A glittering, long-running career has come to an inevitable end on Monday, after Shunsuke Nakamura announced that he will retire at the end of the 2022 season. Having helped Yokohama FC to promotion back to the J.League 1 this year, 44-year old midfielder Nakamura has decided to call time on his playing career, bringing to a close a 25-year long career that saw him represent the likes of Yokohama F. Marinos and Glasgow Celtic among other clubs.
Breaking through the Yokohama Marinos setup in 1997, Nakamura took the J,League 1 by storm and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award at the tender age of 22 in 2000, the youngest-ever player to have won the recognition. The year before, Nakamura was a living witness to a historical merger between Marinos and their crosstown rivals Yokohama Flugels, forming the club that we all know as Yokohama F. Marinos today.
However, despite turning out for his national team regularly, Nakamura was shockingly left out of Japan’s 2002 FIFA World Cup squad by the national team head coach at that time, Philippe Troussier. Despite the omission, Nakamura’s talents did not go unnoticed by Europe and in the summer of 2002 the midfielder was off to Italy, joining Reggina for three years before arguably making the move that defined his career the most, flying over to Scotland to join local giants Celtic.
Blessed with vision, technique, and devastatingly accurate free-kicks, Nakamura quickly established himself as a fan-favorite at Celtic Park. Together with the Bhoys, Nakamura won six domestic titles which included three league titles, a Scottish Cup, and two Scottish League Cups. Nakamura also impressed in continental football, scoring two free-kicks in two separate matches against Manchester United in the 2006-07 UEFA Champions League.
After four illustrious years in Glasgow, Nakamura left Celtic as a club legend, his legacy immortalized in the hearts and minds of the club’s fans. Nakamura’s legacy was so memorable, the thought of having a second coming of the player made Celtic fans quickly accept and embrace the club’s current Japanese trio of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, and Reo Hatate, who, like Nakamura, were forged in the J.League 1 prior to their move to Scotland.
Barcelona-based RCD Espanyol in the La Liga was Nakamura’s next stop, but he didn’t last long at the club, only spending half-a-season before returning to the J1 with boyhood club Yokohama F. Marinos in 2010. The midfield maestro’s second stint at Yokohama lasted seven years, during which he won his second J.League 1 MVP award in 2013 – thus becoming the only person so far to have won the award twice.
A two-year spell at Jubilo Iwata ensued, where Nakamura saw his game time decreasing gradually as he became older and injury-prone. Leaving Shizuoka Prefecture in 2019, Nakamura returned to the city of Yokohama but not for a third stint with F. Marinos, instead the veteran midfielder joined Yokohama FC down in the J.League 2. Nakamura’s presence at Yokohama FC further establishes the club’s reputation as a home for veteran players, having enlisted the likes of Kazuyoshi Miura and Daisuke Matsui during the twilight years of their playing careers.
Despite his aging legs Nakamura still has some fuel left in his tank, as the veteran helped Yokohama FC to promotion out of the J2 at the end of the 2019 season before becoming a periphery figure as the club only lasted two years in the top-flight. With Yokohama FC being relegated back to the J2 after finishing bottom of the 2021 J1 campaign, Nakamura wrapped up his final mission with the club this year, helping Yokohama FC to promotion back to the J1 as this season’s J2 runners-up.
In total, Nakamura clocked up 747 appearances, scored 131 goals, and assisted 113 times in all competitions from his debut back in 1997 all the way to the present day. He has also won 98 caps for Japan, scoring 24 goals for the national team, and was part of the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup squads.
Nakamura has voiced out his desire to remain in the footballing world despite his retirement as a player, as he’s eager to take up a coaching role sometime in the future.