BRENDAN RODGERS has issued a challenge to Reo Hatate – and every Celtic player – that they must earn their place in his Celtic first team.
The Japanese midfielder gave the impression he was distinctly miffed at losing his place to two-goal David Turnbull in the starting line-up for the 4-2 win over Ross County in the Premiership opener at Parkhead at the weekend.
Hatate, of course, had played a key role in the world record eighth domestic treble last season, but past deeds obviously mean little to returning boss Rodgers.
REO GRAND…Japanese midfielder Reo Hatate sweeps in Celtic’s first goal in the 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao in the James Forrest Testimonial Match at Parkhead last week.
Those achievements – along with his own seven successive trophies in his first stint – are now consigned to the history books and a new chapter kicked off six days ago against Malky Mackay’s Dingwall club.
Rodgers has now thrown down the gauntlet to the 25-year-old Japanese international to prove he deserves a place in his team.
The fans in the packed stadium on Flag Day in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday were surprised at the omission of a player they have quickly taken to their hearts since his arrival in January 2022.
The team favourite had to wait until the 67th minute before he made an appearance as he replaced Turnbull who made the most of his opportunity to impress the Irishman in his first start in nine months.
Asked about the decision to leave out Hatate, Rodgers answered: “I’ve mentioned before, it’s not in my contract to play any player.
DUBLIN MISSION…Reo Hatate at the Aviva Stadium in Celtic’s 1-1 draw with Wolves.
“He’s got three years left on his contract, so there’s no rush. It’s a new cycle, a new manager and he has to prove himself.
“I’m not really worried about what’s said or not, I’ll play the team I see with the best energy, mentality and efficiency with how we want to work.
“There’s no doubt Reo is a talented player, but there are other talented players in the squad. If players aren’t playing, I’ve been open and honest with them about where we’re at, how I prepare a team, when I tell them the team and when they’re not playing how they’ve got to respond.
“Reo’s been really good in training. He didn’t play [at the start], but he came into the game. He knows areas he needs to work on to play for me and the structure of how I work.
“He’s responded really well in training and will absolutely be a player we need over the course of the season.”
Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “Look, you never expect players to be happy if they are not playing. That’s just the way Reo is, too.
“Even before a ball was kicked, I could see he has that style and way about him. But he’s a good guy, there is no question of that. There are none of them here who I’d say there is a red flag in terms of their attitude or anything like that.
THREE CHEERS…Reo Hatate is flanked by Liel Abada and Daizen Maeda during a match in Celtic’s pre-season tour of Japan.
“They are all so professional in their work and do everything correctly.
“But it’s not really about the 11 who started against Ross County. This really is a squad game now for the competitions we want to be in and for the team we want to be.
“If I was a player I wouldn’t be losing sleep for not being in the starting 11. It’s a lot about the finishing 11, anyway. With five substitutions that’s 50 per cent of your outfield players you can change.
“The modern game is different now, especially if we’re going to have an extra 10 minutes onto every game.”