Shoya Nakajima, former No. 10 of Moriyasu Japan, stumbles on the verge of stardom: “Conditions for a second breakthrough | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Shoya Nakajima, former No. 10 of Moriyasu Japan, stumbles on the verge of stardom: “Conditions for a second breakthrough

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The J1 season resumed on August 5 after a hiatus in mid-July, and on August 6, a familiar face took to the J-League pitch for the first time in six years (since 2017) in a match between Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos.

Shoya Nakajima, 28, is an attacker who initially carried the ace number 10 in the first Moriyasu Japan team that was formed in the summer of 2018.

Shoya Nakajima sweats during an open practice session on August 9.

The former ace attacker, who came on in the 38th minute of the second half, was asked to take on the big task of scoring a goal.

But Nakajima, who had been on a long layoff after finishing the 22-23 season with Turkish first division club Antalyaspor in May, was slow to get going. He failed to follow up on a 44th-minute chance in the second half when a pass into open space on the left, and made an uncharacteristic error of control in injury time when a great pass on the left came to him. He was truly out of touch.

I joined the team for full training on August 3, and only practiced properly for about two days,” he said.

As he said, he was far from his best in terms of condition and coordination.

Even so, Shusaku Nishikawa (37), the team’s guardian god, gave his approval.

If he gets used to the climate in Japan and the intensity of the J-League, he will definitely be able to fulfill his potential. He has a high finishing ability and can pass the ball to his teammates, which is something we have not had in our team until now. The Reds are having problems with scoring goals, so I think Shoya will be expected to get results, but I think he will do it with a strong sense of responsibility.

Whether or not Nakajima, who will turn 29 on August 23, can make another breakthrough is a question that will be answered in the second half of this season’s J.League season. Whether or not Nakajima, who turns 29 on August 23, can make another breakthrough is a major point in the second half of this season’s J-League season.

Why is Nakajima attracting so much attention? It is largely due to his past national team and overseas career.

He carried the No. 10 jersey for Japan in the 2019 Copa America.

Nakajima, who grew up playing for Tokyo Verdy, has been highly regarded for his talent since his teenage years, including appearances at the 2011 U-17 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In the summer of 2017, he moved to Portuguese first division club Portimonense, where he had a remarkable first year, scoring 10 goals in 29 league games in the 17-18 season.

National team coach Vid Halilhodzic, who was leading the national team at the time, took notice of the small technical player who excelled in individual breakthroughs and decisiveness, and invited him for the first time to the Belgium tour in March, just before the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Nakajima responded to the call-up by scoring his first goal in his first cap against Mali, an electrifying debut. The impact of his performance was so great that he was considered a strong contender to make the tournament.

However, the situation changed drastically in April when Halil Hodzic was abruptly dismissed and Akira Nishino took over. Nakajima was left out, and Takashi Inui (35) was selected. It is a well-known fact that Inui scored two goals in the tournament. Nakajima became the “unlucky guy. However, Nakajima was only 23 years old at the time, and since he was old enough to aim for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, there were high expectations that he would be the next man in charge of the national team.

After the World Cup in Russia, Hajime Moriyasu (54), who led the national team, also placed great importance on Nakajima, and from 2018 to 2019, he used the second row trio of Nakajima, Takumi Minamino (28), and Ritsu Doan (25) as the core of the attack. Dubbed the “Three Musketeers” or the “New Big Three,” the trio captivated viewers with their explosive thrust and destructive power. His performance was recognized, and Nakajima was entrusted with the number 10 number, which had been inherited by such greats as Shunsuke Nakamura (45, current coach of Yokohama FC) and Shinji Kagawa (34).

However, Nakajima’s career took a dark turn when he missed the 2019 Asian Cup (UAE), the first major tournament of the first Moriyasu Japan team, due to injury.

Shortly after, in February of the same year, the surprising news broke that he would be moving completely from Portimonense to Al Duhail in Qatar.

It was highly unusual for a 24-year-old star prospect in Portugal’s first division to go to the Middle East instead of one of the five major European leagues. European reports estimated the transfer fee at 35 million euros (about 5.5 billion yen) and annual salary at 3.5 million euros (about 550 million yen), so from a money standpoint, the move may have been a huge success. However, many were concerned about a career downfall.

Those concerns seemed to have been dispelled with the complete transfer to FC Porto six months later. Nakajima was entrusted with the number 10 position at the prestigious Porto club. However, Nakajima was unable to adequately perform the defensive tasks required by coach Sergio Conceição, and communication problems also led to a decline in his opportunities to play.

Nakajima at FC Porto

The coach apparently forbade the player to talk to anyone other than the media and his own teammates, and at the time Nakajima simply said, “I can’t talk about the team,” with a downcast look on his face. There is no doubt that he had a hard time adjusting to the environment. After all, he did not score a single goal in the league during his one and a half years in Porto. He was forced to spend time in a state of incomplete burnout. This was a major factor in his decline from the national team.

After 2021, he moved between three clubs in the UAE: Al Ain, Portimonense, and Antalyaspor, and when Portimonense showed signs of a comeback, there were calls for him to return to the national team, but Moriyasu never called him up. There must have been a time when Moriyasu himself envisioned playing for the national team at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but his dream turned out to be a mirage.

After all these twists and turns, Nakajima decided to return to Japan this summer. Having joined Urawa with familiar members such as Ayumi Sacigawa (29) and Takuya Iwanami (29), who played with him in the national team, Shinzo Kohrogi (37), who participated in the Rio Olympics, and Hiroki Sakai (33) and Hiroo Abe (24), who played with him in the national team, he finally seemed to be able to act like himself.

During the open practice session on August 9, he was smiling like a burst of laughter from start to finish. He was seen communicating closely with those around him and giving them instructions during ball games and tactical practice. He seems to be adapting quickly.

His mental strength was also evident when he was interviewed after practice. The weather was unfortunate, with occasional torrential downpours, and even at the start of the “DAZN Yabecchi Stadium” recording, it was pouring down like a waterfall.

I wonder if I’m a rain man…. (It was the same on the day of my press conference (August 1). When the press asked him about it, he replied with a friendly smile, “Please don’t call me a rain man!

Sometimes he smiles during practice.

It was the first time since his days with Tokyo V and Toyama that he showed a glimpse of the “real Shoya Nakajima” in public. Nakajima now seems to have been freed from all spells.

As for the national team, it’s not something I can go to if I want to, so I don’t think about it now. I played in the last game for Urawa, but I don’t think I have time to test myself, so I hope to contribute to the team as soon as I can.

The only way to regain his true brilliance is to make steady efforts. Considering his upcoming age of 30 and the current group of European attackers, a return to the national team may be difficult, but there are examples such as Akihiro Ienaga (37), who made his breakthrough in his 30s and won the J-League MVP award. I am not sure what path Shoya Nakajima will take in the future, but I hope he will concentrate on realizing his habit of playing “fun soccer.

  • Interview and text by Etsuko Motokawa Etsuko Motokawa PHOTO Etsuko Motokawa (1st and 4th), Afro (2nd and 3rd)

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