It’s been greater than 11 years since Yuto Nagatomo stood behind a microphone on the heart of the Ajinomoto Stadium pitch, whipped out a pair of black sun shades — partly out of bravado, but additionally to cover tears that had began to properly after his former Meiji College head coach had introduced him with a ceremonial bouquet — and informed FC Tokyo followers that this might not be the final time they noticed him as he ready to affix Italy’s Cesena.
“This isn’t farewell,” he stated on July 17, 2010. “I need to change into the world’s finest fullback and put on the blue and crimson uniform once more.”
Nagatomo’s European journey could have begun within the small metropolis lower than 10 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, but it surely continued on to Milan, Istanbul and eventually Marseille, France, earlier than he determined it was time to return dwelling and make good on his promise.
He did so on Saturday to the delight of 4,368 followers who braved a downpour from what remained of Hurricane No. 14, enjoying a full 90 minutes in Tokyo’s 4-0 win over Yokohama FC.
“It felt electrifying to go on the market as an FC Tokyo participant once more,” Nagatomo stated. “Throughout coaching I remembered the ambition I felt throughout my first time on the membership, but it surely hit me even more durable at Ajinomoto Stadium.
“I got here into the sport eager to play in addition to I did again in these days.”
Although he spent simply 2½ years in Tokyo, Nagatomo remains to be thought of considered one of its brightest stars, not just for what he did throughout his time within the capital however for having raised its worldwide standing by way of his efforts for each membership and nation.
Early in his rookie season, a starring position within the April 2008 Tokyo Derby — throughout which he crossed swords with future Brazil striker Hulk and created the game-winning objective — hinted at what was to return.
Nagatomo went on to make his nationwide workforce debut that summer time, and simply two years later grew to become the primary FC Tokyo participant to begin at a World Cup. A month following that 1-0 win over Cameroon, he was headed for Serie A-bound Cesena on mortgage, the place half a season was all he wanted to earn a everlasting switch in January 2011.
However after serving to Japan seize its fourth Asian Cup title in Qatar, Nagatomo’s vacation spot upon returning to Italy was as an alternative the well-known San Siro after he grew to become the primary East Asian participant to signal with Inter Milan.
Nagatomo’s seven seasons in blue and black produced just one trophy — the 2010-11 Copa Italia — and he performed beneath 10 totally different managers in a interval outlined by turmoil and two gross sales of the membership to new house owners. But he was embraced for his work ethic on the pitch and his character off it.
“He grew to become a cult determine among the many followers and nearly just like the membership’s mascot,” Italian soccer journalist and Sempre Inter founder Nima Tavallaey Roodsari informed From the Spot. “His shut friendships with Antonio Cassano and Wesley Sneijder particularly come to thoughts as large speaking factors again then, as they got here throughout because the jokers of the workforce.
“He was very appreciated by everybody on the membership for a way he was as an individual: humorous, exhausting working and right down to earth. At the moment when folks keep in mind him, they accomplish that with a smile, as he had such a optimistic vibe round him.”
Whilst Nagatomo started to indicate indicators of slowing down in his final days at Inter — prompting a mortgage to Turkey’s Galatasaray that finally grew to become everlasting — his position as mood-maker persevered. Earlier than the 2018 World Cup he bleached his hair, telling Japanese media that he had tried to change into a “Tremendous Saiyan” (of “Dragon Ball” fame) however as an alternative grew to become a “tremendous gorilla.”
Then after one final European season with France’s Marseille — alongside Samurai Blue teammate Hiroki Sakai, who additionally got here again to the J. League this summer time — Nagatomo was able to return to the town the place all of it started, placing on the No. 50 shirt to signify his authentic No. 5 in addition to a contemporary begin.
On Saturday, Nagatomo didn’t make the bombing runs up the left flank that had been his trademark in his prime — as an alternative marshaling his teammates from the again and dealing to close down Yokohama FC’s attackers, aided partially by moist and windy circumstances in Chofu.
“I used to be telling my teammates to concentrate on tactical particulars, elevating our line, selecting up second balls and simply maintaining everybody motivated,” Nagatomo stated. “In our final recreation (a 1-0 loss to Kashiwa Reysol) we lacked confidence and fervour, and I wished to encourage everybody.”
With 9 video games left within the season and eight factors separating Tokyo from third-place Nagoya Grampus, it’s not so unthinkable that Nagatomo may assist encourage the workforce to what can be a fourth look within the Asian Champions League. There’s additionally the matter of the Levain Cup — the place Tokyo will face Grampus within the semifinals — giving the workforce’s new defender an opportunity to as soon as once more raise the trophy he helped win in 2009.
For a workforce getting used to enjoying at dwelling once more after a virtually three-month absence brought on by the Summer season Video games — and a fanbase that has withered resulting from attendance restrictions brought on by the continued state of emergency within the Tokyo space — his arrival couldn’t have come at a greater time.
“I feel Nagatomo has helped the workforce perceive the significance of ardour,” Tokyo supervisor Kenta Hasegawa stated after Saturday’s recreation.
“Once we had been in a nasty state of affairs, we didn’t have the form of participant who may lighten that temper. In that sense, having a participant as vivid because the solar come into the squad is a giant factor for us.”
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FC Tokyo, Yuto Nagatomo