Tanjong Pagar midfielder Shodai Nishikawa finds love and career, Latest Singapore Football News - The New Paper
Singapore Football

Tanjong Pagar midfielder Shodai Nishikawa finds love and career

Life as a professional footballer is not all glamour and glitter for most players. But work hard enough and the rewards usually arrive, even if they may be off the pitch.

Just ask Tanjong Pagar United midfielder Shodai Nishikawa.

The 30-year-old Japanese has no trophies to show for in his career, and he turns out for the underdogs of the Singapore Premier League (SPL). But it is through his time in Singapore that he has found some of life’s greatest gifts: A loving wife, family and religion.

The Nara native joined Tanjong Pagar from 2020 to 2022 before returning in 2024 after a one-season stint in Cambodia.

While here, he met his Singaporean Malay wife Fareha, 30, through social media in 2021 and the pair tied the knot a year later after Nishikawa converted to Islam.

It was not smooth sailing initially during his conversion. He attended religious classes online to learn more about the religion and struggled when he first started fasting during Ramadan.

Thankfully, he has help from his Tanjong Pagar teammates and former team manager Noh Alam Shah – whom Nishikawa regards as a second father.

He said: “I never thought or expected that all these would happen in Singapore. For me, it was just about coming here and doing well enough to earn a contract every season.

“I’ve always wanted to be a professional footballer overseas. But Singapore has become home for me and I am so grateful for what this country has given me. In football, sometimes you are not so lucky.”

The settled life he has now is a far cry from the early days of his professional career in Montenegro, where he began his overseas stint after graduating from university in Japan.

There, he earned only “a few hundred dollars” a month initially and during the off-season, he would go back to Japan to take up part-time odd jobs, such as delivering food and working as a cashier in convenience stores.

It all changed for the better when he joined the Jaguars. His first contract here was worth about $3,000 a month, a dream in his own words. And he is determined to make the best of his time here.

“My wife is from here so I want to be with her and her family in Singapore. I can see (myself) settling down here. My wife doesn’t speak Japanese so it may be hard to be in Japan,” said Nishikawa, who is preparing to apply for permanent residency.

Tanjong Pagar coach Hasrin Jailani described Nishikawa, who has three assists in three matches this season, as the ultimate professional.

Hasrin said: “He is always reliable for us and gives us so many options because he can play in a few positions. His work ethic is top notch and he has very good qualities like hard work and discipline. He is very important for us.”

He will be hoping Nishikawa can again play a key role on July 7 when Tanjong Pagar face the mammoth task of trying to stop title-contenders Lion City Sailors at the Bishan Stadium.

Hasrin said: “After our first win, the boys are looking forward to this game. But we know that it will not be easy. We are progressing as each game comes and will put up a fight.”

The Sailors have four wins and a draw in five matches while the Jaguars, on four points, earned their first win of the season in their last outing with a 3-2 victory over Brunei DPMM on June 29.

Sailors coach Aleksandar Rankovic will be looking for a reaction from his side, who dropped points in the 1-1 draw against Geylang International in their last game.

Rankovic said: “Intensity is definitely an area that we need to improve on. It’s a long season and it’s important we peak at the right moment.

“There are no easy games in the SPL. Tanjong Pagar just got a fantastic victory over DPMM and I’m sure they’ll give us a tough fight.”