SINGAPORE - In what is a first for local football, Singapore Premier League (SPL) side Tampines Rovers have handed a new five-year deal to midfielder Kyoga Nakamura, making it the longest contract extension in local league history.
The lengthy deal would see the 25-year-old remain a Stag till December 2026, and could also pave the way for another first - the first Japanese to take up Singapore citizenship and turn out for the Lions.
Nakamura, who arrived here in 2019 to play for Albirex Niigata, applied to be a Singapore permanent resident earlier this month but will need to satisfy Fifa's five-year residency rule to play for an adopted country at senior level.
He told The Straits Times that he wants to stay here for the long term as he feels at home here. ST understands that the former Japan U-17 international, who starred for the Stags in the past two seasons, had turned down offers from clubs in Japan, Indonesia and Thailand before reaffirming his commitment to the eastern club.
Nakamura said: "I want to stay in Singapore because I love Singapore and I love Tampines Rovers. This is my second home and I want to grow together with Singapore football. I would love to be a Singaporean citizen because I love this county so much."
When asked about his desire to play for the Lions, he said: "Yes, I would love to one day represent the Singapore national team if I can get Singapore citizenship. However, this is dependent on the head coach at the time and it will be up to my ability to earn this spot.
"If I was selected for the national team, I hope to bring my attitude and my skills to help the team reach their ambitions."
Nakamura, a deep-lying midfield orchestrator, is considered by pundits to be one of the most technically gifted players in the local league. He was named in the Team of the Season in 2019 and 2020.
While his skills are beyond doubt, Nakamura has also been hailed as a model of professionalism by Tampines coach Gavin Lee.
"He constantly demands more from himself and is never easily satisfied, those are key attributes that we will need to achieve success again," said Lee, whose side finished fourth in last year's eight-team SPL. "His self-driven nature since day one has assured us that he is constantly looking to improve.
"We hope to have more like-minded individuals to help us achieve the high-performance culture that we desire."
Nakamura's five-year contract extension is a positive change for local football, where clubs are known to offer one-year or even 11-month deals. Recently, the big-spending Lion City Sailors bucked the trend by tying national captain Hariss Harun and midfielder M. Anumanthan to 3½- and three-year contracts respectively.
When asked about Nakamura's prospects of turning out for the Lions once eligible, a Football Association of Singapore spokesman said: "Long-term contracts are a positive sign that players plying their trade in the Singapore Premier League have confidence with the stability of both the club as well as the League while also demonstrating the long-term vision and commitment by the club's management.
"Such developments also factor towards the Football Association's assessment of localisation plans for such players, where key considerations centre around their current and potential contributions to both Singapore football and its community."
While there are still about two years more before he becomes eligible to play for Singapore, Nakamura is bent on helping Tampines achieve glory in the meantime.
The Stags clinched the Singapore Cup in 2019 but last won the domestic league in 2013.
He said: "Of course, I want Tampines Rovers to become league champions again. This is a club with a rich history and I want to create new moments in that history with my teammates."