Keito Nakamura joined the Black and Whites in August 2021. The 21-year-old striker is the first Japanese to ever play for LASK. In his interview with lask.at Keito talks about the start of his football career and his difficult first season in professional football. He also reflects on his first months at LASK:
Keito, let us go back in time to the very start of your career: When did you start to play football?
I started when I was about four or five years old. For many years I attended the Kashiwa Reysol Football School. In the first few years, football was just a fun hobby for me. But when I was about nine years old, I knew that my goal was to become a pro. This was my dream and I dedicated everything to make it come true.
At LASK you usually play as left winger – was this always your favoured position?
Yes, I have always been a very offensive-minded player, therefore I feel confident in all attacking positions. At LASK, I usually play on the left wing, but I also can play on the right side or even as a central attacker.
Is there one attacking player in particular, that you admire?
I do not have a favourite player, if that is what you are asking for. But I really like the playing style of Marco Reus, especially his press style. I am sure I can learn a lot from his behaviour on the pitch.
In 2018 your dream of becoming a pro came true – you signed your first contract with Gamba Osaka in the J1 league. What was it like to suddenly become a professional footballer?
Before I joined Gamba Osaka, I used to play in a high school team. I had lots of success there and scored many goals. Therefore, I was convinced that I was clearly the best player of all, when I arrived at Gamba Osaka. But I quickly came to realize that I still had a lot to learn. The level of play was completely different to high school: Everything was faster, the intensity was higher, and the technique of the players was better.
That sounds like a difficult first year…
Yes, making the switch to professional football was a shock for me at first. Often times I only played for the second team of Gamba Osaka during that period. But I managed to pull through and trained every day, even after the team training was over, to get better. And my dedication paid off: At the end of the season, I joined the first team again and scored my very first goal in J1 (against V-Varen Nagasaka). So yes, it was a difficult first year, but an important one for my development.
In Summer 2019 you were loaned out to Twente Enschede in the Eredivisie. You accumulated eighteen appearances for them and scored six times. Tell us about your time in the Netherlands.
My start at Twente was great. In my first two games I scored twice – against PSV Eindhoven and against Groningen. Some weeks later I also scored against Ajax, of which I was immensely proud.
The football in the Netherlands is quite different to Japanese football: It is faster and more physical, but maybe less technical. It took me some time to get used to this new type of football. At that time, I could not speak English, which made communicating with my teammates difficult.
You already mentioned your first game at Twente: How did it feel to score an important goal against PSV?
It was amazing. The stadium was almost sold out and the fans went crazy after my goal. To be honest, at that moment I had not yet realized that I scored against a very big team. I obviously was happy about my goal, but after the game I was not 100 percent satisfied. I had more chances during the games, and I would have wanted to score some more goals.
Your fairy-tale start at Twente went down well with the supporters. They even produced a fan chant for you. What was your reaction to it?
The chant was a great touch. It was the first time, that fans wrote a song about me, and I was really happy about it. Besides that, I really like the song.
In February 2021 you finally made your way to Austria and joined FC Juniors, our cooperation club. What were the reasons behind this move?
Before joining FCJ I was loaned out to the Belgian club VV St. Truiden. In Belgium I hardly got any game time and after half a year I knew that I had to move to a different club. To only train for such a long time was not enough for me. In the end I am a footballer – and I want to play as many games as possible. FC Juniors gave me the opportunity to do so. After I joined them I finally got regular game time again and managed to score quite a few goals. In hindsight, it was the right decision.
In summer you eventually joined LASK. How would you rate your first few months at LASK?
I think, I performed quite well. During the last few months we had quite a few injuries in the squad, which lead to me getting some appearances in the starting eleven. I scored three goals in the UEFA Europa Conference league and one goal in the Bundesliga. I am very happy that I was able to help the team with my goals. I am especially proud of my two goals against Alashkert FC – we managed to qualify for the knock-out-stage of the UECL in that game.
What are your goals with the LASK in 2022?
After the winter break we will face Salzburg in the cup quarterfinal. That will be a very tough game, but we are determined to give it our best shot. And in general I want to help the team to continue the positive trend that we started in the last games.