|© UNICEF UK/2006/Nicholls|
|Hidetoshi Nakata - offensive midfielder for the Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League.|
A Japanese football icon, Hidetoshi Nakata is a sleek offensive midfielder who rose to stardom when he carried his nation to its first-ever World Cup in 1998. Now the pride of Japan, he has led his team back again for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Mr. Nakata was born in 1977 in a small town near the base of Mount Fuji and as a young student planned to study accounting. But his plans to crunch numbers were foiled when he stepped onto a football pitch beginning his career at home in Japan with the J-League club, Bellmare Hiratsuka.
Fleet of foot, with deft ball handling skills, Mr. Nakata was a natural and possessed a voracious appetite for scoring. Playing in the 1998 FIFA World Cup at the age of 20, he made an instant name for himself on the international scene with his stellar performance and orange-dyed hair spikes. Italian club Perugia took notice, and he was recruited to play for Serie A in 1998.
Netting ten goals from his midfield hub in his first season with Perugia, Mr. Nakata raised the brow of international football powerhouse Roma - landing in the Italian capital in 2001.
He excelled in Rome, and 18 months later Mr. Nakata signed with the Italian club Parma. He later moved to other Italian teams, eventually landing on Fiorentina.
After several years in Italy, Mr. Nakata was shipped off across the Channel last year to join Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League.
Now just 29, Mr. Nakata is already recognized by many as the best footballer Japan has ever produced. As his Bolton profile suggests, “The quality which has allowed him to play at the top level is his remarkable understanding of the game - an ability to see the ‘flow’ of a match and understand where he needs to be, or where the ball should go. In this respect, Nakata is nothing less than a genius.”