So long Singapore! The S.League's free-kick master to bid farewell
They say there are three certainties in life – death, taxes and Kento Nagasaki scoring a free-kick.
Albirex’s main man whenever the whistle goes for a goalscoring deadball opportunity - the 27-year-old netted six sweetly-struck stunners this season and put a number on the plate for teammates.
Nagasaki would stay back after his school training sessions to work on his free kicks
But the 27-year-old playmaker was not always a set-piece taker.
“In high school, I scored a few lucky free-kicks. I didn’t even practice much for them,” the softly-spoken Nagasaki told FourFourTwo through translator - and skipper, Shuto Inaba. “But then, I decided to perfect my technique."
Inspired by former Celtic playmaker and Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura, Nagasaki would stay back after his school training sessions to work on his free-kicks.
“I think if he saw my free-kicks now, he would just think it is normal for him,” Nagasaki joked, having met Nakamura as a child, when the midfielder was plying his trade in Japan for Yokohama Marinos.
Nagasaki estimates religiously taking at least 20 free-kicks every day back then, and he would only take a break from his routine on Sundays, which were designated match days for school and club football.
Hailing from the eastern Japan prefecture of Kanagawa, Nagasaki earned himself a contract with Albirex Niigata in 2012 when he attended their open trials in Japan.
Out of about 80 trialists, only two were selected to make the trip to the Republic
Out of about 80 trialists, only two were selected to make the trip to the Republic by club chairman Daisuke Korenaga and then-head coach Koichi Sugiyama – Nagasaki and Itsuki Yamada.
While Nagasaki has spent five years in the S.League, Yamada left Singapore early last year for Lao Premier League champions Lao Toyota FC, and now plays for MOF Customs United in the Thai League 3.
“Korenaga and Sugiyama were watching me closely during the trials and they liked my playing style. They thought I had the potential to do well in Singapore,” said the 1.7m-tall attacker.
“They didn’t even see my free-kicks during the trials. So it must have been a nice surprise for them,” he quipped.
Nagasaki also happened to be on trials with J2 League team FC Gifu when he was offered the contract by Korenaga, but decided on Singapore after consulting his parents.
Unlike Inaba, whose parents reluctantly let him leave for Singapore, Nagasaki’s parents were fully supportive, and had no qualms with him leaving the week after the contract offer.
“They wanted me to have a new challenge, instead of staying in Japan,” Nagasaki said, as he counted the number of times his parents have visited him here.
"Ten times,” he notes with a laugh. “They come twice a year.”