I am struggling to adjust to life in Espanyol rather than finding my best form or enjoying it as yet. Each league has its own level. Scottish football is a high level in some respects. "It is physical and so on but in Spain I can control the ball more than I did in the SPL. I didn't have time on the ball in Scotland. "The pitches were often very wet and spongy and sometimes that affected the way teams played.
"In Spain there is more focus on passing. Let me just say it is a different style of football." Clearly, though, it is going to take a lot for Nakamura to top his Glasgow experiences. From Champions League stunners against Manchester United to SPL title-clinching winners at Kilmarnock, the popular Japanese star took a suitcase of memories with him to Barcelona. When he sees his old Parkhead pals today they will come gushing back into his mind and he says he'll discuss his good times with McManus and Caldwell.
He said: "I scored that goal against Manchester United in the Champions Leaguethat the fans all talk about. "But the free-kick I scored against Kilmarnock to win the SPL title in April 2007 gave me more pleasure.
"I think you can see that in the pictures when I took my shirt off. "But I don't reflect on the past. I am looking to the future. "It will be nice to see Stephen and Gary again and I was sorry to see Scotland failed to make the World Cup play-offs in the final games. "But maybe this is a new start for them and now they have another goal to aim for as they build for Euro 2012. I certainly wish Scotland all the best."
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