Keito Nakamura: LASK’s Left Winger Taking Steps Towards Stardom

20. April 2023 in ADMIRAL Bundesliga

“Who’s that you were talking to? He looks like a star!” remarked a passing friend who had seen an unfamiliar face with dark centre-parted hair and flashes of dyed blonde on a laptop screen before the exchanging of goodbyes and a computerised dial tone had announced the conclusion of our virtual sit-down with Keito Nakamura. The aforementioned onlooker may have only been present for a moment of The Other Bundesliga’s recent chat in English with the LASK left winger, but even that was apparently enough for the likeable 22-year-old to leave the same stellar impression that he’s left on many who have witnessed his exploits on Austria’s football pitches in the last 18 months or so.


As the next in a lengthening list of talented Japanese players who have made the move to try their hand at football in Europe, Nakamura is well aware of those who have gone before him, but he’s not concerned with trying to fill anyone else’s boots.

“I can’t speak for everyone in Japan, but a lot of players want to come and play in Europe, it’s kind of a dream. Of course I check the news about those who have done it, but I can’t say that any one of them has been a big influence. Rather than caring about them, I prefer to focus on myself.”

Nakamura spoke without a hint of arrogance, and his relaxed and courteous demeanour throughout our conversation suggested that settling in Austria had been a breeze, though he made lighthearted reference to the contact - or lack thereof - that he had with other Japanese players before his move.

“I know there were Japanese players in Austria before, [Takumi Minamino, Masaya Okugawa, Kohya Kitagawa etc.] I would have talked to them before I moved here, but actually I didn’t have most of their numbers, so I didn’t know how to get in touch. Kohya Kitagawa gave me some great recommendations for Japanese food though!”

Whilst we fancied finding out some superb sushi spots for ourselves, he remained tight-lipped on the names of the best Japanese restaurants in Vienna and Linz, but on footballing matters he spoke with the assuredness of a player who is reaping the rewards of his move to LASK, where he’s been given time to graduate to the first team, in which he now finds himself a permanent fixture.

Despite not being afforded the same luxuries at his previous loan stations Sint-Truiden in Belgium or Twente Enschede in the Netherlands, the former Gamba Osaka player evidently values the journey that has taken him from the children’s academy of home town club Kashiwa Reysol, all the way to Upper-Austria.

“Playing in all those leagues has definitely been good for me as a player. All the leagues have different styles, so it was always a great experience. In Belgium for example, most of the time I didn’t play, but even that time included some very big moments - off the pitch too, such as being in Europe for the first time, it was important for me.”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Keito Nakamura’s career so far is that none of those former clubs were willing to take a risk on him, something which led to his loan move to LASK’s cooperation club Amateure OÖ in 2021. Since then he’s gone on to play more than 70 games in Austria, accumulating more minutes than he did in his native Japan, whilst amassing around 30 goals and 10 assists, many of which have come in the top flight during the 2022/23 campaign.

A Ruthless Streak

His experiences in other lands shine through in his wide range of on-field skills and strengths. Fleet footwork, deft drops of the shoulder and a more than decent turn of pace have seen him burst out of tightly marked areas time and time again in the last 18 months, and this season Nakamura has added a ruthless streak in terms of finishing with power and accuracy, whilst also being able to pick out an inch-perfect attacking pass when necessary, and press proficiently when asked to. After being involved with goals and assists so often, it took a few moments of contemplation before he picked out his highlight from a breakthrough season.

“My favourite moment was the recent game against Sturm Graz. We were losing 1-0, and inside ten minutes we got two goals and turned the game around against a very good opponent. We had lost the Cup game against them just a few days before, so to beat the same opponents in the league so soon after, it was a special day.”

What Nakamura humbly neglects to mention is that it was his vision for a darting run into the box which saw him nip into space and head home a crucial winning goal against a title-chasing Sturm side who had lapsed in concentration for no more than a few seconds across the 90 minutes. That eye for goal has put the Japanese winger right in the mix for the prestigious Golden Boot this year, but as one might not necessarily expect in today’s individualistic world of football stars, the personal plaudits mean little to him.

