Shunsuke Nakamura

Not to be confused with Shinsuke Nakamura.
Shunsuke Nakamura

Nakamura playing for Japan in 2008
Personal information
Full name Shunsuke Nakamura[1]
Date of birth (1978-06-24) 24 June 1978
Place of birth Yokohama, Japan
Height 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)
Playing position Attacking midfielder
Club information
Current team
Yokohama F. Marinos
Number 10
Youth career
1986–1995 Nissan Junior Youth
1995–1998 Tōkō Gakuen High School
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1997–2002 Yokohama F. Marinos 148 (33)
2002–2005 Reggina 81 (11)
2005–2009 Celtic 128 (29)
2009–2010 Espanyol 13 (0)
2010– Yokohama F. Marinos 189 (35)
National team
1997 Japan U20 5 (1)
2000 Japan U23 4 (0)
2000–2010 Japan 98 (24)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 17 July 2016.

Shunsuke Nakamura (中村 俊輔 Nakamura Shunsuke, born 24 June 1978) is a Japanese professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for Yokohama F. Marinos in J1 League. He is the first and only player to have been twice named J.League Most Valuable Player, receiving the award in 2000 and 2013.[2] He is well known for his vision, touch, bending shots and free kick-taking abilities; Steve Perryman once remarked that Nakamura "could open a tin of beans with his left foot".[3]

His former clubs include Espanyol, Celtic, and Reggina. During his time at Celtic, he became one of the best Asian players to have ever played in Europe; he was nominated for the 2007 Ballon d'Or,[4] was named Scottish Player of the Year[5] and SFWA Footballer of the Year[6] in 2007, and became the first Japanese player to score in the UEFA Champions League.[7] His team accomplishments at Celtic include winning the Scottish Premier League in 2006, 2007, and 2008, the Scottish League Cup in 2006 and 2009, and the Scottish Cup in 2007.[8]

Nakamura has 98 caps and 24 goals for the Japanese national football team, including appearances in the FIFA World Cup finals in 2006 and 2010[9] and winning the AFC Asian Cup in 2000 and 2004; he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2004 competition.[10] He also appeared in the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship as a member of the Japanese Under-20 team and the 2000 Summer Olympics as a member of the Japanese Under-23 team.[11]

Asteroid 29986 Shunsuke is also named in his honour.

Early life

Born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, Nakamura began playing football competitively at age 5 with local junior club side Misono FC, where his playmaking abilities already garnered attention from locals.[12] In fifth grade, he was selected for Yokohama's city junior all-star team's tour of the Soviet Union,[13] even though the team was only meant to include sixth graders.

At age 12, Nakamura joined the youth setup of Nissan Football Club,[12] one of the predecessors of the club known today as Yokohama F. Marinos. While training at the youth setup, Nakamura was already honing his dead-ball technique, practicing free kicks for an hour every day outside of team practice;[13] his coaches also acknowledged he had good ball skills and technique.[13] However, at that time Nakamura was physically underdeveloped compared to his teammates and struggled to transition to the youth level, and eventually was not chosen for the youth team.[14]

Rather than continue on the fringes of Nissan's youth setup, Nakamura instead decided to enroll at Tōkō Gakuen High School in Kawasaki,[15] despite the school being a two-and-a-half hour commute each way.[16] Nakamura led Tōkō Gakuen to Japan's national high school football tournament in 1995 and to the tournament final in 1996.[17] It was his performance there that earned him a call-up to the Japanese Under-20 team for the 1996 AFC Youth Championship[11] and subsequently for the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship.[11][18]

By his graduation from Tōkō Gakuen in 1997, Nakamura had attracted interest from several top-flight Japanese clubs, including offers from Júbilo Iwata, Verdy Kawasaki, and Gamba Osaka.[19]

Club career

Yokohama Marinos

In 1997, Nakamura chose to sign with J.League Division 1 club Yokohama Marinos,[18] the club whose youth setup he had left only a few years earlier. (The Marinos would later merge with Yokohama Flügels, and take on their current name, Yokohama F. Marinos, in 1999.) Nakamura made his début with Marinos on 8 March in an Emperor's Cup match against Verdy Kawasaki[20] and his league début on 16 April against Gamba Osaka. Nakamura finished his rookie season with 31 appearances and 5 goals.[21]

Nakamura had his breakout season the following year in 1998, making 37 appearances and scoring 10 goals; his playmaking ability in creating scoring chances for teammates also contributed to Nakamura being considered one of the best young players in Japan.[21] In 2000, Nakamura had his best season in Yokohama, recording 5 goals and 11 assists in league play, helping Marinos to the first-stage championship;[21] Nakamura was awarded J.League Most Valuable Player for his contributions.[21][22] The following year, Nakamura made 31 appearances and scored 5 goals in all competitions, including 6 appearances and 2 goals in the 2001 J.League Cup, which the Marinos won.[23]

