TOMOKI IWATA insists he has no regrets over joining Celtic, despite making only 11 starts this season.

The versatile Japanese international midfielder admits his Hoops career has not quite gone according to plan, but he is also adamant the fans have still to see the best of him.

Iwata was the J-League Player of the Year when Ange Postecoglou signed him on loan from champions Yokohama F Marinos in January 2023 with the £1million switch sealed in the summer.

His strength is in the anchorman role, but, of course, Callum McGregor is a fixture in that position for the Parkhead club. The 27-year-old enforcer accepts the situation with his usual air of positivity.

CUP FINAL HERE WE COME…Tomoki Iwata in action against Aberdeen at Hampden.

Iwata once again emphasised his reliability when he came on for the club captain just after an hour in last weekend’s tense Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen that saw the holders eventually seal a place in the May 25 derby showpiece after a dramatic penalty-kick shoot-out.

The unfussy operator, who netted with his spot-kick, said: “I don’t feel that it’s difficult to replace Callum. I just look at him as my team-mate and he’s a guy I can learn from. He’s a fantastic player who can take my game to another level.

“I respect him so much as a team-mate. He’s a top player for this club.”

After 37 appearances for the club, Iwata, nicknamed ‘Tank’ by middle-of-the-park colleague Matt O’Riley, confessed: “I haven’t played as much at Celtic as I expected, so, until now, it has been below my expectations.

“However, if you ask me if it’s been a failure or a success, I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been a failure.

“This is still a great experience for me to learn from. It’s part of my career and my journey as a footballer.

AIR WE GO…Tomoki Iwata hurdles the lunging Ryan Kent on his way to helping Celtic to a 2-1 League Cup Final triumph last season.

“I only take the positives from it and I want to make more progress now. I’m only thinking forwards. Obviously, I don’t have any regrets about signing for Celtic.

“I’m so happy to play for this club and I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been on the pitch. I’m looking forward to seeing what more I can achieve at Celtic.”

Iwata took over from centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers, out of action following knee surgery, in the 3-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Inverness Caley Thistle in early June last year when the Parkhead men made history as the first club to achieve eight domestic trebles.

He also replaced compatriot Reo Hatate in the 2-1 League Cup Final win over Ibrox opposition four months earlier and played his part in the second consecutive Premiership triumph.

Iwata sampled a championship success in Japan in 2022 when the race for the crown went all the way to the wire before they overcame Kyogo Furuhashi’s former club Vissel Kobe 3-1 to spark wild celebrations in Yokohama.

The ball-winner is only five games away from the silverware hat-trick and is preparing to put in his trademark solid performance if he is called into action, starting this afternoon against Dundee at Dens Park.

HAMPDEN HALLELUJAH…Tomoki Iwata is all smiles as he holds aloft the Scottish Cup last June.

Iwata, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “Experiencing that pressure with Yokohama in 2022 is definitely helping me here at Celtic because it’s similar. We still have some games left here this season, but I don’t feel nervous or not confident enough going into it.

“We have our own style of play at Celtic and as long as we prepare properly to play our own way, we’ll be ready to get the results we want in the title race.

“You never know what’s going to happen in the future, so I can’t comment on whether it will come down to the last day.

“But we’ll be ready for it. We’ll be prepared for every game now and, as long as we do that, we’ll be ready to win the title.”

*DON’T miss the unbeatable match report and best action images from Dundee v Celtic this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.

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