Newly retired as a soccer player, former Canadian international Issey Nakajima-Farran is working on his future aboard a boat in Barcelona. It’s his floating home.
Football has already taken the 39-year-old Nakajima-Farran around the globe. The former Toronto FC, CF Montreal and Pacific FC midfielder has played club football in Australia, Cyprus, Denmark, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain as well as North America.
Now he plans his next step.
An accomplished artist and video enthusiast, Nakajima-Farran was not your ordinary soccer player. While talented on the pitch, he made sure to experience what was happening off it as well.
And he has always been on the move.
Born in Calgary to a Japanese mother and a British-Canadian father (who was born in then-Rhodesia), Nakajima-Farran moved to Tokyo when he was three and London when he was 10. He spent his teenage years in the British capital, playing in the Crystal Palace youth system before heading to Japan to begin his pro soccer career.
Post-pandemic, he finished his career with UE Tarrega and then CF Cubelles in Spain’s sixth division. Cubelles is about 40 minutes from Barcelona and the next town over from where his 10-year-old son Hugo lives with his mother.
“One of the things on my bucket list was to score in front of him … I finally did it,” said Nakajima-Farran, who retired soon after.
He had a chance to play in India and Indonesia but opted to stay in Spain close to his son, who was born in Cyprus while Nakajima-Farran was playing there.
And he figured he had done well by football, extending his career well into his 30s.
“They say after 30, every year is a bonus to enjoy (in) football,” he said.
Nakajima-Farran plans to remain in the sport. He is still vice-president of the Professional Footballers Association Canada (PFACan) and has opened up a player agency called Sideline GM with David Simpson, another retired player, and several others to help ease the path of other Canadian players abroad.
“Being a foreign player is a very different ballgame than being a local player,” Nakajima-Farran said. “I’ve always thought that.”
It comes with pressure. Nakajima-Farran learned that in Malaysia while playing for Sri Pahang FC, which at the time was owned by the royal family.
Still, he has fond memories of his time in Malaysia, where he also played for Terengganu FC. It’s where he met his girlfriend Aieva (pronounced eye-var), a graphic artist who is half-Thai and half-Malaysian
He didn’t make his goal of playing Champions League football in Europe but did play in the UEFA Cup (now Europa League).
“My second goal was always to travel the world and experience the language of football,” he said. “I have no regrets.”
Nakajima-Farran won 38 caps for Canada between 2006 and 2016, seeing the world in the process.
He started painting at 12 or 13 when he broke his ankle. His father — who studied theatre, started a lunch box theatre in central London and ran his own restaurant — put a paintbrush and canvas in front of him and said “OK, let’s do something else.”
First painting was a way to decorate his apartment. Then it expanded to galleries, cafes and charity events.
He did a painting of Marco di Vaio for the Italian star’s last game with Montreal. His portraits have ranged from Marlon Brando to the Joker.
Nakajima-Farran bought a vintage 15-metre wooden boat — named Heather’s Song, after the previous owner’s wife — to live on during his time on Vancouver Island in 2019 with the CPL’s Pacific FC. His current boat is an 18-metre fibreglass cruiser, from circa 1988, named Morgan — which is his middle name and means “sea dweller” in Welsh.
He initially wanted a flat with an ocean view. But Barcelona prices were so exorbitant he decided to do “something epic” and buy an older boat to renovate.
Judging from video of his floating home, it worked out well.
He is selective when he takes it out to sea. “This boat is about $200 per hour when I turn on the engine,” he explained.
His memories of playing in MLS are mixed.
He joined TFC in 2014, but his stay in Toronto lasted less than two months. Nakajima-Farran, who was waiting for his car, art and furniture to be shipped from Spain, never really got to settle in Toronto.
“I only had a dining table and a TV and a mattress,” he recalled.
Nakajima-Farran had success on the field, scoring the winning penalty in a shootout victory over the Whitecaps in Vancouver in the 2014 Canadian Championship semifinal.
A few days later, he was planning to celebrate his 30th birthday, with family flying in to join teammates at a local hotel for the party. But before the festivities, he was called into the team office and told he had been traded and had to leave for Montreal the next day.
“Birthday surprise!! Wow! Just like that. It’s not right. Surreal. MLSsoccer. Inhumane,” Nakajima-Farran tweeted at the time.
Not used to trades, he initially refused the move, although he eventually relented.
“I had my party. But it was more like a goodbye party,” he said.
Toronto shipped him, along with allocation money, to Montreal in exchange for midfielder Collen Warner. TFC wanted Warner to deputize for captain Michael Bradley while he was away with the U.S. national team.
“I always envied the guys who were the local players, playing in their own country,” Nakajima-Farran said. “I always envied it until I got to taste it myself. I realized that ‘This is not me. I’m better off being a foreigner.’
“It was always nice being part of the national team where I felt like it was my home. But not playing in Canada, unfortunately.”
Nakajima-Farran ended up in Malaysia after being waived by Montreal in January 2015. He enjoyed the full stadiums and fervent football fans there.
“No matter whether you win or lose, they wear your jersey. And I love that pressure,” he said.
He started his soccer career with Albirex Nigata of Japan’s J-League in 2003 before joining Albirex Singapore where he was named young player of the season. Then it was on to Denmark with Vejle Boldklub, FC Nordsjaelland and AC Horsens.
Nakajima-Farran went Down Under in 2011 to join the Brisbane Roar. After one season in Australia, he joined AEK Larnaca FC in Cyprus, also spending time on loan with Alki Larnaca FC before coming to MLS.
A favourite memory was starting for Canada against Brazil, then ranked No. 2 in the world, in Seattle in May 2008 before 47,052 at Qwest Field.
Nakajima-Farran almost scored in the 3-2 loss, just missing with a chip over goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who later become a teammate at TFC.
Former Canada coach Stephen Hart recalled that goal, on a recent visit to Barcelona when he caught up Nakajima-Farran. If he had scored against Brazil, Hart suggested, his life would have been different.
“I think that’s the only thing I regret … I love the moves that I made, I loved the options that I had at those (career) crossroads,” Nakajima-Farran said.
“But the one thing I do regret is that chance. That I didn’t tuck it away over Julio Cesar.”
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press