Homeland hopes stalk Nakamura

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The Independent Football

When Japanese sports enthusiasts visit Scotland, they tend to limit the itinerary to St Andrews. Livingston would not even be on the radar. But football, not golf, will ensure the West Lothian town is the centre of attention for avid television viewers back in the land of the rising sun today.

Shunsuke Nakamura's soaring popularity in his native land since guiding Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions' League with that stunning free-kick winner against Manchester United makes even a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Livingston worth watching for the sports-mad Japanese. And the Tokyo media who follow Nakamura (below) everywhere will have someone to interview.

Steven Tweed, the Livingston captain, spent two and a half years in the J-League with Nakamura's former team, Yokohama F Marinos. He returned to Scotland last summer to put down roots after a 10-year odyssey that embraced Greece, England and Germany. The 34-year-old defender admits there is only one thing more daunting than facing a Nakamura free-kick: facing a Japanese press pack.

"They want to go over every detail with you," explained Tweed. "Sport is huge in Japan. All the Japanese players in Europe have their own press corps. The same ones who used to follow Junichi Imamoto when he was at Arsenal and Fulham have now gone to Turkey since he moved to Galatasaray."

It is Nakamura who is now the golden boy of Japanese football. "He has had a great season," says Tweed. "His two goals against United sealed that popularity and if the one at Parkhead took Celtic through, it was his free-kick at Old Trafford that is probably more iconic for the Japanese because they are so caught up in Manchester United. The average Japanese could probably tell you more about David Beckham than someone in Manchester."

Tweed had to undergo the same culture shock that Nakakura has had in the last 18 months. But he has never looked back since leaving Hibernian a decade ago. "When I was in the Bundesliga, my coach at MSV Duisburg was Pierre Littbarski, and he was poached by Yokohama and took me to Japan. I had a German-Japanese interpreter because there are no British guys in the J-League. My Japanese improved simply because it had to, but I was the only foreign player - and they have lots of nationalities, especially Brazilian - who was part of the footballers' union."

Ironically, a man who called in the Scottish PFA, Paul Hartley, during his recent dispute with Hearts, will make his Celtic debut today after his £1.2m move.

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