I’m known as the David Beckham of Asia but I quit football to make rice wine… now I’m worth £28million

WHEN thinking of glam footballers like David Beckham, many fans may think about the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Antoine Griezmann.

However, Hidetoshi Nakata is perhaps more comparable to Beckham than any other footballer.

Getty Images – GettyHidetoshi Nakata quit football to pursue a career in Japanese rice wine making[/caption]

Getty – ContributorNakata has been dubbed the David Beckham of Asia[/caption]

Getty Images – GettyNataka retired at Bolton weeks after the 2006 World Cup[/caption]

On the football pitch, Nakata made a name for himself in the Serie A with an eight-year spell in Italy yielding a league title and Italian Cup.

The Japanese attacking midfielder also holds the record for most goals by an Asian player in Serie A history.

But it is his work away from the pitch which truly distinguishes him, although it was far from a straightforward journey.

Nakata retired from the beautiful game when at Bolton under Sam Allardyce aged just 29, after admitting his passion for the sport had evaporated.

His decision rocked Japanese football, coming just weeks after the nation’s exit from the Brazil World Cup in 2006.

However, the former Japan footballer of the year and three-time Ballon d’Or nominee realised after hanging up his boots that he had an alarming lack of knowledge about his home country.

Nakata had left Japan aged 21 to pursue his career in Europe, and insisted he needed to educate himself to “become a better Japanese person.”

He told CNN in 2018: “I played because I loved [it], but I was losing a bit of passion for football.

“My people came to stop me but I said: ‘Please cut my contract. I don’t need any money anymore, just let me leave.’

“All my life I just played football, basically. Every country I went, people asked me about Japan but I didn’t know anything about it.

“That’s a part of my life, so I need to become a better Japanese person.”

During his deep dive into Japan’s culture, which took over seven years to complete, Nakata visited all 47 of Japan’s prefectures – equivalent to an English county.

His mission yielded the desired results, with Nakata finding a particular interest in sake, otherwise known as Japanese rice wine, and turning it into a business with his own label “N”.

Getty Images – GettyFashion guru Nakata is a regular at Louis Vuitton shows[/caption]

AFP – GettyNakata strikes various sponsorships to promote the Japanese sake industry[/caption]

“There are most amazing crafts and agricultural products all over Japan, but I was especially fascinated by the uniqueness of sake,” he explained to Forbes.

“It is distinctively Japanese, made with the Japanese national mould koji for the last 2000 years. I thought sake deserved much more global attention.”

Nakata visited over 400 sake producers, around 40 per cent of the total operating breweries at the time, before launching his brand at the Takagi Shuzo brewery in 2013 in the Yamagata prefecture.

At launch a single bottle of sake cost between £1,570 and £2,350 a bottle from his brewery.

As it turned out, he would be entering the industry shortly before an international demand boom, with Japanese sake recording the highest number of exports by both value and quantity in 2021.

Indeed, between 2009 and 2021, Japanese sake saw a 590 per cent increase in value and a 269 per cent jump in quantity.

AP:Associated PressNakata was named by Pele’s list of the top 100 footballers[/caption]

Getty – ContributorNakata has rubbed shoulders with legends such as Ronaldinho[/caption]

However, the industry is not without its troubles, with figures from the Japanese government showing at least 70 per cent of the nation’s breweries to be operating at a loss or small profit annually.

Nakata says his brewery is one such business in the red, but insists his love for the industry is all the motivation he needs.

He said: “I have devoted my last ten years to find ways to support the sake industry. And I have not made any money.

“I am doing this because I love doing it. It just does not feel right to do something simply for making money or for reputation.”

It is Nakata’s love for sake that seems to be the driving force behind his motivations, striking a number of partnerships with global brands to promote the industry.

One such sponsorship came with Kit-Kat, as they created a sake-flavoured Kit-Kat chocolate bar.

Fashion is also high on his list, with Nakata being pictured at a Louis Vuitton Cruise show in early 2023, managing to stand out even among the plethora of Hollywood A-listers at the event.

His appearance even had GQ salivating, describing Nakata as “low-key the best-dressed footballer on the planet”.

‘Low-key the best-dressed footballer on the planet’

Nakata, who was named by late Brazil legend Pele as one of the best 100 footballers in the world, has not stopped with his sake passion project or fashion outings either.

He has taken an interest to Japan’s tea industry – which is in a similar state to sake – and also enrolled as a faculty member at Rikkyo University.

In 2020, Nakata taught marketing in traditional craft industries for a semester.

On the move, he added: “I provided a space for the next generation to explore what they could do to support traditional Japanese culture.

“I learned from their fresh perspectives too.”

And all of this has helped him cultivate a £28million fortune.

Getty – ContributorOne of Nakata’s sake sponsorships saw him create a sake-flavoured Kik-Kat[/caption]

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