For recently signed TFC winger Issey Nakajima-Farran it has been a long road back to the country of his birth.
After playing youth soccer as a teenager in Japan and England, the well-travelled Canadian International embarked upon a professional career that has encompassed playing for clubs in Japan, Singapore, Denmark, Australia and Cyprus. With his move to Toronto, MLS and Toronto FC, the 29 year old is now settling into a new environment that feels to him like a combination of something familiar and something exciting and special.
As someone who has played the most global of world sports on basically every continent on the planet with club and country, the personable Canadian is quick to admit that he is impressed with what he has seen of the North American top flight and his new organization since signing with Toronto at the end of March.
“I think it is very professional here,” Issey told RedNation. “The facilities and how professional everybody are is out of the ordinary. There are very high standards here, so I’m very impressed. I’m actually surprised. It’s been a good start so far.”
“It feels like a bit like another Gold Cup because the travel is about the same and there are decent hotels,” he added. “I’m just really looking forward to getting settled down first in Toronto. Right now I’m still in a hotel and I’ve been in a hotel for so long. I just really want to get my own space and get my paintings over here and to feel settled and like I am at home. I’m still just out of a suitcase right now.”
When asked how MLS compares to some of the other top flight leagues he has played in via his time in Europe, Asia and Australia, the 30 times capped Canadian International took a rain check with regard to a detailed answer.
“It’s too early to say,” Issey explained. “At the moment, the state of the pitch (at BMO Field) doesn’t allow us to play on the ground. So at the moment the ball is kind of up in the air. In training and on better fields we have played better. The ball is on the ground, one-two touches and the ball zips around. So I know we have the quality to do that. But It’s very difficult on pitches like this due to the weather we have had.”
As a player who has played for a number of different managers over the course of his career, Issey was quick to admit that he likes what he has seen from Reds Head Coach Ryan Nelsen so far.
“Ryan was a very experienced player,” Issey said. “It is nice to have a coach who has been a player as well and who was a captain during his playing career. He is like one of the guys and the banter is there. I think he is an all-around good coach. He knows what he wants and he knows how to motivate the players. Especially with the speeches that he has, he really hits the right note that we need to here.”
While he is still familiarizing himself with a new league, club, head coach and organization, Issey was candid in admitting that his latest club has a distinctly different feel to it compared to other teams he has played for.
“It actually feels like a Canadian National Team camp because there are so many Canadian guys,” Issey explained. “I have never been on a team before where I was one of the local guys. In most changing rooms there will be some diversity and Brazilian guys will hang out with other Brazilian players, Danish guys hanging out with other Danish and the foreigners talking to other foreigners. For the first time I am one of the local guys, so it actually feels a bit weird.”
“I’m hanging out with the Canadian guys here,” he added. “It’s really nice and it is a big change for me and it makes me feel like this is where I am from. I’ve never felt that and it is a big change because I have always been the foreigner. For once, I’m not the foreigner.”
While the time it took him to actually officially sign with Toronto following a trial during preseason felt like it took ages, Issey did admit that an eventual move back to Canada was something that had been in the cards for quite some time.
“The talks were always there,” Issey said. “As one of the Canadian teams in the league, Toronto were always trying to bring back the Canadian guys from Europe. So the interest was always there, it was just finding the right timing. And this has happened to be the perfect timing and everything has kind of just slipped into place.”
Now that he is finally playing for a Canadian club, Issey admitted that his move to Toronto FC isn’t just another chapter in his career, it also feels like he has come home at long last.
“Being part of the Canadian national team has always been something that I have been very proud of,” Issey stated. “To now be playing in Canada and seeing the maple leaf on our jersey, for me it is special. I’m very happy to be part of this whole thing with both TFC and the national team.I actually think I should have come back to Canada a long time ago.”