CELTIC legend Davie Hay admits he was astounded at the form of Reo Hatate in his first displays after arriving at the turn of the year.
The Japanese midfielder hit the ground running with an impressive debut in the 2-0 win over Hibs at Parkhead on January 17 in the first game after the break.
His fellow J-League recruit Daizen Maeda may have scored inside four minutes of his debut and Yosuke Ideguchi was introduced in the second-half, but it was Hatate who stole the spotlight with a Man of the Match performance.
He also caught the eye with a wonder goal in the crucial 2-1 victory over Hearts at Tynecastle as Ange Postecoglou’s side continued to pursue Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side at the top of the league.
HANDS UP IF YOU’RE HAPPY…joy Bhoys Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda celebrate after the 3-0 derby triumph over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Ibrox side in February.
And it was Hatate, of course, who took centre stage in the Glasgow derby with two strikes and an assist for Liel Abada in the 3-0 romp against the Ibrox outfit that placed the Hoops at the Premiership pinnacle for the first time in 18 months.
It was a pole position the Parkhead club were never to lose as they went all the way to lift their tenth crown in 11 years.
Former player and manager Hay, now a club ambassador, said: “Reo’s early impressions were nothing short of phenomenal.
“It was almost impossible to believe he had played a full season in the J-League and had come to Celtic without a real rest and recuperation period to slot straight into Ange Postecoglou’s first team.
“However, anyone who has ever played the game must have realised there would be a reaction somewhere along the line.
CAPITAL PERFORMANCE…Reo Hatate runs away in triumph after leaving Hearts keeper Craig Gordon helpless with a thunderous strike in the 2-0 victory in Edinburgh.
“Hatate would have had to be superhuman to continue to perform at that level. Unless he had a lungs and legs transplant without anyone’s knowledge, he would have to ease off at some point.
“The player himself admitted he was running out of puff as the season edged towards the finishing line.
“That is wholly understandable. The Reo Hatate we saw in January and February was not the Reo Hatate we witnessed in April and May.
“This is not a criticism of a young player who came into a foreign country, couldn’t speak the language, had to adapt to entirely different conditions and was expected to deliver the goods straight from the off.
“It’s simply an observation of a player we know is a class act and I expect the real Reo Hatate to stand up to be counted for the entire campaign this time out.”
THAT’S MY BHOY…Ange Postecoglou congratulates Reo Hatate after the opening goal at Tynecastle.
Hay, 74, speaking to Celtic book author Alex Gordon who co-wrote the Hoops great’s best-selling autobiography ‘The Quiet Assassin‘, added: “There is no doubt Reo took a lot of his opponents by surprise following his initial introduction.
“They now know what to expect when he lines up against them and they will have designs to nullify his strengths.
“He took a few knocks against Aberdeen in the opening day game at Parkhead a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m not saying there was a deliberate intention of the Dons lads to injure him or anything like that, but they did let him know they were around when he was involved in the action.
“He had to be helped off midway through the second-half and, of course, missed the 3-1 win at Ross County at the weekend.
“Such is the price of fame in football. Reo will now get special treatment, fair or foul, from opponents.
IT TAKES TWO…Reo Hatate is congratulated by Matt O’Riley following his goal in the 2-2 draw with Legia Warsaw in Poland in the Artur Boruc testimonial match last month.
“In short, he will be a marked man. If his threat is not nullified, he has the quality to run amok. He has already proved that and we only need to look at the displays against Hibs, Hearts and Rangers in his first five games in this country.
“He’ll get used to it and he has the tools to combat it.
“I reckon Reo Hatate will be one of Celtic’s most outstanding performers in this campaign.
“There will be no stopping him – and a little protection from the match officials would be welcomed.”