IN JANUARY, Celtic will have five Japanese players on its books and it was Shunsuke Nakamura who functioned as the pioneer for Japanese players at Parkhead.
Centre-back Yuki Kobayashi will be the latest Japanese player to become a Celt when he officially joins the club in January 2023. He will join compatriots Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate, and Yosuke Ideguchi to form a Japanese quintet at the club.
A fan favourite
Nakamura became the first Japanese player to represent Celtic when he was signed by Serie A club Reggina for a fee of £2.5 million in 2005. Nakamura also became the first Japanese player to win the Scottish PFA Player of the Year award.
Nakamura was signed by Gordon Strachan after impressive performances, including a goal in the 2-2 draw with reigning world champions Brazil in the 2005 Confederations Cup, and soon became a fan favourite. Celtic signed their second Japanese player when Nakamura was still at the club, but Koki Mizuno’s Celtic career was short-lived, he played just 11 games before returning to Japan.
Celtic players at the 2022 World Cup
Ultimately, Maeda was the only Celtic player to secure a place in the 26-man Japan squad and make the trip to Qatar. Despite 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain in Group E, the Blue Samurai exited the soccer showpiece last night as they went out 3-1 on penalty-kicks to Croatia after drawing 1-1 following extra-time. It was scant consolation Maeda scored their goal just before the interval. However, they proved shocks can occur in Qatar and had been among outsiders, priced at 200/1 in the best World Cup odds at Bodog. Brazil are favourites to win the World Cup at odds of 5/2 with France as second favourites at 11/2.
Maeda is not the only Celtic player to appear at this year’s World Cup. Midfielder Aaron Mooy featured for Australia before they went out to Argentina following a hard-fought 2-1 last-16 encounter. Cameron Carter-Vickers was an unused substitute as the USA also ended their interest in the competition with a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands.
That leaves full-back Josip Juranovic as the lone Celt in the soccer extravaganza and he will face up to Vinicius Junior when Croatia take on Brazil in the quarter-final on Friday afternoon.
Celtic are set for a windfall thanks to the involvement of these players following the FIFA announcement of a World Cup payment scheme. Clubs will receive compensation in the form of an £8,700 per day payment for each player for their involvement in the competition.
Ange Postecoglou has signed the current crop of Japanese players and his knowledge of the game from his time managing Yokohama F. Marinos has proven to be invaluable. The Greece-born manager returned to his old J1 League club to sign Maeda initially on loan at the end of 2021. His six goals in sixteen games persuaded Postecoglou to make the deal permanent and he has scored three goals in 14 appearances for the Hoops so far this season.
For Postecoglou, the fact that the Japanese season ends in December makes it an ideal market to sign players when the January transfer market window opens in Scotland. The Celtic manager is also at pains to stress that the Japanese players are not part of a homogenous group, but rather completely different players, who “all have different personalities, they have had different careers so far and they offer something different to the club.”
This is emphasised by Furuhashi, who has made the biggest impact in terms of goals. The 27-year-old forward arrived at Parkhead with a big reputation as a goalscorer and he has not disappointed, scoring 22 goals in 33 games since joining the Hoops in 2021. Although Furuhashi has scored three goals in 16 international appearances for Japan, he did not make the Japan squad for the 2022 World Cup.
The case of Koki Mizuno demonstrates that signing players from abroad is not without risk, but thanks to Postecoglou’s inside knowledge and experience of the Japanese game, he can identify the players he expects to adapt well to the Scottish game.