Hidetoshi Nakata

Hidetoshi Nakata

The very first ever Japanese player to feature in the Italian Serie A was Kazuyoshi ‘Kazu’ Miura. The forward joined Genoa in 1994, at the age of 27.

In 1998, the second Japanese player to join the Italian top league was Hidetoshi Nakata. The midfielder was 21 years old at the time.

The success and the career journeys could not really have gone differently from then onwards. As I write this blog, Kazu is 56 years old, still active, and holds the title of the eldest living professional footballer.

On the other hand, Nakata is enjoying his retirement, having hung up his boots at the youthful age of just 29 years old in 2006.

However, despite Miura defying the aging process, it is Nakata that is looked upon as a national icon and can point to his tenure in Italy as far more successful and impactful than Miura’s brief stint.

In 1998 Nakata was signed by the somewhat unfashionable Perugia, a yo-yo club without a significant presence in Serie A at the time. Perugia was not averse to an out-of-ordinary transfer (Jay Bothroyd and Al-Saadi Gaddafi as examples that come to mind) but with Nakata, the jackpot was hit.

Stylish, good-looking, and fashionable, Nakata was able to combine an incredibly powerful marketing presence, alongside his ability to play football. In his first season, he took to the league with aplomb and registered 10 league goals (his best-ever return), and more importantly for the club, Perugia retained their Serie A status, having only been promoted the previous season. The sight of 1000s of Japanese fans in the Stadio Renato Curi was a common occurrence to cheer on their superstar. 

Perugia managed to keep hold of Nakata for just half of the following season as the vultures had begun to circle around the Japanese superstar. 

Roma was the club to poach Nakata, and the following season he and his Roma teammates became champions of Italy. The medal was in Nakata’s cabinet, but it doesn’t paint the full picture, and it was the start of a very common theme for the remainder of Nakata’s career. 

In the following season, Nakata started just 5 Serie A games for the champions-elect and was sold, for very big money, to Parma in the close season. 

The first season at Parma saw a Coppa Italia success, with Nakata scoring a hugely significant last-minute goal in the first leg against rival Juventus, which was ultimately won on away goals.  Nakata lasted only one more full season at Parma before a loan move to Bologna materialised, followed by a permanent move to Fiorentina. 

Time at I Viola was equally unsuccessful and another loan move took place, this time outside of Italy, to Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League, joining Sam Allardyce’s band of yesteryear men.

Having left Japan in 1998, Nakata managed one full season at Perugia, 1 at Roma, and 2 full seasons at Parma, and then the final chapter felt somehow even more nomadic. Perhaps the marketing value had begun to outweigh the footballing contributions. Nakata must have had that on his mind, and the decision to retire came at the end of the 2006 season, but not before one final Sayōnara.


Hidetoshi was idolised in Japan and cementing that legendary status was helped by helping the Japanese national team qualify for their first-ever World Cup in 1998. He scored five goals in qualification matches and set up all three Japanese goals in the qualification play-off against Iran. Although the tournament yielded no points and elimination at the group stages, Nakata played in all three of the games.

Then in 2002, Japan was to co-host the World Cup, with South Korea. As per the usual preparation the nations also hosted the (2001) Confederations Cup. Nakata was key to taking the Samurai Blues to the final, including scoring the winner in the semi-finals against Australia. 

No strangers to outstandingly good home shirts, the Japan home kit for 2000-01 was no different. Available on the Retro Football Shirts Ltd website is the 2000-01 match issue from Adidas, still with the tags, complete with the Nakata 7 name and number set.


Sadly, for Nakata and Japan, the talisman missed the final against France, which they lost, as he’d returned to Roma to finish the Serie A season.

He did of course return for the 2002 World Cup, playing a part in the nation’s first-ever point, in their opening game against Belgium, and then for their first-ever win against Russia. To complete the group stage games, Nakata even struck against Tunisia in a 2-0 victory. The co-host narrowly lost to Turkey in the first knockout round.

Japan qualified for their third World Cup in a row in 2006, and Nakata played in all three of their group stages, that only saw one point gained and an early trip home from Germany. Across the 10 World Cup games he played for Japan, he played every single minute and it was the final game against Brazil in Dortmund in 2006, that was the last time the Japanese superstar played a professional game of football. 

Nakata played 77 times for his country and featured in 3 World Cups (and 2 Olympics) yet as Kazu Miura continues into his 5th decade as a professional, there is a lingering thought that Hidetoshi Nakata never truly reached the levels, certainly in the sporting sense the world had hoped.

Blog by Stan Stanger, avid football fan and football shirt collector.  Follow me on Twitter @10Stan1981 and visit my website at 



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