Nakata expresses confidence in Okada

by James Mulligan

Hidetoshi Nakata has backed Takeshi Okada to be a success at the helm of the national team and praised the decision of the Japan Football Association in rehiring the coach.

News photoFormer Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata speaks to the media, for the first time since his retirement in 2006, during a press conference held at a Tokyo hotel on Friday.
KYODO PHOTO

The retired Nakata, making a rare public appearance in Tokyo at a news conference for the Club World Cup, remembered Okada fondly from when he was Japan coach at the 1998 World Cup finals.

“At the 1998 World Cup I worked with him and he’s an excellent head coach and as a person he is worthy of respect,” said Nakata on Friday.

“I haven’t really been in touch with him for the past nine years, so I don’t know the changes he has gone through so I can’t really judge his coaching ability, but I think the JFA has made a wise choice.”

The JFA confirmed 51-year-old Okada as national team coach eight days ago in replacement of Ivica Osim, who suffered a stroke last month.

The 30-year-old Nakata, immaculately-dressed in a gray suit with his long hair slicked back and sitting alongside JFA chief Saburo Kawabuchi and FIFA president Sepp Blatter, said he had no plans himself to coach.

“I’m not interested in teaching, I’d rather play football,” said the former national team player.

“I’m not interested in directing or coaching. I’ve been playing football in many places (since retiring) and I hope to help with football this way.”

Nakata played for Perugia, Roma, Parma, Bologna and Fiorentina in the Italian League and Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League before retiring.

His last professional game was Japan’s 4-1 defeat to Brazil in the World Cup finals in Germany in June 2006. He announced his retirement less than a month later.

Nakata has continued his travels since hanging up his boots and his soul-searching mission has strengthened his belief that his future lies with the game.

“After I retired, I traveled all over the world and I really feel for the first time that I’ve realized the impact of football,” said Nakata.

“Wherever I go, even the smallest countries, everyone plays football. I’ve been able to make new friends and I hope I can do something through football, with football.”

Blatter has already earmarked Nakata for a role in the “FIFA family.”

“We would like Nakata-san to be one of our ambassadors,” said Blatter. “In FIFA we like retired and still active players to work in projects like Football for Hope.”

The Football for Hope Movement aims to use the game as a way to help realize the United Nations’ goals for human development.

“We have the situation with Nakata and we will see how it works and FIFA will be very happy to have not only a player but a outstanding personality,” said Blatter.