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Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2005


Strachan is expecting too much from Nakamura at Celtic

Scoring a wonder goal against Brazil for your country and doing the business every week for your club are two different matters.

Jeremy Walker

Maybe someone should tell this to Gordon Strachan, who is expecting great things of his new signing, Shunsuke Nakamura, at Celtic.

It's true that Nakamura has a special talent, namely his set-piece delivery on free-kicks and corners, and the occasional rapier pass.

No one put it better than Steve Perryman, who, during his time as manager of Shimizu S-Pulse, said that Nakamura's left foot was "so good he could open a tin of beans with it."

But will he be able to open Scottish defenses on a regular basis?

After three years in mid-table obscurity with Reggina, the move from Italy to Scotland will seem like another world.

Nakamura is not the quickest of players, nor the strongest, and you wonder how the midfield flyweight is going to survive in the fast-paced, rough-and-tumble scene of the Scottish Premier League.

Strachan thinks he'll do just fine, which is why Celtic paid around $4.5 million for him, but those who have followed his career closely still have doubts.

Such as, why did he spend three years with Reggina and not make the step up to a bigger Italian club?

Unlike Hidetoshi Nakata, who was a revelation at Perugia, earning a $17 million transfer to Roma, and then a $26 million move to Parma, all within three seasons.

And why were there no takers for Nakamura in Spain, despite alleged interest from Deportivo La Coruna and Atletico Madrid?

(Japanese media sources say the reports of interest from these two Spanish clubs were a ruse by his agent and by Reggina, but no one should be surprised by this.)

In the end, then, it came down to Celtic, or another dreary season plodding away with Reggina and fighting against relegation from the first day of the campaign.

At least with Celtic he will be playing in a team challenging for trophies on the domestic front, and in a city that will be a massive culture shock for him.

Celtic against Rangers, Catholic against Protestant, in Glasgow's historic Old Firm derby . . . Shunsuke may resemble a schoolboy trying to extricate himself from a revolving door as the world flies by.

It's going to take a while for him to adapt to the faster pace, and to the more physical nature of the Scottish game.

It won't be like in Italy, where a player can just fall down and be awarded a free-kick; in Scotland, the referees let the game flow, and Nakamura will have to learn to look after himself like never before.

At 27, Nakamura is at the peak of his career, and his three-year deal with Celtic could be his last stop in Europe before a return to Japan.

Strachan has not enjoyed the happiest of starts with the Hoops, so the pressure will be on Nakamura to produce from his first game.

Shunsuke in Scotland should be a fascinating episode, and no one will be watching how the story unfolds more closely than national coach Zico.

But Strachan must be prepared to accept the player's flaws -- his lack of pace and stamina, and the casual way in which he frequently loses possession -- as well as his gifts.

Urs Linsi, general secretary of FIFA, had some interesting things to say the other day about rich European clubs visiting Asian countries.

Basically, he said these tours were bad for the region, as the money from fans, sponsors and television was going to Europe rather than into domestic markets.

This may be the diplomatic line from FIFA House, but it's not the view of the fans.

Why shouldn't clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich attempt to increase their fan base around the world?

If the clubs want to exhaust their millionaire players before their own league seasons kick off, if the sponsors want to invest in dreary, meaningless matches (Tokyo Verdy 3, Real Madrid 0 anyone?), and if the fans want to buy expensive tickets and even more expensive replica shirts, why should FIFA show so much concern?

Although the magic of Real Madrid seems to be fading, through over-exposure and the fact that fashions change, especially in Japan, the two Manchester United matches pulled in around 100,000 spectators.

If the fans here grow tired of these tours, they can vote with their feet and their wallets and stay away.

But FIFA cannot criticize the European clubs and simply expect all the local cash to be pumped into the local leagues.

Not when there is still so much wrong in Asia's domestic game, notably China with its corruption.

Fans grow tired of the incompetence of the local administrators and of the lukewarm footballing fare served up.

It is the responsibility of the football associations in Asia to make their game more attractive, and surely one way of doing this is to invite Europe's top clubs to increase the interest.

Everyone gains, especially the fans -- and isn't that what it's supposed to be all about?

Player of the Week: Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Ballack.

A productive tour of Japan in a week when he was named Bundesliga player of the season by Germany's Kicker magazine.

Quote of the Week: "We wanted someone who could really give us more -- or nobody."

-- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, after the Gunners missed out on signing Brazilian striker Julio "The Beast" Baptista from Sevilla.

Baptista chose Real Madrid, but Wenger will not panic and waste the transfer money at his disposal.

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