YOKOHAMA – Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura was named J.League Player of the Year on Tuesday, three days after his team blew its chance to win the title on the final day of the season.
Former Celtic star Nakamura captained Marinos to a four-point lead over their nearest rivals with two games of the campaign remaining, only to lose both matches and allow defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima to come through and retain the title.
But Nakamura’s exceptional performances made him the outstanding candidate to win the player of the year award, becoming the first person to claim the prize for a second time having won it with Marinos in 2000.
“I am feeling two emotions right now,” said the 35-year-old. “One is happiness and the other is appreciation for what my teammates have done for me.
“Ten of my teammates were nominated for the J.League Best XI, and that just shows the quality of the players around me who have made it possible for me to win this award.”
Nakamura scored 10 goals in 33 league appearances this season, missing only one game — a 2-1 defeat to Nagoya Grampus — while suffering from a gallbladder inflammation.
Nakamura returned to Marinos in early 2010 after a 7 1/2-year spell in Europe with Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol, but has yet to win the J.League with his boyhood club, which last won the title in 2004.
“For me, Yuji Nakazawa should be the MVP,” Nakamura said of his Marinos defensive teammate. “He would be a fitting recipient of this award for all he has done over the years. He is a great person to be around every day in training, and he’s an example to all young players.”
Nakamura made the J.League Best XI along with Nakazawa, in a selection composed solely of Japanese players for the second time in league history.
Urawa Reds’ Daisuke Nasu and FC Tokyo’s Masato Morishige joined Nakazawa in defense in front of Sanfrecce goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, while Cerezo Osaka pair Hotaru Yamaguchi and Yoichiro Kakitani were named in midfield alongside Nakamura and Sanfrecce’s Toshihiro Aoyama.
Kawasaki Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo, who was the league’s top scorer on 26 goals, Kashima Antlers’ Yuya Osako, who notched 19, and Albirex Niigata’s Kengo Kawamata, who scored 23, completed the lineup.
“I’m very grateful to my teammates and everyone who supported me,” said Kakitani, whose 21 goals helped Cerezo finish the season in fourth place.
“This year, Sanfrecce, Marinos and Frontale finished in the top three and took the Asian Champions League places, so I’ll be supporting them in the Emperor’s Cup at new year so that we can get a place in the ACL too.”
Cerezo Osaka’s 18-year-old midfielder Takumi Minamino was named Best Young Player, having scored five league goals and introduced himself to a global audience with a spectacular goal in Cerezo’s 2-2 friendly draw against Manchester United in July.
Sanfrecce’s Hajime Moriyasu was named Manager of the Year for the second time running, while Kakitani was awarded Goal of the Year for his outside-of-the-boot strike against Kashima on Nov. 30.