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Page last updated at 18:19 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Celtic's Hero Nakamura

Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura
Nakamura has enjoyed a successful spell at Celtic

By David McDaid

"I like haggis but I can't eat too much of it or I'll get fat. Now and again's okay though."

Even after the confirming the ingredients of the traditional Scottish cuisine, Shunsuke Nakamura's enthusiasm for the dish remains undiminished.

"Sheep's insides, right? I don't mind that."

Since joining Celtic from Italian club Reggina in 2005, the Japanese midfielder has clearly acquired a taste for life in Glasgow.

Although a huge star in his native Japan few on these shores had heard of the player when he arrived that summer.

It turns out the feeling was mutual.

"Until I met the manager Gordon Strachan and Peter Lawwell the chief executive, I never knew a club called Celtic even existed," he smiled.

"I had a few clubs to choose from but I was struck by Gordon and Peter's enthusiasm.

"I felt they understood my playing style and thought 'this is the club for me'."

Despite the good impression Nakamura freely admits he initially viewed the club as a stepping stone on the way to realising his lifelong dream of playing in Spain's Primera Liga.

"I thought that if I could I'd be here for maybe two years and then make the next step up at a different club," said Nakamura.


"But I've absolutely no regrets about staying given what I've managed to achieve while I've been here.

"We've won the championship for the last three seasons, and got to the Champions League knock-out stages, so being in a team like this has been a good experience."

By the end of that second season the Japan international's stock had soared sky high.

He had scored vital goals including in the Champions League against Manchester United and the Scottish Premier League title-clincher against Kilmarnock.

That same night he was named player of the year by his fellow Scottish professionals.

Taking 'the next step' at that point should have been easily within his reach. So what stopped him?

"I felt I was learning here and I'd be able to grow more as a player if I stayed longer.

"The fans are wonderful and players are great too, so it never really occurred to me to leave."

Now though, Nakamura feels that at 30 years of age it's nearing the right time to leave for the team he holds even dearer than Celtic.

Yokohama F Marinos is where it all began for Nakamura as a teenager, and the news in Japan that of his impending return has already had an impact on the club.

With a handful of matches of the J-league season remaining Marinos were struggling to secure their future in the top flight.

However, the 'Shunsuke effect' has been mentioned as a motivating factor to propel them to safety, for fear that relegation would diminish Nakamura's desire to return.

"I've always intended to go back and finish my career at Marinos where I grew up," said Nakamura.

"I haven't missed Japan but as I've got older the desire to play there again has grown stronger.

"Marinos is my local club, it's like home for me, and to want to end my career there feels natural.

"Some people have moved on since I was there last but there are still a lot of familiar faces working there."

Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura
Nakamura has posed a potent threat with his free-kick prowess

Nakamura himself is the most familiar face of Japanese football, and his every contribution in green and white is reported in the local media.

He can be seen on the television advertising energy drinks, on the metro promoting magazines, or in sports shops endorsing clothing brands.

As well as signing a gifted footballer, Celtic also tapped in to his marketing power in a country that takes hero worship to a whole different level.

And even though an Old Firm existence in the west of Scotland is often described as 'living in a goldfish bowl', the Japanese expects to receive a lot more attention from his many fans in his homeland.

"If I'm out shopping in Glasgow fans might ask for an autograph on a receipt or something.

"Back home people follow you and take pictures or videos with cameraphones.

"So maybe for that reason it's a bit easier to go out when living abroad.

"Going out for noodles in Tokyo or Yokohama might prove a bit difficult.

"But as long as my family aren't bothered it's not so bad."

Perhaps then, even after they return home, some home-cooked haggis might still be on the Nakamuras' menu after all.

Shunsuke Nakamura was taking part in a BBC Scotland documentary - Football Far East: Beyond Nakamura.

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see also
Nakamura's January exit on hold
02 Dec 08 |  Celtic
Nakamura takes top player award
22 Apr 07 |  Scottish Premier

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