“It’s close. If I get [the Golden Boot] that’s good, but most importantly I want to get a good place for the team. My teammates always pass to me and give me chances to score, so I want to say thank you to them. I don’t care about being top scorer, it doesn’t matter. We’re third right now but it’s quite close on points, so we hope to get a good place in Europe for next season.”

Perhaps a more significant highlight of this season came during the Spring international break, as Japan Coach Hajime Moriyasu gave Keito Nakamura the honour of a first call-up for the senior Samurai Blue, and he duly came on for a debut appearance in a friendly against Uruguay, something which he recalls as a beaming smile breaks back out across his face.

“I didn’t even play a whole five minutes, but I made my debut for Japan, and for me it was another big step. A lot of really good players gave me a lot of advice and help, and I really want to be called up again! I always stay motivated but now that has gone up a level, and I know I have to work hard for the team and get even more hungry to win.”

Japan made a big impact in December’s FIFA World Cup, defeating both Germany and Spain in a memorable manner to progress from a so-called ‘group of death’, something which Nakamura was able to enjoy from another perspective.

“I watched the Germany game in Japan with my family, and then I was back in Austria for the Spain game and I felt like a fan. I wasn’t thinking ‘I wish I was there’, I was just a Japan supporter, and it was so much fun. Of course, it did increase my motivation to be a part of it too, and I’m really happy that it has happened now, honestly it was like a dream come true!”

Whilst many Scottish football fans appear baffled that Celtic’s high-performers Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate have been overlooked by Moriyasu of late, the Japan boss himself cited considerations regarding the strength of the leagues in which his charges ply their trade. Not to throw shade on the Scottish system, but Nakamura’s inclusion is clearly a positive sign of external trust in the Austrian Bundesliga, a league with its own top-six divide towards the end of the season.

“Last season, in my first season with LASK, we were in the lower Qualification Group, and we couldn’t play in the Championship Group. This season we are right up there, and every week we can play exciting games against top teams, it’s so special for me.”

At Home in Upper Austria

The player himself is backing up his regular season form by playing well in what are now big games week-in, week-out, and delighting the home fans who can also enjoy LASK’s brand new stadium. Nakamura suggested that it took some time to switch from the modest 6,000 capacity surroundings that he became used to in Pasching before the club’s return to the city of Linz in front of closer to 20,000 fans in February:

“To be honest I think the first two games against Lustenau and Salzburg were a little bit like away games, because from Pasching to the new Raiffeisen Arena there’s such a big difference, but in that game against Sturm it was like we were one team, also together with the fans, and I felt that it had really become our home stadium then.”

Enjoying the more intense atmosphere of that state of the art stadium while representing LASK in Europe (should they remain on course to qualify) next season would be a fitting reward for the fine efforts of both player and club over the last few years, yet it would be naive to imagine that such a promising young player doesn’t have other clubs in his sights for his future career. However, Nakamura comes across as someone who places his focus on the present, and whilst he spoke of his passion for football in other leagues, he never gave off the impression of wanting to be anywhere else, other than the training pitch at LASK.

For now, much like back then, there’s something to be said for enjoying the football that’s in front of him. “I like the Austrian Bundesliga, I like the Austrian people. Everybody is so friendly, I really like this country!”

Despite Keito Nakamura’s evident comfort in Austria, it should come as little surprise that reports are frequently circling regarding interest from Serie A, the Premier League and elsewhere, as some of Europe’s elite clubs are taking notice of his consistent good form and his immense potential, and are also being won over by the same clear qualities which have helped him to shine over here.

If LASK do have to let go of their standout player in the near future, they are likely to be able to multiply the reported €500,000 that they invested in him with a sale at ten times that price or more, something which - whilst bittersweet - would only be further evidence of the great work which Austrian clubs are doing behind the scenes to not only place their trust in good young players at the right times, but also to provide those players with the perfect environment in which to compete, flourish and perhaps even become a star.


Redakteur: Tom Middler (The Other Bundesliga)

Fotos: GEPA pictures

Artikel teilen: