Norikazu - the nomadic footballer

Norikazu - the nomadic footballer

By Paul Williams

From as young as he can remember, all Norikazu Murakami has wanted to do is play football. He speaks about the game with such passion, with such love. It’s all he knows.

Norikazu during his time in South Africa with Platinum Stars

Murakami, the youngest of two brothers, was born in Osaka but spent most of his childhood in Yokohama.

“The only thing I remember (from my childhood) is wanting to play football,” he recalls.

“I was always kicking a ball with friends.”

His talents were soon spotted by Yokohama Flugels, becoming part of the youth set-up at the club that would merge with rival Yokohama club Marinos to become Yokohama F.Marinos.

“I learned a lot of things about how to be professional in terms of behaviour and attitude. Every day we fought to be better,” he recalled to Asian Football Feast.

But it wasn’t enough, and a full-time contract with the club wasn’t forthcoming, and he had to look for opportunities elsewhere. That “elsewhere” would be Singapore, with Albirex Niigata’s satellite side – Albirex Niigata.S. And so began a career that would take him around the world from Asia to Africa and, eventually, to Europe.

His time in Singapore was a nomadic one, playing with four different clubs in five years.

“When I moved one to other, every move was to (a) better club. It meant a challenge all the time,” he said.

After five years in Singapore it was time for a new challenge, and during 2009 he was offered the chance to trial at South African side Platinum Stars, impressing coach Steve Komphela enough to be offered a contract.

“When I got an offer of trial, I thought it was a very good environment and atmosphere and at the same time I had an interest to play against African players,” he said.

“African players are very good physically and (have good) technique as you know, so I thought it is chance to improve as a player.”

The remoteness and cultural differences presented a challenge early on.

“There is a Safari only five minutes away from our training base, but we were living far from the training base, near Johannesburg, about 100km one-way.

“It was a hard time for me for the first three or four months. I was struggling with weather because of thin air.

“But the people there were very nice and kind to us. So actually we could spend very nice time there.”

Despite scoring four goals in ten starts, Murakami was put up for transfer at the end of the season, a decision that came as a shock to the striker.

Norikazu spent a year with Golden Arrows in South Africa

“Yes, I was very surprised with the news. It was unfair I felt,” he told Asian Football Feast recently.

So a new season meant another new club, moving to the Durban-based Golden Arrows.

“It (living in Durban) was very different from Johannesburg. People, weather, culture. Like a different country,” he reminisced.

“But everyone knew me before I reached there, so it was easy to adjust.”

Despite the ease in adjusting to his new surroundings, Murakami struggled to hold down a regular place in the side, featuring just 13 times for his new side. The end of the season meant the search was on for another new club.

And while he was tempted to return to Japan, Murakami had his eyes set on Europe.

But he would have to be patient, having to wait almost 16 months before an opportunity would present itself. He moved to Germany and kept fit by training with an amateur club and started learning German – just one of six languages he now speaks, the others being Japanese, English, Chinese, Portuguese and Italian.

Finally in January of this year, after impressing on trial, he signed with Alemannia Aachen, in the German third division.

His debut came against Saarbrucken on 26 January, coming on just before the hour mark. He has made eight appearances since, four as a starter and four as a substitute.

But after so long out of the game, he is desperate to become a regular member of the side.

In January this year he signed with Alemannia Aachen in Germany

“I think I am fit. I just need more playing time. I’m not happy with my playing time,” he said honestly.

While he strives to achieve his goals on the pitch, off the pitch his life has changed as well. Now 31, Murakami is the father to two young children and spends his time away from football playing with them, or reading a good book.

Despite being 31, he has yet to give any serious thought to life after football, determined to continue playing for at least another four years.

“I want to play as long as possible. So I cannot say when the end will be,” he declared.

“But (I want to keep playing until) minimum 35-years-old and from there I just keep trying.

“I don’t know yet (what I will do after football). But I want to do something about football. Football is my passion. I cannot think of my life without it.”

Twenty years after first starting the game, the passion still burns.

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