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Stephen Craigan

New Japanese trio could be crucial in Celtic’s Scottish Premiership title bid

Stephen Craigan


Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi are all raring to go at Parkhead

Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi are all raring to go at Parkhead

Celtic FC

Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi are all raring to go at Parkhead

Ange Postecoglou said ahead of this January transfer window that he wanted to do his business early and he’s been true to his word. As soon as the window opened, Celtic announced the arrivals of Japanese trio Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi and Reo Hatate, which shows the intentions of the manager as the second half of the season looms.

January is usually a tough window to do a lot of business in due to the limited availability of players, which dictates you may have to pay over the odds to get good quality. Let’s be honest, very few clubs want to part with their best players mid-season but Postecoglou has dipped into a market that he knows very well, the J League.

Knowing the market has meant he’s attracted good players without having to pay astronomical transfer fees. That alone makes business sense and follows Celtic’s model of bringing in players with the potential to enhance them and their value. That model has served them well over the years with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard.

There’s a real excitement from the Celtic fans surrounding these new signings, mainly because of the impact Kyogo Furuhashi has had and how easy he settled into the Scottish way of life and the Premiership. If they can get anywhere near close to what he’s done then they will be adored by the Celtic fans just as Kyogo is.

It was clear and obvious as the first half of the season progressed that Celtic needed new recruits to firstly give Postecoglou more options from the bench during games, but also to allow more rotation within his starting 11.

Postecoglou has previously stated he doesn’t rotate for the sake of it but that may have been down to the limited options beyond his trusted 14 or 15 players. He had been heavily reliant on a core group of players during a congested period and it took its toll with hamstring injuries to key players Jota, Kyogo, Tom Rogic and David Turnbull.

Looking back, though, it hasn’t caused too much damage. However, with the Scottish Premiership title race finely poised, the Celtic manager can’t afford to be left short if that situation repeated itself. Strength in depth as well as quality will play a key part in the title run-in and Postecoglou was specific in his targets so he will be more than content with the business he’s concluded.

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When you profile Maeda, Ideguchi and Hatate, they have so much going for them as players. They are all the right age, mid-20s, and with plenty of room left for progression. Versatility and utility are words attributed to them all, which is great for a manager who knows he has players who can cover a number of positions. Another big thing is they want to test themselves at the next level and they’re prepared to step out of their comfort zone to take on the new challenge.

Postecoglou demands intensity from his players with high energy all over the pitch. He doesn’t like his players to relent during games and demands his team press aggressively high. They force the opposition to surrender possession with the pressure they exert and then they look to force home the advantage they’ve gained. He hasn’t wavered since the day he arrived and the addition of three Japanese players will add to what he’s already got at his disposal. They will bring pace, flair, dynamism and competition to the squad.

What you get from new players coming in is a reaction from the squad already in place. The new boys won’t be coming in to sit on the bench and make up numbers, they are here to play and contribute so the focus shifts onto the regulars. If there is any complacency among individuals that very quickly disappears, trust me! Suddenly an edge appears at training as players start to fret for their positions. Their challenge then is to maintain their existing levels or possibly raise them higher.

To be successful you have to keep pushing the boundaries of all your players and extract every last ounce from them. New players arriving is one way of doing that.

I love it when players come out and say fresh faces are good for the squad and competition — what they actually want to say is it’s great as long as they don’t play in my position!

Another factor to take into consideration is the sacrifice the three Japanese players have made by leaving the comfort of their homeland regarding lifestyle. On the pitch is the easiest part of it as football is a common language and they can express themselves. The change of culture, food, habits and the language barrier will be an intimidating proposition for all three so they should be commended for taking the leap.

This is where Postecoglou has the pulling power over other suitors because having lived in Japan he will know what they require. That will have been comforting for the players. Working with a manager who understands your needs is vital.

Like every transfer there’s risk but if Postecoglou’s new additions are anything like his first Japanese acquisition, Celtic are onto a winner.

Increased finances and thrilling on-field product mean Irish League is in a great place

Irish League football has been an easy target over the years for cynics with it being unfairly compared to the more lucrative English and Scottish leagues. Some of the gripes people have had were minimal investment, poor infrastructure and a lack of ambition.

How times have changed — yet some still aren’t happy.

I genuinely believe the Irish League is in as good a place as it’s been for many years. Crowds are healthy, competition is fierce and there are lots of talented players plying their trade.

We have full-time clubs, which is a first, while the majority of clubs have academies that are producing players to service their first team.

In turn this is giving the young players vital first-team exposure and is drawing glancing eyes from across the water. Surely that’s one of the aims of the league and its member clubs, to give young players the platform to go on and have a full-time career across the water? Young Trai Hume is a shining example of that so long may it continue.

It has to be said the part-time clubs are exceeding expectations and the interest in the local game is growing due to the product all clubs are producing on the pitch. The style of football, which was regularly disapproved of, has improved immeasurably with all managers deserving a lot of credit for sticking to their footballing principles and producing an entertaining product.

Finances split opinion in every league around the world, not just in Northern Ireland. I just find it strange that some clubs have been criticised for seemingly being ambitious and wanting to spend their hard-earned money gained from European football or gifted by their successful investors.

The aim of all clubs in the Irish League is to be successful to the maximum level attainable, make progress moving forward on all fronts and strive to be the best they can be in every aspect.

If it means spending some money along the way, then is that really a bad thing?

Transfer fees paid out within the league has become more prominent in recent seasons, which I see as a very healthy position to be in. European football is a very lucrative income stream, with progression through the rounds giving clubs a bit more financial clout. The fact that they are then reinvesting it in local talent is commendable as it’s not only servicing other clubs financially but it means our best players are being retained while maintaining the quality of product on show.

Money can be the enemy at times but surely for Irish league football it’s giving our game the chance to flourish once again. The league is making headlines for the right reasons so embrace it and keep giving your club the support it needs and deserves.

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