ANGE POSTECOGLOU celebrated his first New Year in Scotland by greeting three new players to the club, the J-League trio of Daizen Maeda, from the manager’s former club Yokohama F Marinos, Reo Hatate, from Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale, and Yosuke Ideguchi, from Gamba Osaka.
The threesome had hardly had time to draw breath as the curtain came down on their domestic league when they were heading to Celtic to spend the morning of Hogmanay at the Lennoxtown training HQ. It was clear they were geared up for hitting the ground running as they kicked off their four-year contracts in a foreign land.
Maeda originally joined on loan until the end of the season, but he was always going to agree a permanent contract with his club picking up £2million for the striker who had been joint top league scorer with 23 goals.
WELCOME TO 2022…Ange Postecoglou looks ahead to a new year.
Hatate, a versatile left-sided midfielder who had just been named in the top-flight’s Best Eleven Select, said: “I am extremely honoured to finally be able to wear this historical uniform.
“I’ve only been able to see Celtic Park on videos and pictures, so I’m really excited to finally be able to experience this great stadium and I’m extremely looking forward to meeting the fans and playing in front of them.
“As a Japanese, it’s really exciting to see a manager who has experience in Japan and in the international stage.
“In Japan, I have always played against his teams, but I’ve always observed and thought his way of playing is very strategical and attacking, so it’s extremely fun for the audience.
”I hope to be the best version of myself so I can contribute towards Celtic and I want the fans to see how I play and to know my style as soon as possible.”
WELCOME TO PARADISE…J-League trio Yosuke Ideguchi, Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate pose for the photographers on their first day at Parkhead.
Irish striker Johnny Kenny, highly-rated teenager from Sligo Rovers, was next to arrive, but one player who would not be joining the Postecoglou Revolution was Australian playmaker Riley McGree, who was introduced to international football by the Celtic boss, and who had been linked with a reunion.
However, Middlesbrough hi-jacked the proposed £3million move and the 23-year-old midfielder headed off to the Championship outfit.
The manager said: “Riley McGree was someone we had an interest in because of my association with him and obviously I know the player very well.
“After initial discussions, he’s decided to look elsewhere, which is fine.”
He added: “It’s an indication for me that this isn’t the right place for him. It works both ways as I only want players who want to be here.
“I won’t try and convince any player to come and sign for this football club. I won’t.
“If they can’t see the opportunities that exist here then that’s part of the deal for me. The ones we have signed all wanted to come here.
“It’s an easy decision. Everyone has their own freewill to decide what’s best for them.
YOU NEED HANDS…Ange Postecoglou expresses his frustration.
“But I’m not going to sell this club to anyone on its virtues.
“If they can’t understand that in the first place they’re probably not worth talking to from my perspective.”
The Greek-Australian gaffer continued: “With Riley McGree, there weren’t a lot of discussions. There was a bit of interest, but when it’s clear to me that they don’t want to come to us it’s fine.
“He’s one of a number I’d have spoken to in the last six months that didn’t end up coming for a variety of reasons. If it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out and it’s fine.
“He’s a player I know well and it came across my path that he may be available. I had a discussion with him and then he obviously decided he wanted to take an opportunity elsewhere.”
Asked if McGree’s decision was purely down to finances, Postecoglou answered: “I don’t know, mate. To be honest, I don’t care.
“The first transfer I did 25 years ago taught me you don’t take these things personally.
“Ultimately, they are not rejecting me, they are not rejecting the football club. It’s no big issue for me. There are plenty of footballers who would love to come to this club.
“They are the ones I’m looking for.”
TRANSFER TALK…Ange Postecoglou after bringing in five new faces in January.
The Premiership restarted on the Monday evening of January 17, and Japanese new Bhoy Maeda scored inside four minutes of the 2-0 win over Hibs at Parkhead. Josip Juranovic fired in an impeccable 25th-minute penalty-kick and Hatate delivered a Man of the Match display.
There was no sign of injured 16-goal striker Kyogo Furuhashi, the man who put the Easter Road outfit to the sword in the 2-1 Premier Sports League Cup Final triumph at Hampden the previous month, and the home fans were not to realise they would not see their talisman in action again until he made a late substitute’s appearance in a 7-0 win over St Johnstone on April 9.
Asked about the performances of Meada and Hatate, who got starting berths, Postecoglou replied: “The boys did well.