Due to his success, Nakamura became the subject of transfer target rumors from a number of European clubs including Real Madrid[24][25] and several Lega Calcio sides such as Reggina, Chievo, Perugia, Napoli, Lecce, and Atalanta.[26] Nakamura felt he had to leave Japan and play in Europe to further develop and advance his career, especially after the disappointment of being left off of Japan's 2002 World Cup squad.[25][27] Nakamura left Marinos partway through the 2002 season to join Reggina, newly promoted to Serie A, after the clubs agreed to a 6-month loan and US$3.5 million transfer fee.[25] Prior to his departure from Marinos, Nakamura remained in top form, scoring 4 goals in 8 appearances.[23]


Nakamura had come to the attention of Reggina scouts after an international match against Honduras during the 2002 Kirin Cup in which Nakamura had a standout performance and scored two goals.[11][28] Reggina gained promotion to Serie A after the 2001–02 season and had already been looking to sign a marquee player for some time.[28] It is said that, on the day Reggina secured promotion, then-Chairman Pasquale Foti had already called the Marinos to inquire about a Nakamura transfer while Reggina's players were still on the pitch celebrating.[29]

Expectations for Nakamura were very high; the prestigious number 10 shirt was even taken from teammate Francesco Cozza and given to Nakamura,[30] and the club sold 25,000 Nakamura shirts in the first five months he was at the club.[31] Nakamura responded by scoring in three consecutive matches early in the season; in league play, Nakamura finished the season with 32 appearances and tied for the team lead with 7 goals,[32] helping Reggina narrowly avoid relegation (Reggina defeated Atalanta in the relegation playoff).

Nakamura struggled with injuries in 2003 and was limited to just 18 appearances in the 2003–04 season (these injuries also caused him to miss a 2003 Confederations Cup game against Colombia and national team duty in November 2003).[33] Additionally, Reggina underwent four managerial changes in just Nakamura's first two years at the club;[34] Walter Mazzarri, hired in the summer of 2004, would already be Nakamura's fifth manager at Reggina. The frequent changes resulted in Nakamura mostly coming off the bench during the 2003–04 season[30][35][36] and not fitting in well under Mazzarri in 2004–05 when Reggina only scored 36 goals in their entire league campaign,[37] with Nakamura only managing to contribute two goals (although each came in crucial 1–0 league victories in a season where Reggina finished only 2 points clear of the relegation zone).[38] Coupled with Reggina's struggle to avoid relegation every season that he had been at the club, Nakamura became concerned he was regressing from top level football[39] and decided it was time to move on.


Nakamura expressed interest in playing in Spain and media reports linked him to La Liga sides Atlético Madrid and Deportivo[40][41] as well as Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer of 2005. Other European clubs including Leeds United,[42] Lazio,[35] and Parma[43] reportedly had also expressed interest during Nakamura's time at Reggina, but Nakamura ultimately chose to join Scottish Premier League runners-up Celtic.[44]

New manager Gordon Strachan became interested in acquiring Nakamura due to his national team appearances in the 2005 Confederations Cup,[45] in particular for his performance against Brazil[46] in which Nakamura scored a goal and helped Japan to a 2–2 draw.[9] The deal with Celtic was completed on 29 July 2005 for a reported transfer fee of £2.5 million,[44] although Strachan has claimed the actual fee was far lower.[47] In welcoming Nakamura to the club, Strachan stated that Nakamura "has got imagination and he sees passes other people can't see."[44] Part of the deal also involved Celtic securing the player's image rights, with a view to enhancing the club's profile and merchandising sales in the Far East.[44]

2005–06 season

Nakamura warming up ahead of Celtic's clash with Dundee United on 6 August 2005

Nakamura joined Celtic at a time of relative crisis for the club and new manager Strachan.[48] Celtic had been eliminated from European competition after being unable to overcome a shock 0–5 first leg defeat to Artmedia Bratislava in the second qualifying round of the 2005–06 Champions League and also had an inauspicious start to the league season, needing an injury time equalizer from Craig Beattie just to draw with Motherwell in the league opener.[48][49] For this reason, Strachan immediately inserted Nakamura into the match day lineup for the second league game of the season against Dundee United on 6 August, despite Nakamura not being match fit as he had not played since the Confederations Cup earlier in the summer.[48] Nevertheless, Nakamura had an excellent debut and was named Man of the Match,[50] earning a standing ovation from the home Celtic support when he was substituted in the 84th minute.[51][52] Both Tommy Burns and Neil Lennon, at the time first-team coach and club captain, respectively, have credited Nakamura's arrival at Celtic with helping turn around Celtic's disappointing start to the season.[53]

