Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Naka takes a stand

Why do we love Shunsuke Nakamura? This is why we love Shunsuke Nakamura. The stand the Celtic midfielder has taken against racism in European football, specifically in the Lega Calcio is beyond admirable. Every year in the Champions League this is a problem, some of which gets reported (Hello DaMarcus Beasley, who has famously fought back against the problem) and most of which probably does not.

UEFA's William Gaillard has been very honest about the problem, but it still persists for a variety of reasons. Personally, I think that money will still lure players to the countries of the worst offenders, but eventually, there'll be more players like Naka who will speak up and those leagues may eventually be faced with the "change or attract only second rate players" bargain. It can't come soon enough.

What year is this again?

And here's the full AFP story, for those of you who might have trouble seeing the link:

Italian racism discourages Japanese, says Nakamura
January 12, 2008
ROME (AFP) - Japan star Shunsuke Nakamura has blasted Italian football for its racism in an interview published on the official UEFA website.

Nakamura played for Reggina for three seasons before joining Celtic in 2005, where he has established himself as one of the stars of the team.

But in his UEFA interview, Nakamura talks about the difficulties of adapting to the move from east to west.

"It's very difficult for a Japanese player coming to Europe," said Nakamura. "There are so many factors in different countries, ranging from the style of play to the obvious cultural differences.

"Sometimes you get racism as well, not in Scotland, but in Italy, which is not nice, and that probably explains why so few Japanese players have made it here."

Nakamura's time in Italy was far from a failure and he helped the little Calabrians retain their top flight status in each year he was there.

He was rumoured to be on his way to Spain or Germany after that but instead opted for Celtic.

However, he is still considering a move to slightly warmer climes, such as Spain or Brazil, particularly with only one year left on his Celtic deal.

"It's true I have thought about playing in those leagues, but the situation is difficult," he said.

"If I was in my early or mid-20s, I could go and play in other countries. But, because I'm 29, it might not be so easy to get that kind of move. In any case, it's not as if I'm desperate to play there."

Nakamura is more settled in Glasgow than he ever was in Italy and has even been joined by his wife and young son, something that has made life much more pleasant.

"My son is now two-and-a-half years old and going to nursery in Glasgow. He speaks better English than I do," joked the midfielder, who is reknowned for his spectacular left-foot free-kicks, which have earned him the nickname 'the Japanese Beckham'.

However, it was another midfielder who convinced Nakamura to become a footballer, although it was not former Japan coach Zico, one of the biggest influences on Nakamura's career.

"Don't tell Zico, but Maradona is my favourite player," he said mischievously. "The first tournament I remember watching on TV was the 1986 World Cup, and that's when I first noticed Maradona.

"I love Brazilian football and admired some of their midfield players like Falcao, but Maradona was something else altogether.

"The goals he scored against England - not the 'hand of God' effort - and Belgium in that tournament were breathtaking and gave me the inspiration to try and make a career in football."

He still has a lot of respect for Zico, though.

"Zico was the one who changed Japanese thinking on football, and as such he's very important for Japanese football. He's a big hero in Japan."

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