Soccer / J. League

Nakayama eyes return three years after retiring

Kyodo

Retired former Japan striker Masashi Nakayama trained at fourth-tier Japan Football League club Azul Claro Numazu on Saturday, with the 47-year-old setting his sights on a return to action after a three-year absence from the game.

Nakayama, who holds the all-time J. League top-flight record of 157 goals and scored Japan’s first-ever World Cup goal in a 2-1 defeat to Jamaica during the nation’s tournament debut in France 1998, announced his retirement at the end of 2012 season chiefly citing injuries to both knees.

“There’s no opportunity like this to train with a player of his stature and it has been a wonderful inspiration,” said a team source from Numazu, based in Nakayama’s native Shizuoka prefecture and currently fifth in the JFL as it seeks promotion to J3 next season.

Affectionately known as “Gon” by Japanese soccer fans, Nakayama joined Jubilo Iwata’s forerunner Yamaha in 1990 and was part of a golden era in which the Shizuoka-based club won the J. League title three times.

Nakayama won the J. League Player of the Year in 1998, has been the Golden Boot winner twice and named in the league’s “Best Eleven” team four times.

The two-time World Cup striker left Jubilo in 2009 and joined Consadole Sapporo in J2 in 2010, making a single appearance with the club back in J1 in 2012 before hanging up his boots.