Friday, August 31, 2007

The "Hooped Ninja" - Shunsuke Nakamura

Because I dont't know anyone who can root for a team and not have a favorite player, here's mine:Shunsuke Nakamura (中村 俊輔, born June 24, 1978) is a Japanese football player who currently plays for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. He is one of the most prominent and successful Asian players to have played in Europe and on 13 September 2006 became the first Japanese player to score in the Champions League and the second Asian player to do so.

He has won the Asian Cup in 2000 and 2004 with the Japanese national football team, and was named Most Valuable Player in the 2004 competition. He has also appeared in the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship, and the 2000 Summer Olympics as a member of the Japanese Under-23 team.

In his first season with Celtic, Nakamura helped the club win the Scottish Premier League and Scottish League Cup. His contributions to the Japanese national football team are represented by 16 goals. His former clubs include Yokohama F. Marinos and Reggina, for whom he scored 38 and 11 goals respectively before moving to Celtic on 25 July 2005 for a fee of around 1.25 million pounds.

Club Career

Yokohama Marinos (1997-2002)

In 1997, 19-year-old Nakamura joined Yokohama Marinos of J. League (later merged with Yokohama Flugels and renamed 'Yokohama F. Marinos), a club whose youth side he had played for when it was known as Nissan Motors FC. He made his début with Marinos on April 16 of that year against Gamba Osaka. Nakamura finished the season with 27 appearances and 5 goals.

In 2000, Nakamura had his best season in Yokohama, recording 5 goals and 11 assists, and winning the J. League Most Valuable Player award.

Nakamura left Marinos during the 2002 season to join Reggina of Serie A, after the clubs agreed to a US$3.5 million transfer fee following a 6-month loan period.

Reggina (2002-2005)

Following the disappointment of being omitted from Japan's final World Cup squad, Nakamura joined Italian club Reggina, newly promoted to Serie A. Expectations for Nakamura were high, as he was given the prestigious number 10 shirt from the start, and he responded by scoring in three consecutive matches early in the season.

However, Nakamura struggled with injuries, appearing in just 18 matches in the 2003-04 season, while the club struggled to avoid relegation all three seasons he played there. After three seasons in Italy, he felt it was time to move on.

Celtic (2005-present)

Nakamura expressed interest in playing in Spain and media reports linked him to Atlético Madrid and Deportivo La Coruña of La Liga as well as Bundesliga teams Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2005, but Nakamura ultimately chose to join Scottish Premier League champions Celtic.

Although Japanese football observer Jeremy Walker warned that Nakamura's lack of pace and stamina may be a problem in Scotland, he made an immediate impact with Celtic, as he was named Man of the Match in his début against Dundee United on August 6, 2005. His creativity, as well as his work ethic and composure under pressure has won praise from teammates, manager Gordon Strachan and Celtic supporters.

In his first season with Celtic, Nakamura won his first major club titles, the Scottish Premier League and Scottish League Cup. On 13 September 2006, he played his début Champions League game against Manchester United at Old Trafford. He scored a freekick to bring the game level at 2-2. However, the game ended with the home side winning 3-2. On 14 October 2006, he played in a league game against Dundee United at Tannadice Park and went on to get man of the match as well as score his first hat-trick of his Celtic career. The game ended 4-1 in Celtic's favour. On 21 November 2006, Nakamura scored perhaps the most important goal of his career to date with a 30 yard free-kick against Manchester United at Celtic Park in a crucial Champions League game. The goal resulted in Celtic progressing to the Champions League knockout stage for the first time. On 26 December 2006, Nakamura chipped the ball over Dundee United's goalkeeper Derek Stillie at Celtic Park (He won the Goal of the Season award by this. It was Nakamura's performance in the final 20 minutes of the game which allowed Celtic to escape with a point, prompting Gordon Strachan to proclaim him "a genius".

On 25 February 2007, during the Scottish Cup quarter-final between Celtic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Nakamura broke a bone in his left hand after an Inverness player stepped on it. However, Nakamura played in the next game on March 3 against Dunfermline Athletic. Gordon Strachan, said that they couldn’t play the second leg of the Champions League match against AC Milan in San Siro without him. He played in both legs of the fixture, the first was at Celtic Park where the Celts were held to a 0-0 draw and the second-leg finished 1-0 to Milan after extra time.

On April 22, 2007 Celtic won their 41st league championship, and second in a row. The title was won by a free-kick from Nakamura in a 2-1 victory against Kilmarnock. The result left Celtic 13 points clear of Rangers with four matches remaining. Later that day Nakamura was recognized by his peers by him winning the Scottish Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year award for 2007. This was followed in May by the Scottish Football Writers' Association player of the year award and both Players Player of the Year award and the Fans Player of the Year award at Celtics' own end of season awards ceremony.

Hail! Hail!


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