Keiji Tamada’s experience, influence and class make him an indispensable figure in the Japanese camp. A second forward who can also function as an attacking midfielder or a lone striker, he has been an international since 2004 and was an ever-present in his country’s qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Tamada got his breakthrough in 1999, when he joined Kashiwa Reysol after graduating from Narashino High School. However, he was unable to make his mark initially and failed to score in his first three seasons at the club, albeit from limited appearances.
Then he benefited from a programme between Kashiwa and a club in Brazil, where his raw talent was nurtured and he developed an appetite to become a prominent footballer.
“I was accustomed to playing up front, but out there they put me at right-back,” Tamada explained. “That was the only place for an unknown Japanese player. I didn’t learn too many skills, as I hoped I would when going out to Brazil, but what I did learn was a hunger to succeed. That was more important.”
Tamada was a revelation upon his return to the J.League and, after impressing in 2002, he took his game on to another level the following year, scoring 11 in 28 games and creating a number more.
The Urayasu native shone again in 2004, before suffering a miserable campaign the year after – one in which he was criticised for being selfish and Kashiwa were relegated into the second flight. He decided to jump ship and sign for Nagoya Grampus.
Tamada’s first two seasons at the Mizuho Athletic Stadium were disapponting, and he admits he considered quitting the club until their appointment as coach of Dragan Stojkovic, a former star of the J.League who had been the forward’s boyhood hero, at the start of 2008.
“He immediately told me I was the best player in Japan,” Tamada revealed. “I wanted to stay and prove him right.” The No11 certainly went about it in the right manner, propelling Grampus to an unexpected third-placed finish and AFC Champions League qualification. The 1.73m attacker also shone both domestically and on the continent last year.
Tamada debuted for his nation six years ago, and made a swift impact at the AFC Asian Cup 2004. After failing to find the target in Japan’s opening four matches, he scored twice – one an 11th-hour winner – in the 4-3 reverse of Bahrain in the semi-finals, before also adding another in the 3-1 victory over China PR in the final.
He impressed again at Germany 2006, despite Japan’s first-phase elimination, and his fine left-footed strike in a 4-1 defeat by Brazil was one of only two Carlos Alberto Parreira’s team conceded during five games in the competition. An intelligent player with impressive vision, he made a significant contribution to the Samurai Blue booking a place at this year’s FIFA World Cup.