Shunsuke Nakamura – More than Just the Japanese Beckham

In the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany, a certain Japanese midfielder caught the eye of several major European clubs after scoring four goals in five matches. Within a few weeks into the transfer window, the player was snapped up by Scottish giants Celtic FC. On 29 July 2005 for a reported transfer fee of £2.5 million, Shunsuke Nakamura moved to the east end of Glasgow. In welcoming Nakamura to the club, then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said, “Nakamura has got imagination and he sees passes other people can’t see.”

However, the transfer didn’t seem to excite The Bhoys’ supporters, his previous achievements with the Japanese national team and Yokohama Marinos failed to breach the continental barrier and had very little playing time in Italy with Reggina in Serie A, mainly due to injuries.  The only thing known about him was the tag of the “Japanese David Beckham” for his trademark free kicks.

At that time when Nakamura joined Celtic, the club had a disappointing start to their campaign. They had been eliminated from Champions League in the second qualifying round and also had an inauspicious start to the league season, as they only managed a draw with Motherwell in the league opener.

On the of 6th August for the second league match against Dundee United, Strachan immediately inserted Nakamura into the starting lineup, despite him not being match fit as he had not played since the Confederations Cup earlier in the summer. However, the midfielder had an excellent debut, earning a standing ovation from the home crowd when he was substituted in the 84th minute. He was later named Man of the Match for his performance as Celtic went on to win the match.

Nakamura finished his debut season with 38 appearances, 6 goals, and 10 assists which helped his team win a domestic double, the Scottish Premier League and Scottish League Cup. His creativity, vision as well as his work ethic and composure under pressure, won praise from teammates, manager and supporters.

The following season would prove to be the highest point of his career. He scored in his Champions League debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford. He scored from a free kick, making him the first Japanese footballer to score a goal in Champions League. Nakamura immortalized himself in the Glasgow club’s folklore by scoring perhaps the most important goal of his career with a 30-yard free kick against the same opposition at Celtic Park which ensured the club’s qualification to the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in history. Celtic won their 41st league championship, and second in a row via a dramatic injury-time free kick winner by Nakamura against Kilmarnock.

For his outstanding contribution to his team’s success, Nakamura was awarded the Scottish Player of the year, followed by SFWA Footballer of the year. The technically gifted midfielder was also nominated for 2007 Ballon d’Or.

The following season Nakamura cemented his legacy at the east end of Glasgow along with the likes of Henrik Larsson. On April 16, in a crucial league game that Celtic had to win in order to prevent their arch rivals Rangers from winning the league title, Nakamura scored from a thunderous 30-yard volley and Celtic won the game 2-1. He also became the first ever Japanese player to score in the historic “Old Firm Derby”. The Hoops won their third consecutive league title on the last day of the season.

Nakamura spent just one more season with The Bhoys before moving on to Espanyol. In his four seasons with Celtic, the Japanese playmaker scored 34 goals in 166 appearances and went on to win three Scottish League titles, two Scottish League Cups and a Scottish Cup. The legacy of Shunsuke Nakamura will forever remain at the club as master of the midfield and a wizard behind the dead ball.

Nakamura also had a pretty impressive international career for The Blue Samurais, he has 98 caps and 24 goals. He has won two AFC Asian Cups in 2000 and 2004 and appeared in FIFA World Cups in 2006 and 2010. He retired from international football after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, he is still playing in the J.League for Jubilo Iwata at the age of 40.

His guile, vision, elegance and outlandish ability from the set pieces makes him a phenomenal player with an identity far beyond that of the Japanese Beckham.