[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]ven as a child, Hiroki Nakano had a global view of things. “I have wanted to be an international traveller since young. Baseball, which is popular in Japan, is played in only a few countries, whereas football is a global game, and I thought that I could go around the world as a football player,” says the 50-year-old Singapore resident. However, a back injury dashed his dreams of becoming a professional football player. As a university student then, he could not have imagined that the sport would continue to play a big part in his life.
When he began his career at Hitachi as a sales manager posted to Spain, Nakano found himself in close proximity to his dream team. “FC Barcelona has been my dream team since I was a kid because Johan Cruyff is my idol. But chasing them from Japan is a very remote possibility. I didn’t even know where Spain was!”
Yet, there he was, in an office right next to Camp Nou, home to FC Barcelona. It was where he spent every weekend watching his favourite team play (and the audience has him to thank for the 300 Hitachi Plasma TV screens installed in the stadium). When it was time to leave Spain after a decade, Nakano left with FC Barcelona management’s approval to launch Penya FC Barcelona Japan – the first Asian group approved by the team.
In football, the coach gives the game plan but the players make their own decisions, in order to perform to meet the coach’s direction. This direction has to be shared by the team and it isn’t just about the individual – just as in business”
Hiroki Hakano, Managing Director, Hitachi Home Electronics Asia
As the president of the club, he does more than promote the team. “For example, this December, FC Barcelona is coming to Japan to play at Fifa Club World Cup Japan 2015, and on that weekend, I have to act as an ambassador for FC Barcelona in Japan and organise a big gathering with the other Penya members from Hong Kong and China.
“So it is not just about watching and chasing football every week, but also social relationships.”
Indeed, apart from opening up business opportunities, football has also taught Nakano lessons in life. “In baseball, you follow what the coach tells you to do, and the game stops constantly. In football, the coach gives the game plan but the players make their own decisions, in order to perform to meet the coach’s direction. This direction has to be shared by the team and it isn’t just about the individual – just as in business,” he analyses.
“Football is an attacking, rather than defending, game, and the excitement is all in scoring goals. So a 4-3 match in which my team has lost is a more enjoyable game for me than a 1-0 win. But in business, you can’t lose. You have to win, and a 4-0 is the best!”