Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nakamura's Euro legacy lacks greatness

Shunsuke Nakamura's move back to Japan has been completed and the midfielder will now return to Yokohama F Marinos, the club where he started his professional career.

The 1.2 million euro transfer from Espanyol brings to an end an eight-year European career for Nakamura, who was hugely successful while at Celtic but who, it has to be said, fell short of hitting the serious heights of the game while in Scotland, Italy and Spain.

Celtic fans might disagree, but Nakamura's time in Europe was less successful that than of a number of his compatriots, most notably Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono.

Both Nakata and Ono won major titles - Nakata the Serie A title with Roma and Ono the UEFA Cup while at Feyenoord - while Nakamura was an integral part of the Celtic side that dominated Scottish football in the latter part of the decade. But being a member of a team that won regularly in what is little more than a two-team league and who failed to excel at European level means Nakamura fell some way short of the achievements of his compatriots.

Of course, there were moments of wonder, such as his perfectly struck free kick against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League ( Nakamura's deadball delivery was - and arguably remains - second to none, but in open play he has often been found lacking, particularly in matches played at a high tempo.

In Spain and Italy - home to two of the game's toughest leagues - he rarely shone and the return to Japan was inevitable after starting so few games in Barcelona since his move to Espanyol last summer.

With the World Cup on the horizon, Nakamura has clearly taken this decision to ensure he's in peak condition for South Africa - playing week-in, week-out for Marinos will at least have in tuned up for the finals before he winds down his career in front of the fawning fans Marinos tend to attract.

In many respects Nakamura's career in Europe has been disappointingly anti-climatic. Had he made a move to one of Europe's stronger leagues after his second season at Celtic - when he was at the height of his powers - we could have seen whether he was really good enough to be compared to the true greats of the Asian game.

As it is, he's destined to sit at least one step below the finest players the region has produced.

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