Interview: Albirex Niigata Singapore FC defender Naofumi Tanaka

2016 has been a historic year for Albirex Niigata Singapore FC.

Founded in 2004, Albirex Niigata Singapore FC is the only Japanese professional football team currently playing outside of Japan. They clinched their first championship in the Singapore League Cup in 2011, and went on to claim the cup again in both 2015 and 2016.

But the S-League Cup was not all they conquered in 2016.

This year, Albirex Niigata Singapore FC managed to pull off an unprecedented clean sweep of all four football trophies in the Singapore play-offs season. The other three trophies were from the Singapore Community Shield, The New Paper League Cup, and the RHB Singapore Cup.

One of the players who made Albirex Niigata’s quadruple possible is the team’s star defender, Naofumi Tanaka. The 24-year-old has since¬†renewed his contract with the team, and will be playing for them in the S-League 2017 season.

In this special interview, we speak with Mr Naofumi Tanaka to learn more about what he’s like as a player, and the differences between playing football professionally in Singapore and in Japan.

He also shares with us his thoughts on Football Nation, the breakout football manga from veteran sports manga author Yuki Otake. A free preview of the book’s first chapter can be found here.

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Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Naofumi Tanaka: Hello everyone, my name is Naofumi Tanaka. I play for Albirex Niigata FC (Singapore) and my position on the team is Defender.

Although I am fundamentally a quiet and earnest person, I do enjoy going out and getting rowdy with people, and I strive to forge strong bonds with the people around me.

What do you consider your strengths?

Tanaka: As a player, I consider the following to be my weapons:

  • Possessing the stamina to play offense and defense non-stop for 90 minutes,
  • My positioning skills,
  • And my strong ability to make good crosses (medium-to-long-range passes).

What is the biggest difference between playing in Singapore and in Japan?

Tanaka: Personally, I feel that the climate and weather here in Singapore makes it a little more tiring to play football in than in Japan.

But this is just part and parcel of the experience — if I’m feeling the heat, so must my opponent. Our coach says that often too.

What are your thoughts on the Football Nation manga after reading it?

Tanaka: In many football or soccer manga, you often see a lot of unrealistic scenes, or a very heavy emphasis only on the goal-scoring portions of the game. Of course, I understand that these types of scenes or focus are what spurs young readers to start playing the sport, and that’s why they’re included in those manga.

But Football Nation is not like that. Instead, it feels like Football Nation is written specifically for people who truly understand or play the game.

The manga features a lot of actual and realistic football tactics, and its scenes depict many good plays that now as a professional player I’m always striving to make. These plays are what makes the manga a very satisfying read for me.

I also like that the manga goes into detail about other realistic aspects of the game, like the sensation you get in your legs after making a shoot, or even the recent trends and topics in the world of football.

It’s also good that the manga often describes the limits of each match tactic, and also the rationale behind why a team may decide to switch tactics and go with a different play mid-match.

What kinds of readers would you recommend Football Nation to?

Tanaka: In summary, Football Nation is a manga that contains and depicts many of the common wisdoms in soccer that professional players like myself know about.

These are things that you can actually witness for yourself in real matches, or even apply to your own play as well.

And as the scenes and tactics depicted here are written in a way that even kids would have no problem understanding them, I would recommend Football Nation to football fans of any age.

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Football Nation volumes 1 to 3 are now on sale in all major bookstores.

Click on the book covers below to learn more — a free Chapter 1 preview is available for all three volumes.

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