“The best player never to play for Japan”

The title is a bold claim, so why don’t we let regular Regista contributor @NelloSplendor explain why he wants to give one man the respect he deserves. Take it away, Gabriele…..

Yoshinobu Minowa, Daisuke Sakata, Naoya Kikuchi, Kazuya Yamamura, Tatsuya Sakai, Yusuke Minagawa.

What do all those names have in common? They were selected to play international football and they actually appeared once for Japan; be it in a friendly or an official game, it doesn’t matter.

Not so many people can list that on their CV. I quoted some unconvincing examples: for instance, we still have to figure how Sakai and Minagawa ended up playing for Japan against Cavani and his Uruguay in the first match under Javier Aguirre. Or how Okada selected a college kid – Yamamura, who at the time was playing for Ryutsu Keizai University – for the last match of AFC Asian Cup qualification against Yemen.

But if we move to footballers who have never played for Japan, well, the list contains a big name. A player who has been a column in the Antlers family, who was born in Ibaraki. Now he’s 35 years-old and he’s still got it. And he was chosen by Zico when he was a kid to play in his academy in Rio de Janeiro.

Still, no caps with Japan at all. Ladies and gentleman, Takuya Nozawa.


Born in Kasama, right in the heart of Ibaraki Prefecture, Nozawa made it through Kashima Antlers youth ranks while experiencing another wonderful environment: Zico is tied with Kashima Antlers because of his history with them, but also because he hosted some Japanese players in his Centro de Futebol Zico Sociedade Esportiva (or simply CRZ de Rio).

Along with Takayuki Suzuki,  Nozawa went to Rio in 1999. Some months in Brazil improved his skills: in fact, he was launched in the first team right under Zico, who was a interim manager in that year at Kashima and Nozawa appeared as a 17 year old squad member.

He won two league titles between 2000 and 2001, but Nozawa became a pillar for Kashima Antlers from 2004, after he was able to overcome his Köhler disease. His proven technique with both feet, his skills from set-pieces and his class were instrumental in winning a lot of trophies in Ibaraki prefecture.

Despite being a regular starter for several seasons under different managers in Kashima – Cerezo, Autuori, Oswaldo de Oliveira – he never got international recognition. Four double digits-seasons in terms of goals weren’t enough to collect his first cap with Nippon Daihyo. Yet, you can think Nozawa would have been useful for Japan.

At least four coaches, being generous – Zico, Osim, Okada, Zaccheroni – ignored the one who once has been labelled as “the greatest footballer never to play for his national team”. At least, Osim gave him a chance calling him up, but Nozawa wasn’t fielded during 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualification.

He never gave up, though. After Jorginho pushed him away from Kashima for the first time in his career, Nozawa started again from Kobe. With Vissel he played a lot anyway, returning to Kashima after Kobe’s side fell to J2.

He was taken back by Toninho Cerezo, who had already managed him when he was a youngster. One and a half years passed before he said goodbye to Kashima Antlers, this time forever. But Nozawa’s strength let him start freshly for a second time, in Sendai, where Vegalta needed his experience to confirm their place in J1 League.

Despite being 35 y.o, his sense of goal never changed.

Of course now it is too late to give this international possibility to Nozawa. But we still hope to see him again on J1’s fields for at least a couple of years.


I’m almost in tears. Agree or disagree with Gabriele’s view on Nozawa? Drop us a comment here, or on Twitter. You can find us both at:

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