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zen of naka book

The Zen of Naka: The Journey of a Footballing Genius by Martin Greig; Mainstream Publishing; 240 pages (8 pages of colour pictures); £16.99 hardback

Far from your normal book about a footballer as Martin Greig tries to unravel the complexities of our very private Japanese midfielder.

His early life and football career are covered in detail, of course. Because Naka is so private, very little is known about him as a person (even in Japan) so it was interesting to find out about his upbringing, the reasons for his move to Italy then to Celtic and to get an insight into the dedication that has gone in to making him arguably the best technician we’ve had since Lubo.

As well as focusing on Nakamura, the author also gives us a fascinating overview of the development of football in Japan since the Second World War (and if you want to find out more you should get a hold of ‘Japanese Rules: Japan and the Beautiful Game’ by Sebastien Moffett). Greig goes to some lengths to interview the coaches and teammates who knew the young Naka, as well as tracking down Philippe Troussier, the man who left him out of Japan’s 2002 World Cup squad (a huge blow to the player).

Troussier’s interview is one of the highlights of the book, as is the resolve shown by Nakamura to get over this disappointment to get where he is today.

Apart from the endless free-kick training, “At high school, Nakamura also began to practise qigong, a set of breathing and movement exercises often taught in association with Chinese martial arts... Qigong’s slow external movements help stimulate the internal organs by promoting the flow of the body’s internal energy or qi.”

Certainly different from John Hartson’s two pints of lager and a pizza training regime.

In the chapter ‘Naka Sells the jerseys’, the commercial spin-offs of having him at Celtic are explained by David Thompson, Celtic’s former commercial director. The numbers are impressive, and apparently, “Celtic are now the third most popular Scottish brand in Japan, behind whisky and Sean Connery. Their popularity has even led to the creation of a word for Scot - “Scoto-rando-jin” - whereas in the past Scots were referred to as being English.

It’s easy to see why Peter Lawwell and the bhoys in the boardroom were anxious to get Naka’s successor signed before he leaves to keep the profile up in the far east. 140,000 Nike Hoops tops a year isn’t to be sniffed at.

I suppose the question is, will the interest in Celtic remain once Naka has gone home? And will his entourage of reporters go home with them?

They are all described in the book, these professional Naka followers, and what an eclectic, not to mention eccentric bunch they are, including the one who took up Scottish country dancing while a teenager in Japan, so fascinated was he with all thing Caledonian.

At the end of the book Nakamura is still something of an elusive character, but he does come across as someone who has enjoyed his experience at Celtic, even though it doesn’t always show in his persona.

As Greig notes, “there are clear parallels with Henrik Larsson, even if Nakamura isn’t, yet, as revered. The Swede appeared cool and aloof when he arrived, but as the public admiration grew, so Larsson’s inscrutable veneer began to peel away and his charisma shone through – and so it is with Nakamura”.

Not your average footballer biography in more ways than one. I enjoyed it.