Nakamura finished his debut season at Celtic with 38 appearances, 6 goals, and 10 assists.[54] His creativity, as well as his work ethic and composure under pressure, won praise from teammates, manager Gordon Strachan and Celtic supporters.[55][56] In reviewing Nakamura's debut season, Strachan said that Nakamura's "touch and vision were outstanding... In goal assists, I really do not think there is a player in Scotland to touch him."[54] In his first season with Celtic, Nakamura won his first major club titles, the Scottish Premier League and Scottish League Cup.[57]

2006–07 season

In his second season at Celtic, Nakamura played his debut Champions League game on 13 September against Manchester United at Old Trafford. He scored from a free kick to bring the game level at 2–2, making him the first Japanese footballer to score a goal in the Champions League,[58] although Celtic eventually lost 3–2. On 14 October, in a league game against Dundee United at Tannadice Nakamura scored the first hat-trick of his Celtic career and won the Man of the Match award. The game ended 4–1 in Celtic's favour.

On 21 November, 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. This goal led to Celtic qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage for the first time.[59] On 26 December, Nakamura chipped the ball over Dundee United's goalkeeper Derek Stillie at Celtic Park. 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".[60][61]

On 25 February, 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 3 March against Dunfermline Athletic.[62] Hoops manager Gordon Strachan insisted that Celtic couldn't play the second leg of the Champions League match against A.C. Milan in the San Siro without him.[63] He played in both legs of the fixture, the first of which was a 0–0 draw at Celtic Park, with Milan going on to win the tie 1–0 after extra-time at the San Siro.

On 22 April, Celtic won their 41st league championship, and second in a row. The title was won in dramatic fashion by an injury time free-kick from Nakamura in a 2–1 victory against Kilmarnock.[64] The result left Celtic 13 points clear of Rangers with four matches remaining. Quite fittingly, 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.[5] This was followed in May by the Scottish Football Writers' Association player of the year award[6] and both Players Player of the Year award and the Fans Player of the Year award at Celtic's own end of season awards ceremony.[65] He was also awarded SPL goal of the season for his goal on 26 December against Dundee United.[5]

2007–08 season

Nakamura featured little in the first part of Celtic's 2007–08 campaign due to a knee injury which was picked up in a Champions League qualifying match against Spartak Moscow in August 2007 and repeatedly aggravated, including in a match against Motherwell on 27 October,[66] after which Nakamura sat out for nearly three months. Nakamura returned to play on 12 January 2008, for Celtic's Scottish Cup match against Stirling Albion, in which he scored a goal.[67]

On 16 April Nakamura scored his first goal against Glasgow rivals Rangers in a 2–1 victory for Celtic. Typically, it was a fantastic goal, this time being a 30-yard volley. This goal made him the first ever Japanese player to score in an Old Firm game. He later had a goal bound effort cleared off the line by a Carlos Cuéllar handball in the same match.[68]

On 1 July, it was reported that newly promoted Serie A side Bologna were interested in acquiring Nakamura's services from Celtic. However, the player has reiterated his desire to see out the remaining years of his contract until he returns to Yokohama F. Marinos to end his career.

2008–09 season

On 13 September, Nakamura played his 100th Scottish Premier League match in a 4–2 victory against Motherwell.

On 28 February 2009, he scored a hat trick against St Mirren in a 7–0 win.


Many members of the media speculated that Nakamura would return to his hometown club Yokohama F. Marinos after the four-year contract with Celtic. In June 2009, just before a medical checkup in Yokohama, the negotiation broke down for unknown reasons. On 22 June 2009, it was announced that Nakamura had agreed terms with La Liga side Espanyol.[69] He agreed to join on a two-year contract, subject to a medical examination.[70] He made his debut with "Los Pericos" in the first league match of the 2009–10 season against Athletic Bilbao, playing the entire game. However, he did not have as much first team action as he had hoped, with the majority of his appearances being as a substitute.

Yokohama F. Marinos

On 1 February 2010, Nakamura told the Spanish press that he was going to stay at the Barcelona-based side. However, on 12 February a statement was released which admitted that both Espanyol and Nakamura himself had decided upon the player's return to Japan, as this was the only way he would secure a spot in the Japanese national team competing at the 2010 World Cup.[71] Nakamura subsequently rejoined Yokohama F. Marinos on 26 February, 8 years after leaving to play in Europe.

In 2011, Nakamura was appointed captain and led the team to best record in the J. League Division 1 since 2004.

International career

Nakamura playing for the national team.

Youth national teams

Nakamura's national team career with Japan started in 1996 as the only high school player selected to the Under-19 team for the Asia Youth Championship. The following year, he was a member of Japan's Under-20 team that finished in the final 8 of the FIFA World Youth Championship.

