Celtic-linked Ko Itakura labelled Groningen's "best defender" in 2020/21

By David Walton

July 1, 2021

Reported Celtic target Ko Itakura has been given a superb appraisal by former Groningen striker Jan Mennega.

The Japanese international spent the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign with the Dutch club on loan from Manchester City.

Itakura, who’s scheduled to be at the Olympics this summer in Tokyo, has recently been linked with being high up on a list of centre-back targets for the Hoops. Ange Postecoglou is in need of defenders quickly before the July 15th registration deadline for the UEFA Champions League qualifier vs Midtjylland.

And Mennega believes Celtic wouldn’t be going wrong with Itakura as he provided his own review of the centre-back. He did, however, warn of any comparisons to former Groningen man Virgil van Dijk.

“I am sure he can play at Celtic”

As quoted by the Daily Record, Mennega said: “Itakura played two years for Groningen. In the beginning he had some problems but after a while he just got better and better and he was the club’s best defender last season. Looking at that, he is now able to make the next step. He’s a good passer of the ball and a good defender.

“Itakura is not the type of defender that you would say is a big fighter and having big confrontations. His strength is he reads the game and it is important he is developing his game all of the time. He sees the problems when they come around and I am sure he can play at Celtic, I’m convinced he can do that.

“Of course there will be a connection from the fact that Virgil moved from Groningen to Celtic and now it could be the case for Itakura. However, it is important to be realistic and understand that he is not at that level. When Virgil moved to Celtic he was not as good as he is now obviously but he was a better player at that stage of his career than Itkaura is now.”

Ko Itakura – a good fit for Celtic?

It’s interesting to hear that Ko Itakura isn’t one for being physical and being a “big fighter” on the pitch. Whilst an ability to read the game is a terrific trait to have, you have to be prepared for the rough stuff in Scottish football.

That’s the kind of thing that will see opposition strikers target Itakura. After all, there are plenty of physical centre-forwards in Scotland who love a battle. We’ve seen how they targeted Christopher Jullien in the past after he once claimed of nerves against Livingston.

However, given teams who face Celtic will often use a counter-attacking tactic, Itakura’s reading of the game would be invaluable. Especially in derby matches against a better quality of player.

Ko Itakura on international duty / (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

One of the aspects to this deal that could frustrate is the fact that Itakura is pencilled in for the Olympics. It would see him miss several Champions League qualifying games. Whilst Celtic would have the ability to stop him from playing in them, that could come with some slight problems given it’s held in his home nation.

As for the van Dijk comparison? It’s always going to be made simply because of the Groningen connection. However, not one Hoops fan would expect a player of the Dutchman’s potential to walk through the door. There’s an acceptance that he was one of a kind.

We’ll see if Celtic move for the Japanese international. As things stand? There are definitely some positives and concerns you would attach to his game.

In other news, Celtic are set for a reunion with a four-time Parkhead title winner next week.