Shunsuke Nakamura, the former Samurai Blue star and Celtic legend, announced his retirement on Tuesday, capping up a historic career as Japan’s finest dead-ball specialist and one of the country’s most renowned global superstars.
The 44-year-old midfielder, best known among J. League fans for his time at Yokohama F. Marinos, where he won an unprecedented pair of MVP trophies.
But he failed to win the first-division title and had seen his appearances decrease in recent years due to injuries, but he continued to wow fans at Jubilo Iwata and, more recently, Yokohama FC with his dazzling free kicks when his fitness allowed him to play.
“Forty years have passed since I began kicking the ball as a kindergartener, and in the beginning it was simply because I enjoyed it,” Nakamura said in comments released through Yokohama FC. “Then soccer became my job and I’ve spent 26 years as a professional athlete.
“Over my long career, I’ve had many struggles and setbacks, but there was always someone ready to support me and push me forward.”
Though it was in Yokohama where Nakamura made his name, it was in Glasgow where he wrote the bulk of his legend, with his achievements at Celtic paving the way for dozens of Japanese players to follow the path that he and contemporaries like Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono had blazed to Europe.
“Hidetoshi Nakata, Nakamura and others showed that it could be done,” writer Anthony Haggerty of The Celtic Way told The Japan Times.
“These guys were important for Japanese players, just to get Europeans’ eyes open wide … to not just see these guys at World Cups, to actually see them on a weekly basis.
“I think any aspiring Japanese player looked at them and thought ‘If they can do it, I can do it. (Japanese players) are just as good. We’ll show them.'”
His reputation has even risen among Celtic fans in the last 15 months, with the arrival of four Japanese players in Glasgow under current manager Ange Postecoglou providing the club with an opportunity to connect the past with the present.
While he is anticipated to address his post-retirement plans in November, following the conclusion of the J. League season, Nakamura is largely expected to pursue a second career in coaching and has already earned a “B” class licence from the Japan Football Association.