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‘BR looks like a total fan boy’ ‘Sign him’ ‘Legends’ Rodgers meets Celtic VIP in Yokohama

Celtic’s first full day in Japan was rounded off by meeting up with Shunsuke Nakamura.

The club’s first ever Japanese player has legendary status in his homeland after a brilliant career showcased by four years and Champions League exploits with Celtic almost 20 years ago.

Nakamura signed for Celtic on the back of the humiliating 5-0 Champions League defeat to Artmedia Bratislava, just two years on from the UEFA Cup Final in Seville.

Gordon Strachan had his work cut out as he picked up the pieces from Martin O’Neill but with Nakamura and Aiden McGeady on each wing a brand new team emerged with heroics from Artur Boruc and the goals of Maciej Zurawski.

Nakamura was pivotal to that success which included two runs to the knock-out stage of the Champions League. A generation down the line he is the reference point for Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate and Celtic’s other Japanese players.

Nakamura only announced his retirement from playing in October 2022 while he was playing with second division side Yokohama FC where he now works as a coach.

Marinos were the club that gave his professional break in the game, playing there for five years before the European adventures at Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol before returning home in 2010 for a seven year stint with the Marinos.

Back in 2005 when he arrived at Celtic overseas players were fairly rare. O’Neill had built up a squad core that was very British, sprinkled with the talents of Stan Petrov, Lubo Moravcik and a little European steal in the shape of Johan Mjallby, Joos Valgaeren and Bobo Balde.

Nakamura brought a new culture to the dressing room although not many of his new team-mates were keen on post-match ice baths.

A complete dedication to his fitness saw the midfielder extend his career to the age of 44 which included 98 international caps.

The fitness and nutrition ideas that Nakamura brought to Celtic helped establish a new mindset with team-mates seeing the benefits of a different lifestyle.

Brendan Rodgers is very much cut from the same cloth, wanting to give players the maximum opportunity to impress and make the best of the opportunities from a relatively short career although Nakamura has demonstrated that careers can be extended.

New contracts for Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda were among the first issues that the new managed agreed to, getting those deals done over video calls after watching the impact of the J-League imports from the outside.

Before training today Nakamura joined up with Celtic’s five Japanese players to meet the media ahead of Wednesday’s match against Yokohama F Marinos.

With Kevin Muscat in charge the match won’t be a typical friendly or tour match, Yokohama have lost their last two matches, both at home to slip back into second place in the J-League table.

Celtic fans will get their first look in more than four years at a Rodgers side, without Jota, Aaron Mooy, Alistair Johnston and Cameron Carter-Vickers the new boss will get an early look at the squad depth he has inherited from Ange Postecoglou, a former Marinos manager.

Following Wednesday’s match Celtic will prepare for Saturday’s match against Gamba Osaka before they return to Scotland with a week to prepare for the Dublin clash against Wolves at the Aviva Stadium.

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