REO HATATE has a crucial role to play for Celtic in the new season even though it looks unlikely he will join his countrymen Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda in signing an enhanced contract with the champions.
The 25-year-old Japanese international midfielder has terms with the Hoops until June 2026 following his January 2022 arrival in Scotland from J-League outfit Kawasaki Frontale.
Hatate has been a revelation since day one and a Man-of-the-Match display in the 2-0 win over Hibs in Glasgow a week into the New Year when team-mate Maeda marked his debut with a goal inside four minutes.
READY, STEADY, GO…Reo Hatate (front row, extreme right) and his Celtic team-mates line up before the 1-0 win over Gamba Osale in the Panasonic Stadium.
And the astute middle-of-the-park orchestrator captured centre stage in his first Glasgow derby when he whipped two excellent long-range drives beyond the grasping Allan McGregor as the Hoops hurtled to a three-goal advantage in a rousing first-half at a rocking Parkhead on February 2.
That 3-0 triumph over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Ibrox side placed Ange Postecoglou’s new-look team at the Premiership pinnacle for the first time in 18 months – and the side remained in pole position until the silverware was awarded three months later.
Naturally, Hatate has attracted attention with his consistently high-profile and eye-catching performances.
It was no surprise when he was linked with Postecoglou and Spurs and there were also the anticipated tales emanating from Saudi Arabia about life-changing deals that would have been difficulty for either the club or the player to reject.
Filipe Jota is a case in point.
THREE CHEERS…Reo Hatate (centre) and Liel Abada congratulate Daizen Maeda after his hat-trick against Yokohama F Marinos.
To his credit, the honest Hatate has never hidden his ambition of some day playing in the Premier League and speculation has again kicked in after his revelation to his homeland media following his first-half appearance in the 1-0 win over Gamba Osaka yesterday.
Quizzed about his future, the fans’ favourite answered: “If I can take on a challenge, I want to.
“There are things I can’t do anything about, but when I lose my ambition, I’m finished as a player. That’s a natural thing for a player.”
Earlier on the tour, as CQN reported, Hatate had previously stated: “If there is a chance to step up, I would like to play in various leagues.
“As a football player, I think everyone wants to play at a high level throughout the season.
“When I was in the J-League, I thought it was impossible to want to play in the five major leagues.
“Of course, if I stay with this team, I can have a lot of good experiences and next season there will be the Champions League.
“I think that by always fighting at the top, I will be mentally stronger, so there are many good points even if I stay.”
Hatate added: “At a high level such as the Premier League. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime stage, so if I can play, I’d like to take on the challenge.
SILVERWARE SMILE…Reo Hatate with the Scottish Cup as Celtic celebrate a world record eighth domestic treble.
“But right now, the top priority is to do what I need to do in the team I’m in, so I’d like to do my best.” Asked about his experiences of performing in Europe’s elite competition last season, Hatate answered: “Before playing in the Champions League, it was a stage I longed for.
“Now I want to compete there again. I think it was a good experience.”
Brendan Rodgers will not have learned anything new about a player who is key to how things function in the engine room where Hatate dovetails in harmony with skipper Callum McGregor.
In the meantime, the returning Hoops gaffer has a season for which to prepare and there is no doubt the Japanese midfielder figures heavily in his plans.
It looks as though Rodgers may have to tolerate transfer speculation concerning a few of his main players before the window closes on August 31, ironically the date for the Champions League group stages draw.