Nakata starts up community football project

Former Japan and AS Roma star Hidetoshi Nakata is starting up a team of retired J-League players to take part in exhibition matches and football clinics across Japan.

"I want to revitalise local communities through football," the retired 1997 and 1998 AFC Asian Player of the Year said Thursday on his 32nd birthday, launching the "Life After Football Project."

"I will pay the players on the dot to create a second career for them. I will make them work," said Nakata, who quit football after Japan's early exit from the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany. With proceeds from matches, his company Take Action Foundation will present soccer balls to children around the world, Nakata added.

"Just wonder how much more effective a soccer ball can be than a pen or candy" in drawing children to AIDS seminars and other public campaigns, he said. "I want to make it a win-win circle for everybody."

Nakata has signed up 21 retired J-League players, including one-time AC Venezia reserve Hiroshi Nanami, for his team Take Action FC. They will play their first match against a local club in Nakata's hometown of Kofu, west of Tokyo, on 12 April.

Midfielder Nakata, famous for his vision, probing passes and flamboyant media image, has done charity and social work around the world since his retirement. He started his career at J-League Bellmare Hiratsuka in 1995 and spent seven seasons in Italy's Serie-A before moving to Bolton Wanderers in England in 2005.