YOKOHAMA - Kawasaki Frontale midfielder Kengo Nakamura was named J. League Player of the Year on Tuesday, at 36 years old becoming the oldest player to win the award.
Kengo Nakamura, for so long the heartbeat of Frontale, led the team to second place in the overall standings behind Urawa Reds. He scored nine goals in 31 appearances and is the first Kawasaki player to win the award.
Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, at 35 the previous oldest winner, received the award in the 2013 season, when Marinos also failed to win the championship title.
Kengo Nakamura said he was surprised at winning the award.
“There are some fantastic players here and if you look at results, Frontale did not win the first or second stage and lost the Championship semifinal against Kashima,” he told a news conference.
“Even so, I got lots of votes from my fellow players and the coaches and that makes me really happy.
“The MVP award is not an easy one to win, however determined you are to get it but I think people have voted after seeing the effort I have put in this year. I am grateful to all my teammates and everyone at Frontale and my family.”
The Player of the Year is selected by a league panel from the Best XI, who are chosen by their fellow players and managers in the 18 J1 clubs.
Nakamura was named for the sixth time to the Best XI, which featured striker and Kawasaki teammate Yu Kobayashi and four players from the Urawa Reds — goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, defender Tomoaki Makino and midfielders Yuki Abe and Yosuke Kashiwagi.
Gen Shoji made the Best XI for the first time and was the only player selected from Club World Cup runners-up Kashima Antlers. The Antlers finished a full 15 points behind the Reds in the J1 standings but beat them over two legs on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate draw in the Championship Final earlier this month, clinching an eighth league title.
Vissel Kobe striker Leandro, joint top J1 scorer with 19 goals, was also picked, as were defenders Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo) and Tsukasa Shiotani (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) and midfielder Manabu Saito (Marinos).
Kashiwagi, Saito, Kobayashi and Leandro were all selected to the Best XI for the first time.
Gamba Osaka midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi, who earned his first call-up to the full national team in November, was named Best Young Player.
“I never thought I would win this award and it is a real honor. I have to make a big effort to show I am a worthy winner,” Ideguchi said.
“I don’t want to rely too much on the senior players in the team (at Gamba) and have to be a more central figure and a player that can win us games.”
Kashima’s Masatada Ishii was named Manager of the Year.
“I’m delighted to win the Manager of the Year but I didn’t get it by myself, it is because of the efforts of the players that I have won it and I am accepting it as a representative of everyone involved with Kashima Antlers,” Ishii said.
“This year we won the Championship and qualified for the Club World Cup and were allowed to take our place on a wonderful stage.
“We still have the Emperor’s Cup left this year and will give it our best in that competition too. Next year we will try and win the Asian Champions League so we can be back on the pitch (at the Club World Cup) next time as Asian representatives.”