"He trusted me"; Celtic hero Shunsuke Nakamura on playing with freedom

By Euan Davidson

May 4, 2021

Shunsuke Nakamura was one hell of a Celtic player.

A guy who lived for the big moments, the Japanese superstar was an absolute steal. Signed from Reggina Calcio for €3m in 2005 [UEFA], the midfielder left an incredible mark in the Hoops. A star in European matches and a last-gasp winner in vital title clashes, the playmaker had it all.

Gordon Strachan, despite his other faults as a manager, just got him. The language barrier might’ve been significant, but Naka knew that his coach had trust in him. And why wouldn’t he: Nakamura was a technician the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Henrik Larsson. A rare breed, Nakamura seemed to have far more time on the ball than anyone else. Of course, his dead-ball prowess is world-famous, but often he dictated the tempo for the Bhoys, notching up 36 assists [Transfermarkt].

The current – yes, current – Yokohama FC player spoke to the Guardian about his experience playing for Celtic.

Naka said [Guardian]:

“Before every match, manager Strachan only said to me to ‘enjoy it’. He trusted me and left me to play the way I wanted to play. I am very grateful to him for taking good care of me and my family as well. I learnt a lot from him. Manager Strachan understood that I was the type of player who played by instinct and feeling.”

What a guy: Shunsuke Nakamura / (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

Shunsuke Nakamura is still a Celtic supporter

Reflecting on his arrival at Celtic Park, Nakamura said:

“My playing style, my life and my family’s life all fitted in well there.

“My children’s kindergarten was very welcoming to us, and they tried to understand my conversation even though my English was not great. I felt the local people respected and cared for others. So, it was a fun and happy time for us.

“I still follow Celtic and watch the news and watch the games.

“I think Rangers were strong this season and deserved to win the championship. I hope Celtic will use the disappointment of Rangers’ victory to come back and win next season.”

We hope so too, Naka.

16 years after joining Celtic, and becoming Player of the Year in 06-07, Nakamura is still playing. While his minutes are diminishing, Naka still contributes. Interestingly, he’s just a year younger than Tomonobu Hayakawa, his manager at Yokohama FC.

With fond memories of the club, and an eye surely on retirement, it’ll be interesting to see what Nakamura does next. Certainly, you can imagine him as a coach, but there’ll be no pressure on him in his native land. For if there’s a Japanese footballer who’s done and seen it all, it’s surely Shunsuke Nakamura.

Here’s that goal.

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