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Hidetoshi Nakata - Independent Hero

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

"Nakata carries Japanese soccer on his shoulders. He is the god of soccer," enthuses Yousuke Kawata, a Tokyo bartender. But Nakata's hero status in Japan is as much a testimony to his fierce independent streak as it is to his football.
 
These days it's hard to spend an hour in Japan without encountering the likeness of Hidetoshi Nakata. From the football field to the subway station, the 25-year-old player for AC Parma is everywhere.
 
But don't blame the World Cup; Nakata has been inspiring this nation since he joined J-League's Bellmare Hiratsuka out of high school seven years ago.
 
Indeed, Nakata is widely considered the greatest footballer in the history of Japan. And while his path to stardom has taken him far from his homeland, Nakata's continuing success and independent streak only seems to solidify his hero status in Japan.
 
'There's no question that Nakata was head and shoulders above any other Japanese player in the J-League. But when he went to Perugia in '98, he proved that Japanese players can mingle and play alongside the best, in one of the best leagues in Europe," explains Yo Takatsuki, a sportswriter for the Asahi Shimbun News Service.
 
For a country that only formed its professional league in 1993, Nakata's induction into the international football fraternity was cause for major celebration. For many fans, it was if Japan itself had been raised to a higher level.
 
And, as it was for the baseballers who went to the United States before him, Nakata was never alone. Thirty thousand fans traveled to Perugia his first season and his every move was tracked by a gaggle of Japanese reporters.
 
Rather than buckle under the pressure, Nakata took matters into his own hands. Following some unsettling articles, the midfielder ceased direct communication with the Japanese media and founded nakata.net.
 
The Parma player uses the website, which now averages 700,000 page views a day, to send emails to fans and fuel his burgeoning empire encompassing everything from television specials to a Tokyo café created especially for the World Cup.
 
"The biggest lesson I've learned by living abroad for the last four years is the importance of communication," Nakata told Tokyo's Metropolis magazine.
 
Despite a history of chilly relations with the media and Japan coach Philippe Troussier, Nakata remains to many the embodiment of a nation's potential. "[His success] has given younger Japanese players, if nothing else, confidence to give it a go," says Sanborn Brown, a football editor.
 
And if that means bursting bank accounts, lucrative sponsorship deals and more faces on and off the field, it's likely that few will complain. As in baseball, business, music and more, any Japanese who succeeds overseas only serves to fire the hopes of the millions who one day hope to do the same. And what is a hero if not a symbol of hope?

 

Tama Miyake, June 2002

 

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