Discipline, hard work and dedication.
The three values Japanese culture had been built upon are deeply rooted in the very DNA of this Asian nation. It is thanks to these values in great part that Japanese football has witnessed a notable rise over the past two decades.
As a country referred to as an Asian football powerhouse, Japan has noteworthy results to flaunt in support of such an attribute. Japan has taken part in last six editions of the FIFA World Cup since the tournament in France held in 1998.
Japanese national team even advanced into the second rounds of the competition in 2002 and 2010 which is a clear indication of steady progress achieved over the past 20 years. Japan also finished second in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and the Samurai Blue harbour high hopes for the upcoming showpiece event in Russia.
Japan has been pitted against Poland, Senegal and Colombia in Group H and will have as good a chance as any other side of getting through to the knockout stages.
The backbone of Japanese international success seen over the past two decades has been the J. League. the current format of Japanese league competition has been introduced 25 years ago and has been credited with the unstoppable surge in football popularity – not only in Japan – but throughout Asia.
Japan produces between 7,000 and 10,000 players a year not many of which get a chance to prove their worth at the biggest and most coveted – European – stage, but the Samurai Blue boast a continual line of top-class footballers who still get a chance to defend their nation’s colours across the European continent.
Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo and Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki are arguably the most noteworthy examples, whereas footballing Europe still fondly remembers the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura or Keisuke Honda.
Adding to the glowing reputations of names listed above there is a player who has yet to step under the limelight but who is beginning to cause quite a stir in one of the best talent-developing football leagues in the world – Portuguese Primeira Liga.
Last in Long List of Notable Names
Shoya Nakajima is the name of an FC Tokyo attacking midfielder who is worth remembering.
The Rio Olympics Under-23 Japan international joined Portuguese Primeira Liga newcomers Portimonense on loan in the summer of 2017. A versatile player of a great potential wasted no time in announcing himself in Portugal.
Nakajima scored a seven-minute brace in his home debut for Portimonense in September, thus leading his new side to a 2-1 victory over Feirense. The Japanese starlet bagged a goal with each foot to help the newly-promoted Algarve-based club to an important win and make his presence known right from the start.
His side Portimonense is sitting in 12th place in the standings after 15 rounds of the Portuguese top tier. Nakajima has quickly established himself as a valuable first-team member, making 11 appearances during which he scored 6 goals and provided 2 assists.
The ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates and get in good scoring positions, his impeccable work-rate and effort have presented Nakajima as a disciplined player, who is slowly becoming quite interesting for a large number of Europe’s more illustrious sides.
Interested parties from England, Germany and France have been sending their emissaries to Portugal to have a closer look at another Japanese superstar in the making. Nakajima has this season been used in a number of position but mainly on the left flank. As a natural central midfielder, Nakajima likes to be involved in the build-up and would usually cut inside from the left either to shoot from distance or provide his teammates with scoring opportunities.
Strong on the ball, Nakajima does not dive into tackles but rather stands his ground which is another highly-valued trait of his. His creative genius is expressed by through balls and defence-splitting passes which would excite even the most neutral of a viewer.
Portuguese media have pushed Nakajima under the spotlight this week with reports suggesting that Primeira Liga heavyweights Benfica have set their sights – and even opened negotiations with Portimonense over the January transfer of Nakajima.
The situation is complicated knowing that Portimonense have the Japanese star on loan until the end of the season, but also hold 20% of his contract. The remaining 80% is still under the ownership of FC Tokyo who could be persuaded to sell their share this winter.
There is a talk of a sum in excess of €10 million which is to be doubled by the end of the January and Benfica are in a rush to complete any deal for this exciting Japanese starlet.
Shoya Nakajima – remember the name if you haven’t done it already.
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