VERSATILE Tomoki Iwata is becoming Brendan Rodgers’ man for all reasons.

The Japanese ace completed last season playing in central defence alongside Carl Starfelt in the 3-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Inverness Caley Thistle at Hampden in June.

Iwata put in his normal unfussy shift as the Hoops sealed world history with their eighth domestic treble. It was also the final farewell from Ange Postecoglou, the boss who signed the adaptable performer from his former J-League outfit Yokohama F Marinos.

The 26-year-old international arrived on an initial loan switch five months earlier with a compulsory purchase clause in the contract. Ironically, he signed a permanent deal in July, a month after Rodgers had replaced the Spurs-bound Greek-Australian gaffer.

BY THE RIGHT…Tomoki Iwata in action at Tynecastle earlier this month.

The Irishman has selected Iwata in the last five successive games to push the model professional’s tally to 18 for the season.

Rodgers is an admitted admirer of the no-nonsense performer and revealed he would have played in more matches if he had been completely fit.

The champions’ boss said: “With any player, it’s about getting a run in the team. He’s come in and done well in games when we have either moved Callum up or he hasn’t been available.

“That’s what he has been, a cover player for the squad. He’s done a really good job when he has come in. I’ve been really pleased with Tomo.”

Asked if Iwata has the opportunity to perform more consistently in his team, Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, replied: “There’s that opportunity there for every player.

“I can’t play both him and Callum as controllers. Well, I could do, if I switched the system. But he is definitely an important member of the squad.

“Not everyone can be a starter all the time. There are a number of players who do that. But in terms of the impact he has made, I’ve been really pleased because he has struggled with bits of injury on and off this season.”

SEEING DOUBLE…Tomoki Iwata (extreme right) celebrates last season’s League Cup Final success with Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda and (below) the Japanese star (extreme left) is all smiles with his compatriots following the Scottish Cup Final victory.

Rodgers added: “Tomo would have played more games if he had been fit.

“There were periods when he was going to play in some of the Champions League games, but he wasn’t quite ready.

“I’m just pleased he’s done well when he’s come in.”

Iwata, who cost a bargain £1million when he signed in the summer, emphasised his versatility in the 3-1 win over St Johnstone at Parkhead at the weekend.

The Japanese ace started the game in midfield in place of the injured McGregor before moving to centre-back in the 63rd minute when Rodgers took off Cameron Carter-Vickers who was just returning to the top side after his enforced absence.

Iwata will be ready to go again when the league season restarts with a visit to Livingston a week on Sunday.

Where will he pop up on this occasion? All will be revealed in due course!

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