Japanese midfielder caps memorable day with double SPFA award

CELTIC midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura capped a remarkable day when he was named the Scottish Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year in Glasgow last night.

Nakamura - the goal-hero for Celtic earlier in the day when his curling free-kick in injury time against Kilmarnock sealed a 2-1 win and clinched the Bank of Scotland Premierleague title - picked up the award at a ceremony at the Thistle Hotel.

The Japanese international, who signed from Reggina for 1.25 million in the summer of 2005, has enjoyed a memorable second season at Parkhead, helping the club retain their SPL title and secure a place in the season-ending Tennent's Scottish Cup final against either Dunfermline or Hibernian.

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Nakamura was also instrumental as Celtic made it through to the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time. The 28-year-old excelled in the group stages of Europe's top club competition, scoring two stunning free-kicks against Manchester United, one in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford and another in the 1-0 win in Glasgow that sealed their progress to the knock-out stages.

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said yesterday that Nakamura is one of the best players he has ever worked with, and, indeed, it would have been a surprise if the skilful midfielder had not won the SPFA award. Two of his team-mates, English defender Lee Naylor and Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc, were also nominated in the Player of the Year category along with Aberdeen and Scotland defender Russell Anderson.

Nakamura picked up another award at the ceremony when he received the Goal of the Season accolade for his strike against Dundee United in December. Proving that he doesn't just score wonder-goals from dead-ball situations, Nakamura executed a stunning lob to give Celtic a 2-2 home draw against the Tannadice club on Boxing Day. Collecting a cut-back from Derek Riordan around 22 yards out and to the left of the penalty box, he saw Derek Stillie off his line and sent a left-foot chip over the keeper and into the far corner of the net with just ten minutes of the game left.

Strachan - who was not at the Thistle Hotel last night - was also rewarded for Celtic's season of success when he was named the Manager of the Year. The former Southampton and Coventry boss, who took over from Martin O'Neill in May 2005, is on course to win his fourth trophy in two years.

While Strachan was booed by sections of the Celtic support when he substituted Riordan during the Scottish Cup semi-final win against St Johnstone, he can certainly look back on a job well done. As well as the club's Champions League adventure, there was a time when it looked as though Celtic would wrap up the Premierleague title in record time. Long-serving captain Neil Lennon picked up the award on the manager's behalf.

Kilmarnock's Steven Naismith suffered a frustrating time in front of goal yesterday but the striker finished the day on a high when he was named the SPFA Young Player of the Year. Naismith - who beat off competition from fellow nominees Aiden McGeady of Celtic, Rangers' Charlie Adam and Hibs midfielder Scott Brown - has scored 17 goals for the Rugby Park club this season and was invited for a week's training at Arsenal last year.

Of the other awards handed out by the SPFA last night, Gretna's 22-goal striker Colin McMenamin won the First Division Player of the Year award despite his recent drought. Brechin City forward Iain Russell, who also has 22 goals for the campaign, lifted the Second Division player award and in-demand Albion Rovers midfielder Scott Chaplain won the Third Division honour.

Falkirk, in action in the SPL tonight against St Mirren, were named Community Club of the Year, while there was a special merit award for Portuguese legend Eusebio, who was unable to attend because of illness.