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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Players get lost in the West
Shunsuke Nakamura battles for possession
Japan's Shunsuke Nakamura has been linked with Real

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If recent media reports of Real Madrid's interest in Yokohama F Marinos midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura become reality, it will be time for someone to stand up and call for some commonsense - for the good of the Japanese game.

By his own country's standards Nakamura, who peers unassumingly from under a Beatles-style mop-top fringe, is a talented player.

But he has struggled to get back into the national team in 2001 after suffering a groin injury and underwent a subsequent loss of confidence.
Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata during his days at Perugia
'Nakata-mania' began at Perugia

Could he succeed in Europe?

Quite probably, but if Hidetoshi Nakata cannot get a regular game at Roma or Parma, Nakamura would be lucky to be included among the ball boys at the Bernebeu.

There would certainly be no place for him in a midfield of Zidane, Raul and Figo.

Real's interest, if it materialises, can only be because they, like several other clubs before them, recognise a business opportunity when they see one.

Ever since Perugia reaped the initial benefits of Nakata-mania, clubs from all over Europe have been eager to claim their share of the marketability that signing a Japanese player gives them.

But, in the long term the players are not benefiting.

Indeed, Japan's World Cup hopes may yet flounder on the inactivity of those of their top players who have been languishing on substitutes benches in Italy, England and beyond.

Nakata has just turned down a loan move to Brescia but apart from Italian Cup matches, is rarely seen in Parma colours.

Anyway, his occasional indifference to the national cause during his Roma days has not endeared him to coach Philippe Troussier.

Akinori Nishizawa has just returned to his J2 club Cerezo Osaka.

His loan spell at Bolton Wanderers, like the one at Espanol the previous season, probably tested his patience more than his potential.

Like Nishizawa, Junichi Inamoto's chances in England with Arsenal have been limited to the Worthington Cup.

Akinori Nishizawa has returned from his loan spell at Bolton Wanderers
Akinori Nishizawa struggled in England

In South America, Naohiro Takahara's opportunities with Argentina's Boca Juniors have been equally limited.

Of course, the opportunity to join one of Europe's top clubs (I don't necessarily include Bolton in that group) must be incredibly difficult to turn down.

But if Japan's players are to benefit from the European experience they will do so by playing and succeeding in competitive matches, not as afterthoughts on the training ground.

The only Japanese player to progress in Europe this season has been Feyenoord's Shinji Ono and if others are going to succeed it will be in leagues like Holland's, rather than in those of Italy, Spain or England.

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