Nakamura

One thing I have learned from living in Spain is that it is a notable feature of life in that country that it never quite works out as you plan it. The Spanish are used to this cultural phenomenon and have adapted the manana concept to allow peace about life’s slow pace and unpredictability. But the experience of Celtic favourite Shunsuke Nakamara was extreme even by Spanish standards. His Espanol career never took off, he was picked for the first game of the season but thereafter struggled to be given the occasional first team opportunity and by January 2010 he had become a peripheral figure.
Espanol were the wrong choice of club if he wanted to enjoy skilful football in the Spanish sun without too much pressure. They have a more rugged, less cultured style than most Spanish teams and traditionally place more emphasis on workrate than inspiration. Shortly after the arrival of the star Japanese signing, Espanol was changed forever by the tragic unpredicted death of centre back Daniel Jarque from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Instead of the focus of the club being on the possibilities for the new season created by their new Japanese superstar, it became a whirlpool of grief and prolonged mourning. Jarque represented indeed epitomised the traditional Espanol virtues of ruggedness and workrate and it would have been disrespectful to his memory to change the club style to suit an Eastern import. Not that manager Pocchettino, a classically rugged centre half himself, was likely to rate flair above hard work.

The world economic crisis and its particular harsh impact on Japan meant too that the avaricious dreams of eastern wealth generated by the Nakamura transfer were never translated into income reality for Espanol.

Nakamura never managed to achieve a working mastery of Spanish, a failure that seemed to irritate manager Pochettino considerably. Regular pain in one of his knees didn’t help him attain full fitness. A poor start to the season meant that Espanol were always struggling to avoid being dragged into the relegation battle and perhaps naturally Pochettino put more emphasis on grafting in midfield, not on a fluid passing game. It probably didn’t help Nakamura’s integration that the other good passing player the little Buddha De La Pena did not feature in the team either, due to a long term injury. By mid February Nakamura had started only 6 games and spent most of the rest as a forlorn figure on the bench. He did not score a single goal for his new club. It was only Kaka’s poor form for Real Madrid that stopped Sanchez Llibre from being laughed out of business for his optimistic summer quote. It was obvious the Spanish dream was a fully fledged nightmare and Nakamura a d his representatives began looking back east for salvation.
Going back to Britain was never really a possibility. It would appear Strachan made discreet enquiries as to whether a move to Middlesborough might be welcomed but Nakamura had turned his back on British cold wind and rain and never entertained the possibility. Yet staying in Spain would not help either him or his country. With what would likely be his last chance of World Cup glory coming up in the summer, he reopened links with his old club Yokohama. Espanol, glad to be shot of his two year contract, were easy to deal with and finally at the beginning of March 2010 the transfer aborted the previous June was brought back to life and Nakamura signed once more for the Marinos.
He missed the first game of the new Japanese season but was passed fit for the second game, at home in the Nissan Stadium. Buoyed by the return of their prodigal sun, the Marinos played well and won 3-0. Nakamura set up the first goal with a typical pinpoint cross and generally contributed positively before tiring towards the end.
In an interview after the game he said that it felt very strange to be surrounded by Japanese team mates and opponents, after 8 years in exile in Europe. He acknowledged that the standard of Japanese football and the speed of the game had improved considerably in his absence.
His second game took place on Saturday 20th March against last season’s second placed team Kawasaki Frontale. 36,000 Yohohama supporters turned up to honour the 31 year old Nakamura . They were soon ecstatic as their returned hero opened the score after 9 minutes with his first goal in Japanese football for 8 years with a rasping 35 yard shot. Inspired by this, his team went on to outplay Kawasaki and win 4-0. After the game Nakamura told the local newspaper that he had practised long-range shooting all week before the game. He acknowledged that he was still far from full match fitness, estimating himself at as yet still only around 60-70% capacity. He said it would take a while yet before he attained full fitness and that he and his team mates would have to play in a way that took account of that for a few weeks yet. He expressed considerable satisfaction at the quality of his team mates and predicted that the Marinos would have a good season. Barring further injury or more problems with his knees this should mean he would approach the World Cup at something close to his best form.

Most Celtic fans probably over-estimated just how good a player Nakamura was, due to the lacklustre context in which he showed them his undoubted skills. He is not and never has been one of the really top elite players in world football, not in the same league as a Messi, or a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Rooney or even an Aguero. But there is no doubt that on his day, in the right team, one that recognises and plays to his strengths, he is an international class player, one whose memory will long linger on in Glasgow and one who can still make a positive contribution to the 2010 World Cup. GGW will report regularly on his progress as the Japanese League rolls forward over the next few months.