Midfield maestro Shunsuke Nakamura hangs up his boots

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunsuke Nakamura takes a free kick during his last match as a professional soccer player at the Egao Kenko Stadium in Kumamoto City on Sunday.

Yokohama FC midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura played his last match as a professional soccer player Sunday in a J2 league game against Roasso Kumamoto in Kumamoto City.

Nakamura, a former member of the national soccer team, will officially retire at the end of this season.

The 44-year-old was named in the starting 11 for the first time this season and served as team captain for the game. “I relied on the kindness of my team,” he said. “By way of repaying the favor I played with a sense of gratitude.”

Though Nakamura was not involved in any decisive moments, his renowned passing skills were in evidence as distributed the ball to his teammates, and he displayed great close-control skills, even when under pressure from the opposing team. He also showed off his acclaimed free-kick prowess, sending a left-foot cross tantalizingly close to a teammate who was threatening a header near the opposition goal.

Nakamura was substituted after 60 minutes with his team one goal down. More than 20,000 Yokohama FC supporters applauded the star as he left the pitch and headed for the bench. Yokohama later rallied and eventually triumphed 4-3. Nakamura joined a circle of Yokohama FC players celebrating the victory and was tossed into the air by his teammates to commemorate his final appearance.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to play in such an atmosphere,” Nakamura said after the game. “I’m glad to have fought this way in the last match of my career.” The midfield maestro beamed broadly as the curtain came down on his 26-year-long professional career, which has won him fans around the world.