Football: Land of the rising linguist: Lineker the language student is talking a good game before his football adventure begins in Japan. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
International football celebrity, television and radio star, raw recruit to the complexities of the Japanese language. Whatever his vocation, the name of the game remains the same for Gary Lineker . . . it's all highs and lows, Brian.

Mrs Kyoko Shimazaki, tutor to the world's most famous Japanese student, says of the great one whose penalty box skills had a fluency and understanding all of their own: 'Gary is a fast learner and a natural linguist. He's grasped the intonation of the accent and that's not easy. Our language is very tonal, it has highs and lows and if you can't catch it it's difficult to master.'

Lineka-san, yoku ganbatta ne]* But then what should we expect of someone who made the game look easy, who charmed his way into Spanish hearts with his command of the language while at Barcelona and, having hung up his boots (at least his English ones), is now proving a dab hand behind the microphone and turntable.

'Yes, I am enjoying it,' Lineker said yesterday as he and Linguarama, the London international language training organisation, gave the press an insight into the latest challenge of his career before he embarks on a two-year contract with Nagoya Grampus 8 in the fledgling Japanese league.

'It's hard work because the characters are different and you can only learn through speech, not through writing. I know enough to be able to order in a restaurant, to ask about prices, or to tell the time. Michelle and I test each other at home and it's good fun.'

A clever spark among the press pack attempted to catch him out. Lineker responded as coolly and efficiently as he once stroked home penalties (except of course that miss against Brazil which denied him the outright record for England international goals. 'You're obviously not from The Sun or you would have given me the Japanese equivalent of 'Sick as a parrot',' he joked.

Then came the silliest question of the day. 'Do you know enough to have a row with the referee in Japanese?' Lineker, never once booked in an unblemished 13-year career, found that a touch amusing: 'I never rowed with one in English so I don't envisage that situation arising.'

The great Japanese adventure begins for real in February for the Lineker family; happily son George, who celebrated his first birthday last Friday, has finished his treatment for a rare strain of leukaemia and continues to progress. Pre-season tours with Lineker's new club include a visit to England with a game against Leeds on the schedule.

Before that comes an operation on the big toe that plagued him during his final season here, and then Lineker will look to rebuild his fitness with Spurs.

'My body needed the rest and I needed a break,' he said. 'I've enjoyed just sitting back and watching the hurly-burly of it all. I'm not missing the playing side but I still enjoy going to games as a fan. Maybe next week I will get a buzz with England involved in the World Cup, but to be honest I've been so busy with everything I haven't had too much chance to think about it.'

*Japanese for 'The boy Lineker done good]'