After over 750 professional club appearances and nearly a century of caps for Japan, the glittering career of Asian football icon Shunsuke Nakamura will come to a close at the age of 44.
On Tuesday, Nakamura confirmed his retirement at the end of the current season with Yokohama FC, who will be last in the list of clubs he has starred for which include Scottish giants Celtic, LaLiga outfit Espanyol as well as hometown team and Japanese powerhouses Yokohama F. Marinos.
A three-time Scottish Premier League champion with Celtic, the playmaker also won two consecutive AFC Asian Cups with the Samurai Blue and will be best remembered for his set-piece and playmaking prowess with his wand of a left foot.
His career highlight was arguably a freekick goal that sealed a famous win for Celtic over Manchester United, but it was just one of many memorable moments.
Here, we look back at five chapters that defined Nakamura’s career.
Breaking into Europe
Having featured prominently for Marinos from the moment he made his debut in 1997, it did not take Nakamura long at all to establish himself as one of Asian football’s brightest prospects.
By 2000, Nakamura — still only 22 — was named the J1 League’s Most Valuable Player and was in the starting XI of the Japan team that won the Asian Cup that year.
Surprisingly, he would be left out of the Samurai Blue squad that competed on home soil at the 2002 FIFA World Cup but it was that summer that saw him earn a move to Europe with Reggina, who were said to have identified him as a marquee signing following their promotion to Serie A.
Nakamura would enjoy an impressive first campaign with Reggina as he scored eight goals in 38 appearances, and would continue to feature prominently for the next two seasons when fit.
Retaining the Asian Cup with Japan
Possibly the pinnacle of an international career that boasted 98 caps and two World Cup appearances, Nakamura played a pivotal role in Japan’s successful defence of their Asian Cup crown in 2004 — going to be named the tournament’s MVP.
In the absence of Hidetoshi Nakata — the biggest name in Japanese football at that time — Nakamura emerged as the Samurai Blue’s playmaker-in-chief, netting a crucial goal in a 1-0 tournament-opening win over Oman that sent his country on their way.
Nakamura would go on to score at a World Cup two years later, but his finest moments for his national team arguably arrived in China in the summer of 2004.
A taste of silverware with Celtic
Following three seasons with Reggina, Nakamura made the move to Celtic Park and it was there where he would really rise to prominence — even before that famous strike against United.
Arriving at a time when Celtic were performing below expectations, the Japanese playmaker made an instant impact with six goals and ten assists in 38 games as his new club won both the league and League Cup.
That SPL crown would be the first of three consecutive titles for the Bhoys, with Nakamura taking home a host of individual accolades the following season, including the SPFA Players’ Player of the Year and SFWA Footballer of the Year awards.
That goal against Manchester United
Of course, it is almost impossible to relive Nakamura’s career without revisiting the goal that launched him to global prominence — or at least made his name a recognisable one even among average football fans.
Having already netted against the English giants at Old Trafford in a narrow 3-2 loss in their UEFA Champions League group-stage opener, Nakamura would repeat the feat — only this time with an even more sublime effort that left the great Edwin van der Sar beaten all ends up — to hand Celtic a crucial 1-0 victory in their final game.
The huge upset — over a side that would go on to reach the semifinals that season, and win the tournament just the following year — was enough to send the Bhoys into the Champions League knockout round for the first time ever and secured Nakamura’s place in Celtic folklore.
Returning home to Yokohama
After his glorious stint with Celtic, Nakamura would briefly feature in Spain with Espanyol before heading back to Japan for the remainder of his career — initially returning to Marinos and ultimately finishing up with over 400 appearances for his boyhood team.
A two-and-a-half year spell with Jubilo Iwata followed before he decided to return to his hometown — albeit with Marinos’ local rivals Yokohama FC.
A far more modest club compared to their successful neighbours, Yokohama FC were actually birthed from the supporters of the original Yokohama Flugels protesting against the 1999 merger with Marinos (the ‘F’ in Yokohama F. Marinos is designed to pay recognition to the Flugels).
The capture of such a famous name — alongside another icon in Kazuyoshi Miura, who is still playing professionally at 55 — was a huge coup for the ambitious outfit.
Yokohama FC would secure a return to the top-flight J1 League just months after Nakamura’s arrival at the end of 2019 although they have since been relegated back to the second tier, where he will finish his career in.