Celtic's transfer statement of intent leaves one player needing a January loan move
Yesterday, Celtic announced the signing of Japanese centre-half Yuki Kobayashi from Vissel Kobe, the 5th J-League arrival since Ange Postecoglou became Celtic manager in June 2021.
Whilst transfers from Postecoglou’s old stomping ground have become commonplace in the nearly 18 months since he arrived in Glasgow, Kobayashi feels different to the signings of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi, in that he represents a piece of long-term planning, rather than a player to fit the squad’s immediate needs.
He doesn’t lack experience, at just 22, Kobayashi has played 123 senior games, with only one game shy of a century across the J and J2 Leagues [Transfermarkt]. However, in Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt, Celtic have an established, senior pair of international central defenders, both of whom were signed by Postecoglou and who represent the baseline foundation for Celtic’s success over the last season-and-a-half.
It seems highly unlikely that the Japan U-21 international has been signed as immediate competition for the first-choice pair, rather, he’ll compete with Moritz Jenz for the de-facto third-choice spot until at least the end of the season when Jenz is either signed permanently, or returns to his parent club Lorient.
The one player that Kobayashi’s signing affects the most, however, is Stephen Welsh, who has struggled for game-time so far this season, before the Japanese defender was even linked with a move to Celtic.
Though he completed his full Champions League debut in the 3-1 defeat to RB Leipzig in October, Welsh has made just six appearances for Celtic this season, accounting for Carter-Vickers and more often, Starfelt’s, injuries, failing to make the matchday squad on at least ten occasions.
At 22, he has been unable to consistently nail down a starting berth for any sustained period of time for Celtic, and the time has likely now come for him to pursue a loan, or indeed permanent move away from the club.
Should he be content to fight for a place largely on the bench next season as, at best, third-choice centre half in the short term, then at the very least, a January move would be welcome for both him and Celtic to allow for the Scotland U-21 captain to find regular first-team football to either continue his development or sound out a new club.
Whilst it’s never enjoyable to see youth academy graduates leave the club, the standard set for Celtic players, particularly those who go to the wire every week, is such that very few will ever be of sufficient quality to make the permanent step-up.
Doubtlessly, he’ll have suitors, whether it’s in the Scottish Premiership or further afield, and there was interest in Welsh from Serie A in January, so unlike many who leave clubs after coming through the youth system, it seems highly unlikely that Welsh would disappear should he leave Paradise.
If Kobayashi’s signing does indeed signal the end for Welsh at Celtic, he can still celebrate the fact that he made north of fifty appearances for his boyhood club, which is a dream few ever manage to achieve.