Shunsuke Nakamura: Asia's Real Player Of The Year
It's been quite a year for Shunsuke Nakamura.
He helped Celtic reclaim the title back in April and so far this season, has been involved in nearly every goal for the team, as they have established a 15-point gap at the top of the table.
He has also been in outstanding form in the Champions League and his sublime free-kick against Man United last week fired the club in to the knockout stages for the first time since the tournament changed its format.
His boss; Gordon Strachan described him as being as being "... as good as anyone in the world right now..." and he has been on the receiving end of similarly glowing accolades from a growing number of peope for most of the season.
It is unfortunate that none of them have come from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). According to the AFC’s selection criteria for their player of the year award announced on November 29, 18 year-old Qatari Khalfan Ibrahim is the continent’s shining light.
Not that the decision will bother Nakamura too much. Without doubt, he has been Asia's top performer in 2006; he doesn’t need a trophy to confirm that. The likes of Mehdi Mahdavikia of Iran, Korea's Park Ji-Sung and Seol Ki-Hyeon as well as Japanese star Daisuke Matsui, have all performed admirably, but none have had the spark of Shunsuke.
He is the kind of player who thrills supporters with his defence splitting passes and a wonderful dribbling ability (yet he admits that after watching a Strachan DVD, that his gaffer was 'far better').
As well as his skill, Nakamura also has a fantastic work ethic and is very brave. Despite being one of the most fouled players in the Scottish top flight, he doesn't remonstrate with the referee and is always quick to return to his feet. His biggest asset though, is his accuracy from set-pieces. Former Tottenham manager Steve Perryman once said "... he could open up a tin of beans with his left foot."
There is no denying how important that foot has been for Celtic this season. They may be well ahead in the title race, but they have hardly been battering teams. Many games have been very tight and it has been a perfectly delivered Nakamura corner or free-kick that has been the difference.
Unfortunately, the Japanese maestro was not in good condition at the World Cup in Germany. After scoring the opening goal against Australia, he failed to reproduce his club form and his country suffered as a result.
Aside from a disappointing summer, 2006 has been Nakamura's most impressive year as professional footballer, to date. If he can continue playing the way he is in 2007, then there is a great chance he will be named as the SPL's player of the year at the end of the season; and that will be an award he will prize as will Japan and the rest of Asia.