On the day Hidetoshi Nakata celebrates his 39th birthday, Roma remembers its favourite Japanese star with 10 little-known facts about the Scudetto-winning midfielder…
1. Hidetoshi Nakata was born on January 22, 1977 in Kofu, Yamanashi, Japan. He began playing football at an early age, before joining J League club Bellmare Hiratsuka in 1995 and earning his first senior national team appearance just two years later.
2. He famously dyed his hair blond for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, hoping to attract the attention of European scouts.
3. He won the Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year award in 1997 and 1998, and was signed by Italian Club Perugia following the 1998 World Cup in France, becoming the second Japanese player to appear in the Italian top flight.
4. He was signed by Roma in 2000, playing one season and helping the Giallorossi lift the Scudetto, before joining Parma the following season.
5. Nakata became the world's 6th highest paid football player in 2002 while at Parma. He appeared in advertisements for Canon and was so popular in his homeland that Japanese travel companies offered “Nakata tours” in Italy, and an ice cream flavor was even named after him. In 2005, he was made the Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity - one of Italy's highest honours - for improving the country's image overseas
6. In March 2004, Pele named Nakata in his FIFA 100, a list of the top living footballers at the time. He was the only player from Japan to make the list and one of two from Asia.
7. Surprisingly, Nakata retired after the World Cup in 2006 at the age of 29. After his last game - Japan's 4-1 loss to Brazil - he openly wept and lay on the field for 10 minutes before walking off and waving a final goodbye as a player to Japanese fans.
8. After retiring. Nakata devoted himself to social causes, including playing in charity matches and auctioning off boots and jerseys from the 2006 World Cup to benefit the Haiti and Japan earthquake relief efforts - raising over 1.8 million dollars in the process. He has also been an active supporter of Special Olympics football and participated in the 2010 Special Olympics Unity Cup in South Africa during the World Cup. In 2014, Nakata was named a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics.
9. He became very involved in the fashion world even as a player, and was featured in the July 2007 US version of GQ with a 12-page spread on fall fashion. Calvin Klein designer Italo Zucchelli once said of Nakata, "He plays with fashion like all of them now, but in a cooler, more sophisticated way than many others."
10. In 2015, Nakata entered into a partnership with Kee Club in Hong Kong to open Koko, a restaurant that serves sakes created by Nakata himself. Along with creating his own line of Sake, he has created an app called ‘Sakenomy’, which helps educate the public about sake. Speaking about his project, Nakata said, "People recognise brands of wine but not usually brands of sake. There is a lack of information and branding when it comes to sake. That’s why I thought I needed to create a brand that people can recognise and understand. My purpose is to expand the market for all sake not just my own. You can pair any type of cuisine with sake. It can go with French, Italian, even Chinese food, not just Japanese cuisine."