Japanese revolution

Celtic out to make most of eastern promise

Treble tops: Celtic stars Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi
Treble tops: Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi (SNS Group)

If signings as well as silverware define a good manager, then Celtic coach Ange Postecoglou may be proving any doubters wrong through some astute business in one of the world’s under-rated transfer markets.

After the departure of Neil Lennon and a season without a trophy, the board turned to the Greece-born Australian to rebuild the team. Knowing he had to hit the ground running but without the mega-money available to other big clubs he has been bargain hunting in Japan’s J-League which he won in 2019 as coach to Yokohama F Marinos.

First came Kyogo Furuhashi, a £4.6million signing from Vissel Kobe who quickly endeared himself to the supporters with some eye-catching displays and fine goals, none more so than his double against Hibs in December’s League Cup Final triumph.  He has scored 16 goals since arriving in the summer.

In a busy January transfer window Postecoglou returned to Japan to add a trio of top quality players for a fraction of the sums being demanded by European clubs. For a combined fee of just £3.5 million, Celtic landed Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi.

Kyogo’s arrival brought back fond memories of the special times provided by Shunsuke Nakamura when he took Scottish football by storm in 2006. The fans are hoping the latest intake will have the same impact.

“I knew that in our summer window, the ability to attract Japanese players was going to be a challenge, but I knew the January window was one we could work on,” said Postecoglou.

Instant success: Kyogo Furuhashi (SNS Group)

“Everyone at the club worked awfully hard to get the deals done and we had great co-operation from the Japanese clubs involved and their representatives, and I’m really pleased we managed to get them over so early.”

Although he was a successful club and international player and coach of the Australia national team, Postecoglou arrived in Scotland as a relative unknown. When he guided Yokohama F. Marinos to their first J. League title in 15 years he became the first Australian manager to win a league title in Japan. He will be hoping to become the first to do the same in Scotland and believes his Japanese squad members will play a key to realising those ambitions.

“I think they’ll be an important part of what we’re trying to build here, so from our perspective, they’re here for the long term and we hope they can be successful in the years ahead,” he says.

“It’s not about trying to create a unique environment for them, they know they’re here to represent this football club and they know the challenges involved.”

The club is not just expecting them to prove their worth on the pitch but is well aware of the marketing opportunities at home and abroad.

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“Because of how well Kyogo Furuhashi is doing, and also in the past when Shunsuke Nakamura played for Celtic, there is a lot of interest [in the club] in Japan,” Maeda told Celtic TV in his first official interview at the club.

A Japanese homepage was set up on the club’s website in the wake of Kyogo’s arrival, while the Japanese twitter account has already surpassed 46,000 followers after its autumn launch.

While revenue from the sale of replica shirts and TV subscriptions may flood in from a new Far East fan base, the big money could be made closer to home.

Celtic have twice as many Japanese players as the entire English Premier League and are well aware that if their bargain basement stars make a big impression they will be certain targets for a league with plenty of cash to splash.

With Kyogo already proving a goal-scoring sensation it may not be long before the English clubs, and others in Europe head up the M6 to take a look at what is going on at Parkhead.

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