Asia is quite the newborn when it comes to the footballing world. While every other part of the world has been well established, Asia truly lacked behind. Hidetoshi Nakata would help blaze a trail for not only Asian football, but specifically for the Japanese part of the game.
Born in the city of Kofu, capital of Yamanashi Prefecture, the diminutive midfielder began his professional career in 1995 with Bellmare Hiratsuka, but was heavily involved with the sport at age nine when he started his youth career with Hokushin Boys Soccer Club in 1986. After putting in strong performances for Japans U-17’s at the World Championships in 1993 and the U-20’s again at the World Championships, his time with Bellmare would be a springboard to bigger and better things. It would be in the 1996 Olympics, when Japan upset Brazil, where Nakata would catch the eye of quite a few scouts. Two years later, he secured a move to Serie A club Perugia, becoming the second Japanese man to play in the Italian top flight.
After two strong seasons at Perugia, Nakata would make a leap to giants Roma and, though it only would last a single season (where he would make thirty domestic appearances and find the back of the net on five occasions), it included a Serie A title in a side that included greats Francesco Totti and Gabriel Batistuta. His short stint in the capital would then take him to Parma, in a deal that was then the record for fee paid for an Asian player (28 million Euros). Three years on, after one of them being spent on loan at Bologna, Nakata would then move to Fiorentina where he would spend an additional two years before moving on loan to Bolton in the Premier League. This, unfortunately, was where his career would come to an end at the age of twenty-nine.
Though his career was undoubtedly cut short, the now footballing icon in Japan was one of a select few to really put the island nation on the map, paving the way for the likes of Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Hotaru Yamaguchi (Hannover 96), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuka Honda (AC Milan), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz 05), Takumi Minamino (Red Bull Salzburg) and many others to apply their trades at the very top of the European game.
With his boots firmly hung in his walk-in closet, Nakata can be found neck-deep in the fashion industry (editor-at-large for Monocle) as well as entrepreneurship: he’s opened up his own restaurant in Hong Kong. In addition, he’s donated a generous amount of time to the Special Olympics as an Ambassador, still keeping in touch with his love of sport.
In the end, his achievements on the pitch are not necessarily the stuff of legend as our previous inductees can claim, but you do not generally receive an Italian knighthood or get the nod from Pele to be enrolled in the FIFA Hall of Fame if you didn’t contribute enough to the beautiful game. His career, like his personality, was quietly brilliant.
Career by the numbers
Total Club Appearances – 382
Total Club Goals – 53
Total National Team Appearances – 77
Total National Team Goals – 11
Remember to check back in each Friday as we induct another great into the Robin Friday Hipster Hall of Fame. Thank you to Hipster Drew @AFCBvB1410 for this contribution.