In 1999, Nakamura was selected a member of Japan's Under-23 team that won all its Asian qualifying matches in the run up to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Nakamura formed a lethal combination in the attacking midfield with Shinji Ono on a team that would form the core of the Japanese national team, and included Atsushi Yanagisawa, Junichi Inamoto and Naohiro Takahara. In Sydney, Japan reached the quarterfinal round.

Under Troussier

Nakamura made his senior national team debut on 13 February 2000, in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier match against Singapore.[9] He scored his first national team goal against Brunei in the very next match on 16 February 2000, also in Asian Cup qualifying.[9]

After helping Japan win the 2000 AFC Asian Cup,[72] Nakamura appeared to have cemented his place in the national team, having played every match of the tournament. However, his national team career took a sharp turn in a friendly match on 25 March 2001, a humiliating 5–0 loss to France. He did not play for the team led by manager Philippe Troussier again until almost a year later, in a friendly match against Ukraine on 21 March 2002.

Although Nakamura played in four friendly matches leading up to the 2002 World Cup Finals, he was left out of the 23-man squad to the disappointment of fans. In the second to last warm up match for the World Cup against Honduras, he scored two goals, one of them a curling shot made directly from a corner kick.[73] However, he picked up a knee injury against Honduras and did not play in the final warm up match, a 3–0 loss against Norway, and was ultimately not picked for the World Cup squad.[74]

Despite Nakamura's talents, Troussier could not find a place for him in his rigid, defensive-minded system. He believed Nakamura lacked the physique and stamina to play either the center or the left of the midfield, and had a surplus of players at both positions.[75]

Under Zico

After the World Cup, Troussier resigned as manager of Japan, and was replaced by former Brazil and Kashima Antlers star Zico. The new coach immediately brought the talented player back to the national team, starting Nakamura in his debut against Jamaica.

Zico has lauded Nakamura's improvement since 2002, especially his physical development, stating, "Unquestionably, he has improved a great deal since his move to Serie A. He is the soul of our midfield."[76] Nakamura has flourished under Zico's attacking style and earned his place as the central playmaker. He led Japan to the championship at Asian Cup 2004,[72] where he was named Most Valuable Player, and qualification for the 2006 World Cup Finals.[77] Nakamura also starred for Japan in the 2003 and 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, scoring a total of 4 goals in 5 matches.[9]

Nakamura was suspended for the World Cup qualification match against North Korea on 8 June 2005 that clinched Japan's place in the 2006 Finals,[78] he nonetheless played a key role in the qualifying run and has replaced Hidetoshi Nakata as the main playmaker in Japan's attack.[79]

In the 2006 FIFA World Cup Nakamura scored the controversial opening goal in Japan's first game against Australia, which Australia came back to win 3–1.

After the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Nakamura retired from international football.[80]

International goals

Scores and results list Japan's goal tally first.[81]

Career statistics


As of 17 July 2016[36][82]
Club Season League Cup League Cup Continental Other[a] Total
Yokohama F. Marinos 1997 2751030315
1998 33900413710
1999 2673140338
2000 305204120386
2001 2431062315
2002 8484
Total 14833712142017838
Reggina 2002–03 3274120388
2003–04 16220182
2004–05 33200332
Total 811161208912
Celtic 2005–06 3361040386
2006–07 3795000825011
2007–08 266410061368
2008–09 328203150429
Total 128291217119316634
Espanyol 2009–10 13020150
Total 13020150
Yokohama F. Marinos 2010 3252110356
2011 2445220316
2012 3165230398
2013 3310511024813
2014 32300105010393
2015 1932010223
2016 1840011195
Total 18935196193501023344
Career total 55910846947824350681128



Japan national team



Yokohama F. Marinos



Personal life

Nakamura married a former Japanese talent in 2004. In the same year, his first son was born. His second son was born on 15 January 2008 in Glasgow, Scotland. According to the Evening Times, he is a fan of the Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo video games. He has appeared on the front cover (some of them with Zico) of the Japanese releases of Konami's Winning Eleven video game series (WE 5 WE 9, WE 9: Ubiquitous Evolution and WE 10) in 2001, 2005 and 2006. He also appeared on the front cover of Namco's Football Kingdom Trial Edition in 2004. He is the paid promoter of the Yamada electronics chain. His current boot sponsor is Adidas. Nakamura has illustrated the precision of his free kicks with novelty performances on television, including knocking ornaments off a wedding cake without disturbing the cake itself, and striking a ball through the window of a moving bus.[85][86]


^a Includes other competitive matches in competitions such as the Japanese Super Cup, J.League Championship, Serie A play-offs, etc.


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  • Greig, Martin (2008). The Zen of Naka. Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd. ISBN 9781845963576. 
  • Strachan, Gordon (2006). Strachan: My Life in Football. London: Time Warner Books. ISBN 9780751537482. 
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