My Serie A Heroes: Hidetoshi Nakata

Back in 1998, at the the World Cup in France I still have vivid memories of the Michael Owen goal against Argentina, the Beckham sending off, the Roberto Baggio penalty against Chile, the Blanco bunny hop & the ghost Ronaldo in the final. One player who really caught my eye was Hidetoshi Nakata, a Japanese player with a designer haircut & so much technique that he was always destined for European football.

After the World Cup circus had packed up for another four years in turned out Nakata was heading to Serie A for ambitious Perugia. The creative midfielder didn’t take long to settle in & was the player every move went through for Perugia he was like a wizard on the ball creating assists & banging in an impressive 10 goals in his first Serie A season. He was a huge star back home & had his own Japanese news crew & journalists following his every move. Perugia took advantage selling strips with Dragons on them all over the world but especially in Asia. I had one & have kept it, I love that strip. He was the Japanese David Beckham.

After a successful one & a half years, Nakata at 22 took the 113 mile south trip to the Italian capital city to join Roma for a fee of around £10m. There he would help the side managed by Fabio Capello to the scudetto in 2001. His best performance for Roma came against Juve in a vital championship clash, he replaced the main man Francesco Totti whilst his side were two nil down. His impact was immense, he scored a wonderful right footed curling drive to pull Roma right back onto the game & then another drive was parried by Edwin Van der Sar into the path of Vincenzo Montella who made it 2-2. To view Nakata’s influence on that game click here

Now the problem for Hidetoshi during his time at Roma was he played a similar role as Roma’s ‘el capitano’ Francesco Totti. Nakata was often pushed to the sidelines & further down the field. Unlike his time at Perugia & with his role for Japan he was not pivotal to everything Roma done & this lead to him leaving for Parma. He would then win the Coppa Italia with them & was once again starting more & looking influential. In his final year at Parma Nakata was playing less & less.

He went on to play for Bologna, Fiorentina & then a years stint with Bolton. He would show glimpses of his technical best, pass with ease, creating space & looking very comfortable on the ball. In 2006 Nakata shocked the footballing world by retiring aged just 29.

Nakata was the best Asian player of his generation in my opinion, although many may say Shunsuke Nakamura. But it was Hidetoshi that opened up Europe for so many Asian players. He was certainly gifted enough for the biggest stage, although business & fashion seemed to get in the away. He reached absolute superstardom in his home land in 20o2 as Japan helped host the World Cup his face was everywhere. He managed 77 caps & 11 goals for his country. Playing in two World Cups & two Olympics.

Nakata is now a successful business man, with a keen eye for fashion & art. He is a Calvin Klien model. He is currently helping in raising funds for the disaster charity for Japan.

2 Responses to “My Serie A Heroes: Hidetoshi Nakata”

  1. Hi. I appreciate your appreciation for Hidetoshi Nakata. However I must point out to you that the creature depicted on the Perugia shirt (I supported this team at the time and still do) is not a dragon, but a griffin. The griffin is the mascot for Perugia, hence why they are called Il Grifo or Grifoni.

    Also, against chile I think you’ll find the penalty you remember was taken by Di Biagio, not Roberto Baggio. He missed in 1994 against Brazil.

  2. Ah ok as a teenager it looked like a dragon but I its always great to learn. Having looked out the strip from the wardrobe I can see you are right.

    The second point I am sorry but I am right. In the group stages against Chile, Baggio who had missed in the final in 94, took a pen deep in the game and scored.

    Later on in the tournament in 98 Italy would lose to France on Pens. With Baggio scoring and Di Biagio missing the vital spot kick.

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