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History Makers: Hidetoshi Nakata


We go back through our history to pick out five decisive moments from a former player. This week, Japanese icon Hidetoshi Nakata is the subject...

In the first of a new series, we raid the archives to pick out five key moments from a notable former player in our history.

This week, Japanese icon - and Scudetto winner - Hidetoshi Nakata is the subject...

The current suspension of the Italian season has offered fans, detached from their usual club-based routine, the time to reconnect with the moments that turned them into such passionate supporters.

Fans who lived some outstanding moments in all their glory are now experiencing and sharing them at home with family members - and this trend has provided younger fans with the chance to introduce themselves for the first time to cult figures from glory-laden spells before their time and brush up on the club’s history.

With this in mind, we have decided to take a special look back at some of the finest strikes from some our most iconic players - starting with a player whose short spell in the Italian capital nevertheless produced some unforgettable moments...


HIDETOSHI NAKATA - THE JAPANESE GAME CHANGER


Japanese icon Hidetoshi Nakata arrived in Rome in January 2000, signing from Perugia - where he had first landed in Europe, following a breakout tournament at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The in-demand ace of Asian football, who embraced being only the second Japanese footballer to grace Serie A, went on to spend a year and a half at the Stadio Olimpico - featuring intermittently for Fabio Capello's already star-studded side.

Nevertheless, on multiple occasions Nakata proved his class - as he weighed in with a few crucial strikes on the way to the Scudetto in 2001, including one substitute display that helped define that title race.

From flashes of brilliance that outshone even his peroxide orange hair, Nakata (who brought about a footballing boom in his homeland) showcased his vision, pace, technical ability and keen eye for goal as an energetic attacking midfielder who stepped up score some pivotal goals during the legendary 2000-01 campaign.

The two-time Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year may have appeared undersized for a central role at 5ft 9in and 72kg - but he was deceptively strong, ultra-competitive and was often used as an impact sub to inject a sense of attacking impetus and flair into Capello's side.

Here are five of his best moments for the Giallorossi...


1. Off The Mark in Style

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vs. PERUGIA (a)
13 February 2000
Serie A

Just a month after signing, Nakata got off the mark for Roma - and against his former employers, Perugia, too.

Perugia stopper Andrea Mazzantini rushed out of his goal to punch a cross and, in doing so, collided with a teammate. Vincenzo Montella shielded the ball from Mazzantini and found Nakata on the edge of the area.

The Japanese star deftly lifted the ball up and over the backtracking defenders to put his name on the scoresheet at his old stomping ground.

2. Putting His Body on the Line for Glory

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vs. UDINESE (h)
2 April 2000
Serie A

The Udinese defence played a high line throughout this one - and were eventually caught sleeping when Paolo Poggi played a neat ball over the top for Nakata to latch onto. He took it and held off the visitors’ last man, before lobbing the advancing keeper Luigi Turci.

Nakata made it look simple. Roma’s No. 8 showed his reading of the game, to make the run, his strength and bravery to resist the challenge of the defender and an inevitable impact from Turci, and showcased his finishing ability in the process.


3. The Goal That Broke Portuguese Hearts

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vs. BOAVISTA (h)
8 November 2000
UEFA Cup


Nakata’s only goal for Roma in European competition was a decisive one, as he ultimately put this UEFA Cup tie beyond the Portuguese side.

The Giallorossi had their Japanese dynamo to thank for a comfortable 2-0 aggregate lead after he picked up the ball 30 yards out and dribbled towards the goal - before unleashing a low, left-footed shot from 20 yards out which beat Ricardo who saw the ball nestle in the bottom left corner of his goal.

Boavista would eventually equalise on the night, but Nakata's goal was enough to send the Giallorossi through regardless.

4. A One-Two Of Outrageous Quality

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vs. Udinese (a)
22 April 2001
Serie A

“I’m pleased – for me and Roma,” Nakata said after this strike.

“I returned to the starting line-up and I scored as well – although I have to thank Cafu for that. I knew I would get an opportunity [in this team] and I made the most of it.”

A goal that epitomised the attacking talents of the title-winning Roma side and the magic which Capello’s charges could produce almost at will. It also showed the attacking impetus Nakata was capable of providing - when the opportunity was available.

The right flank was lit up by Cafu, a rampaging full-back ahead of his time, who used his speed and trickery to launch into a run as the furthest man forward in a Roma shirt - a run that Nakata, dropping deep, quickly picked out.

The Brazilian delivered a typically pinpoint and inviting cross, finding the right foot of none other than Nakata - who had made a bursting run forward to side-foot home on the volley and complete one of the most impressinve one-twos of all-time.

Sumptuous stuff.

5. The One Every Roma Fan Remembers

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vs. JUVENTUS (a)
6 May 2001
Serie A

The Nakata Game? For Roma fans this remains one of the most memorable games in Serie A history, as the leaders travelled to Turin to take on title rivals Juventus for a herculean test of their Scudetto ambitions.

Nakata looked on from the bench as Juventus raced into a 2-0 lead through Alessandro Del Piero and Zinedine Zidane. With 30 minutes remaining and Roma still chasing the game and a two-goal deficit, it was time for the idol of Japanese football to engineer a remarkable late comeback.

The midfielder, who came on for Francesco Totti, won the ball himself just inside the Juventus half and was afforded too much time and space as he fired a right-footed thunderbolt from around 30 yards which whizzed past Edwin van der Sar.

But he didn’t stop there.

As Roma pressed for an equaliser in injury time, Vincent Candela, out on the left touchline, found Nakata outside the box and, with a glut of players jockeying for position, released a right-footed rocket aimed at Edwin van der Sar - who could only parry the ball and fellow sub Vincenzo Montella pounced on the rebound to spark euphoric scenes in the away stand after a pulse-pounding game.

“I saw the opening, and I went for it,” Nakata said modestly afterwards. “Then I tried it again… now we are thinking solely about clinching the title.”

A draw eased the pressure considerably, as Roma subsequently marched on to win their first title in 18 years and Nakata earned his finest club honour in the game.


What happened next for Nakata?

Nakata - who returned to visit Trigoria as a civilian as recently as 2018 - went on to play for Parma, Bologna, Fiorentina and Bolton Wanderers before his retirement at the relatively young age of 29, and has since gone on to devote himself to charity work and social causes.

In 2005, he was made the Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity - one of the most prestigious awards in Italy - for improving the country's image overseas.

The fashion icon and entrepreneur remains a cult hero in Rome and the most beloved football export from Japan.

A trailblazer for Asian football, Nakata, who spent a total of seven years in Italy, was the catalyst for the growth of the game in Japan thanks to his exploits in Italy’s top-flight and in doing so earned himself a legion of fans around the world.

Follow Mark Pickering on Twitter: @_MarkPickering