Shunsuke Nakamura might be thinking of nothing other than winning the Scottish league title with Celtic for the time being, but sooner or later he will have to decide what comes next.
The midfielder’s contract with the Scottish champions expires in the summer, and he has long spoken of his desire to return to his first club, Yokohama F. Marinos.
His future seemed mapped out when the J. League side began preparing a bid to sign him in the winter transfer window earlier this year, but how quickly things change.
The impact of the global credit crisis on Marinos’ benefactor, automaker Nissan, forced the club to backtrack on the January offer, and although Nakamura would be available without a transfer fee in June, paying his wages could yet prove problematic.
Marinos’ fortunes have also been in steady decline on the pitch, and although family reasons are said to be driving Nakamura’s wish to return, there must be a limit to how much he is prepared to sacrifice.
On the face of it, the most sensible option appears to be one more year at Celtic. Nakamura is settled in a successful team where he can maintain sharpness ahead of next summer’s World Cup, and has a manager who knows exactly how to get the best out of him.
But staying in Glasgow would not be without its drawbacks. Aside from the obvious inconvenience to his family, the injuries Nakamura has suffered over the current season suggest the kicks and knocks of the Scottish game are beginning to take their toll.
Celtic’s 0-0 draw with Hibs on Sunday has also gifted Rangers the opportunity to wrap up the league title this weekend. Finishing second would make qualification for the Champions League group stage far from certain, and a weekly slog against the likes of Hamilton Accies would not be an attractive substitute.
An alternative for Nakamura could be to try his luck in a different European league. A disastrous three seasons with Reggina in Italy prior to moving to Celtic suggests this may not be the wisest course of action, but he has surely improved as a player since then.
A middle-ranking Spanish or Italian side could not offer Champions League participation, but the level of domestic competition is strong enough to compensate. A leading team in France, Greece or Turkey might also be worth considering, and Nakamura would have plenty to gain by capping his European career with a fresh experience after four years in Glasgow.
He would, however, also have plenty to lose. There is still over a year to go until the World Cup, and stepping into the unknown would be a risky move given that South Africa represents Nakamura’s last chance to make an impact on the biggest stage.
But there is still one more, if slightly mischievous, option available. It may seem unpalatable for a man with such an emotional bond to Marinos, but there are other J. League teams that could largely satisfy his requirements.
A club in his home country with funds to pay a good wage, prospects of challenging for trophies and a bright young manager who knows what it takes to succeed as a playmaker — what odds on Nakamura joining Dragan Stojkovic at Nagoya Grampus before the summer is out?