Okada said all the rights things over Shunsuke
December 18, 2009: Shunsuke Nakamura needed a friend this week and found one in Takeshi Okada.
With Nakamura struggling to adapt to the high-paced skills of Spain, Okada reassured him that he remained a key figure in his plans for the World Cup in June, no matter how his first season with Espanyol pans out.
At the moment it is not going too well, and the left-footed playmaker has been unable to stamp his authority on the game. La Liga is quick as well as technical, and players – especially midfielders – need a lot of stamina and physical fitness to keep going for 90 minutes.
On top of this, he is not playing for one of the leading teams, quite unlike his four successful seasons with Celtic playing for a big team in a small league and with time and space to show his full repertoire of skills on a weekly basis.
Anyone who thought Nakamura would be able to step up instantly from Scotland to Spain was misguided, and also forgot that Nakamura was 31 years old at the time of the transfer; around three years past the age widely accepted as a player's peak.
In recent days, both Philippe Troussier and, more importantly, Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino noted Nakamura's struggles to adapt.
Troussier, who always regarded Nakamura as a luxury player and abhorred the media obsession with him, went as far as to say Okada should start the World Cup with Nakamura on the bench because he held up the rest of the team. Without him, Troussier reasoned, the team could be more dynamic and have more options in their build-up play.
So was Nakamura right to move to Espanyol instead of returning to the J.League with Yokohama F Marinos or staying another season with Celtic, where he had found his perfect level and would be guaranteed quality match time throughout the 2009-2010 season?
This is where Okada's words this week really hit home, as he backed Nakamura's decision all the way and said it spoke volumes of his character and ambition. It had been Nakamura's dream to play in Spain, and this was his last opportunity, so he had to take it.
The easy option would have been returning to Marinos and having a free ride with the fans and media, but he was not quite ready to do that, even at 31.
I am sure the “Nakamura to Marinos” stories will start again soon, but I really hope he stays in Spain and sticks it out with Espanyol, at least to the end of the season.
The situation will be much clearer in May, and Okada will be able to assess the physical and mental strength of Nakamura closer to the World Cup.
For now, though, he said all the right things when he could have been harsher and warned that if he were not playing for club he would not be playing for country.
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