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Exclusive: Kengo Nakamura wants to reward Kawasaki Frontale fans with a J-League title

Kawasaki Frontale stalwart Kengo Nakamura may have made over 200 J-League appearances but he's never won the title and he's determined to put that right.

The 30-year-old Japan international has also made over 50 national team appearances and made the J-League best eleven five times.

Nakamura's Kawasaki, who won promotion to the J-League in 2004, have finished runners-up three times in Japan and it's an agonising situation for the Tokyo-born man.

Speaking to Goal.com, Nakamura reveals how he ended up at Kawasaki and what his plans are for the future.

Goal.com: Let's start from the end, from that last-gasp free-kick you scored against Gamba Osaka in the last round (May 29). For some reason, it was a very special goal…

Kengo Nakamura: Indeed. It was the first time ever in my career that I won a game that way. The free-kick was the last kick of the game, against a strong opponent, after a tough game under a torrential rain…

Goal.com: You seemed so happy after the goal...

KN: I was… I really was! It was an important goal, and I wanted to celebrate with the team and the supporters.

Goal.com: In the post-game's 'hero interview' you basically yelled: "It was totally awesome!'

KN: That's right, I did! (laughs). I really wanted to share my joy with the fans.

Goal.com: OK, let's backtrack some 25 years. Kengo Nakamura was a small kid…

KN: …obsessed with football. I played it all day. I was very small, at 12 I was only 136cm, so at times the other kids had me to play goalkeeper, often I was a defender, or a forward… I played in every position!

Goal.com: Were you thinking about becoming a professional player, back then?

KN: More than thinking, I was dreaming about it.

 


"In recent years we have finished second so many times... Clearly, as a team we still lack something. But we really want to win a title for our fans. Kawasaki's supporters are the best in the world. They are always on our side."

- Kengo Nakamura

Goal.com: Who were your early idols?

KN: Ruy Ramos of Verdy. And since I was very young I always liked Barcelona, in particular Guardiola.

Goal.com: Then, you went through the whole Japanese school football system, from elementary, all the way to university, thus you arrived at Kawasaki Frontale quite late…

KN: Well, after High School I was not good enough to join a J-League club.

Goal.com: Going from university into professional sports is rather common in Japan, as it is in the United States. However, it is almost unheard of in in Europe. What are the advantages? Are players who graduate from university 'more intelligent'?

KN: I think in a way they are. For sure, they are exposed to a more mature environment, besides the fact that they must learn to balance some serious study and their football activity.

Goal.com: Were you a good student?

KN: In the beginning I worked very hard, but then football gradually took over. I did graduate, though, in English literature (chuckles).

Goal.com: How did you join Frontale, then?

KN: In my fourth year of university, in the summer I was invited to participate in their training. It was very tough in the beginning, but I got better, and before the end of the year I was invited to stay with the club.

Goal.com: Back then, in 2003, Frontale was an underdog in J2...

KN: True. And in my first year I did not play much, but in the second I was almost a regular, and we achieved promotion to J1.

Goal.com: How did Frontale go from being a small J2 club to becoming one of the top teams in J1?

KN: The manager was Takashi Sekizuka, who now coaches the Japan U-22 team. He did a fantastic job. In those early years, most of the team did not change much. Juninho and I, for example, had joined in the same season, and we are still here. Once our football became our second nature, it was very easy to play together.

Goal.com: But despite the improvements, when it comes to winning titles…

KN: …none. (sighs) In recent years we have finished second so many times... Clearly, as a team we still lack something. But we really want to win a title for our fans. Kawasaki's supporters are the best in the world. They are always on our side, I can't remember a time they booed us... If something, they are too nice!

Goal.com: They can get very passionate though. I am thinking for example of your rivalry with FC Tokyo...

KN: It dates back to the days before both teams became J-League clubs. It is somehow sad that we won't have our 'Tamagawa Clasico' this season, but FC Tokyo will be in the second division only for one year.

Goal.com: Speaking of rivalries, you have played away games in the AFC Champions League. How was that?

KN: The atmosphere at times could get very hostile, the other teams' supporters often tried to intimidate us. On the pitch too, it is much rougher than at home.

Goal.com: Were you scared?

KN: Not scared, but it took me a while to get used to it. In a way, it is what it is, those are very tense away international games, it is OK.

KENGO ON KAWASAKI


"I'd really like to win something, for our supporters. It is up to us players."

- Kengo Nakamura

Goal.com: Why can't Japanese clubs win in the ACL anymore? Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus were deservedly eliminated by Korean clubs a fortnight ago...

KN: I wonder why. To be honest, I don't know. For sure it did not help that our clubs had to play [the Round of 16 direct-elimination games] away.

Goal.com: You were with the Japanese national team in South Africa. You weren't rated very highly before the tournament, then the sudden metamorphosis, and you made it to the round of 16, while impressing the world….

KN: It was a great injection of self-confidence for Japanese football. We did very well as a team, as a group. I am very proud that I was part of it. Then, Japanese players started to do well in European clubs, and that too contributed to a growth in self-esteem. Now Japanese players know that they can take up any challenge, anywhere.

Goal.com: What do you see in the future of Japanese football?

KN: Soon we might have a national team all made by players based overseas. But in any case, it all starts with the hard work in the J-League.


Goal.com: Speaking of international football, do you watch any at home?

KN: Always. I love watching football. Champions League, Serie A, Premier League, Liga, whatever is on, I just keep changing channel and watching more football.

Goal.com: Do you have a favourite club?

KN: As I said I like Barça, but not only now, it is a passion I have since I was a kid. I would really like to check out how they practice. I mean… How do they become so good? (laughs).

Goal.com: Would you like to play for Barcelona?

KN: Yes of course (laughs), I would like to play abroad, but I am happy at Frontale.

Goal.com: You have become a leader at the club.

KN: Age-wise, I am number four…

Goal.com: …do you calculate that? (laughs)

KN: Of course! So, my responsibilities are growing. There are a lot of good young players at Frontale.

Goal.com: What is good in particular about them?

KN: Their impetus is fantastic (laughs).

Goal.com: Do you talk with them?

KN: Of course. When I joined Frontale, I had very good sempai, now it is my turn to take care of the younger players. To keep this 'flow' going is very important. Frontale is a very special club. Players, staff, supporters, the whole community… we are really united.

Goal.com: Are you happy with your career at Frontale?

KN: I am, but I'd really would like to win something, for our supporters. It is up to us players.

Goal.com: You are 30. You surely have more seasons left as a player; however, are you beginning to make plans for life after being a footballer?

KN: I am not sure of what I will do, but I'd maybe like to become a manager. I also want to travel and see a lot of [football] things. Moreover, I'd like to commentate games on TV. I mean, whatever, but it has to be related to football.

Goal.com: You have a three-year-old boy. Would you like him to become a professional football player?

KN: That would be fantastic! (laughs). But of course, it will be up to him.

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