“I guess that’s the advantage of getting them in for the first training session. They’ve had a good week or 10 days with the boys and that’s helped them settle in.
“They’re both naturally fit guys, anyway, so I wasn’t really concerned too much. It was just a matter of them understanding the game. I thought this was a good game to expose those two to what it’s like playing for this football club at home.”
There was further good news with Yosuke Ideguchi coming on as a 74th minute substitute for his debut, Filipe Jota and Giorgos Giakoumakis returning after injury and Mikey Johnston also getting the chance to get into his stride.
CAPITAL SHOW…Matt O’Riley shows his class on his first start as he fends off Hearts defender Alex Cochrane at Tynecastle.
Postecoglou made his fifth and final signing before the January transfer window closed when he brought in stylish midfielder Matt O’Riley from English third-tier side MK Dons in a £1.5million switch. The 21-year-old playmaker agreed a four and a half year contract after snubbing interest from clubs in England, Italy and Belgium.
He admitted: “It feels amazing. It’s the first time taking the stadium in and it’s even better than I thought it would be. To put it simply, I’m just really happy to be here. It’s a massive club and I’m just really excited to get going.
“There were other options, ones that I thought were the only ones before Celtic, and then Celtic came out of the blue. I found out quite late, and then I had a phone call with Ange. He came across really, really well and he was the one who really sold it to me.
“Obviously, the club itself is massive, but just speaking to him really sorted it out for me. With the style he plays, and all that surrounds it, and him as a person, as soon as I got off the phone I was ready to come, to be honest.”
Goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Liel Abada helped Celtic through a brutal encounter at Alloa as they claimed a place in the next stage of the Scottish Cup on a 2-1 win. The home side were not interested in the more subtle points of the beautiful game and three Celtic players – Callum McGregor, Ideguchi, on his first start, and Abada – were forced off with a variety of injuries.
None of the injured trio played in the upcoming midweek match against Hearts at Tynecastle and it looked as though the skipper could be sidelined for a lengthy spell following his first-half departure with a facial injury after being thumped by opponent Adam King as he went for a high ball.
Abada and Ideguchi also limped off, both after challenges from Muhamed Niang. The challenge on the Japanese anchorman provoked a yellow card from lenient referee Don Robertson following a reckless over-the-top studs-up assault. Unsurprisingly, the player received a retrospective red card and two-game ban when the incident was reviewed by the disciplinary panel.
Postecoglou lamented: “Cal’s a very important player, not just for what he contributes as a footballer, but as a person.
“I’m gutted for him more than anything else. I’m not a doctor so there’s a point I can’t go beyond, but it’s a significant injury. We’ve got a game on Wednesday night that we’re focused on, but Cal won’t play.”
A BIG HAND…Ange Postecoglou applauds his players and the Celtic supporters.
Nir Bitton took over the captain’s armband for the trip to Edinburgh as Celtic fired a warning to the rest of Scottish football following another five-star show from the impressive Reo Hatate in the 2-1 victory. The new recruit thumped the visitors into a 27th-minute lead with a ferocious long-range drive which took ex-Celt Craig Gordon totally by surprise.
Giakoumakis turned in the second from close range, but there was a second-half scare when Liam Boyce, from an obvious off side position, was allowed to pull one nack and referee John Beaton awarded Hearts a penalty-kick when he adjudged Bitton had handled the ball during a melee following a corner-kick.
Boyce took the award and slammed it against the inside of Joe Hart’s right-hand post and the ball bounced to safety.
Reflecting on the performance of Hatate, a delighted Postecoglou said: “He has got more you know, he is just beginning.
“It’s not easy because he set a pretty high bar after the first game. But he is a very determined young man to reach the top.
“It’s pleasing for me because we bought a few guys in their early-twenties who really are ambitious and they will improve and get better and be a really good nucleus moving forward.
“Matt O’Riley came in a few days ago and I thought he was outstanding. He’s had 70 minutes of football in the last month. It was brilliant.
“Everyone knows the players we have missing are significant absences and there were guys out there who had to step up. And they did.”
January 17: CELTIC 2 Hibs 0
Maeda, Juranovic (pen)
January 22: Alloa 1 CELTIC 2
January 26: Hearts 1 CELTIC 2
January 29: CELTIC 1 Dundee United 0
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the ninth thrilling instalment in CQN’s EXCLUSIVE report on Ange Postecoglou.