S.League: Nakatake finally gets his chance

SINGAPORE - Last March, he travelled more than 5,000km from his hometown of Kanagawa, Japan, with hopes of playing in the S.League, only to find that every team had filled their five-man foreign player roster.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Shunsuke Nakatake clung on to his football dream.

For the rest of the year, the 23-year-old, 1.74m midfielder played for Eunos Crescent in the first division of the National Football League (NFL).

He impressed, regularly dominating proceedings in midfield and chipping in with his fair share of goals as his team finished third.

His perseverance has paid off, after Hougang United unveiled Nakatake as one of their five foreign signings for this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League at their press conference at Hougang Stadium on Thursday.

Recalling his time here last year, Nakatake told The New Paper: "It was difficult. But I liked Singapore, even though it can be very hot at times, and I decided to give it a shot."

The Cheetahs opened their season with a home clash against Woodlands Wellington on Saturday.

There will be much interest over how the Japanese performs, after being plucked from the NFL.

"Football here is different from Japan," he said.

"The players here are bigger and stronger, but I will give 100 per cent in every game to help the team.

"I see myself as a defensive midfielder who can help my team to build up play from the back."

With most S.League clubs preferring to sign tried-and-tested Japanese players from Albirex Niigata, Hougang coach Amin Nasir explained why he decided to take a risk with an NFL import, especially after Nigerian forward Robert Eziakor had turned out to be a flop last season.

"He's young, skilful, and hardworking," said the 45-year-old former Singapore international defender.

"We've watched him play and he fits the bill of the type of player we need. Having been in Singapore close to a year, he has also acclimatised and we believe he will do well."

Hougang also announced a new jersey deal with Italian apparel company Macron on Thursday, along with a partnership with fitness centre Speed Institute.


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