Soccer / J. League

J. League player of year Nakamura rules out international return


Reigning J. League Player of the Year Shunsuke Nakamura has ruled out the possibility of coming out of international retirement and is fully focused on his club career with Yokohama F. Marinos.

The 35-year-old, who helped Marinos win the Emperor’s Cup and finish runnersup in the J. League last season, retired from international soccer after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but there have been calls for a Japan return after he became the first two-time winner of the J. League MVP in 2013.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni did not rule out asking Nakamura to rejoin the national team fold when asked by reporters at the end of last year whether he would consider selecting the former Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol playmaker.

But speaking in a recent interview, Nakamura said, “At that time (when I retired from the national team) I was struggling and the only way to restore myself was by focusing on Yokohama F. Marinos.

“Just the fact that people are saying that (they want me to return to the national team) makes me happy, but I am done. As a player I want a beautiful finish to my career.”

Japan reached the second round of the World Cup for the first time on foreign turf in South Africa. Nakamura only played a peripheral role and he says he was keen to prove a point and show he could rebuild his career.

“Unless you still have that desire then there is no point,” said Nakamura, who was limited to just one substitute appearance in South Africa.

“In 2010 there was that (disappointing) World Cup and Yokohama only finished eighth in the table. It scared me, the thought of it being all over for me.

“With that in mind I wrote down (a goal) in my notes that I would be in the (J. League) Best XI or be the player of the year in order to put pressure on myself. There is a sense of wonder when this actually comes true. Now I am trying to make up for the times when I was struggling.”

Nakamura played in all but one game last season for Marinos, who lost the championship by a single point to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on the final weekend.

He scored 10 of Yokohama’s 49 goals, but was sidelined down the stretch with a gallbladder inflammation that forced him out of the Nov. 10 home game with Nagoya Grampus, which Marinos lost 2-1 — one of three defeats they suffered over the last four games of the campaign.

Nakamura has targeted 15 goals for the coming season.

“I delivered results last year. I was able to move freely in the center of midfield and pull the defense of opposing teams around and attack. I could also act as cover for our defense by dropping deep to pick the ball up,” said Nakamura.

“Last year was the first time I scored 10 goals in the J. League. It’s 15 (this time). Not being involved in goals, scoring them. I know how I want to be in my mind’s eye and it is important to get close to the image I have created.”

Nakamura, back in the No. 10 shirt, will be captaining Yokohama for the fourth season in a row for the 2014 campaign and says he gained valuable experience last season.

“When I conveyed my ideas I had clever players around me that could understand,” he said. “I got good things out of my teammates and could play well myself. That was the relationship that developed and that is what I wanted. It is a necessary step towards becoming a coach and it is significant that I was able to experience this before I retire.”