Profile: Ko Itakura, the potential Celtic signing who ticks plenty of boxes

By Euan Davidson

June 29, 2021

Celtic pursuing Ko Itakura is almost too perfect, somehow.

First things first, he’s a centre-back. We need those, we only have a couple going into a crucial Champions League qualifier. Secondly, he’s available, with just a year left on his contract. Third, he’s a Manchester City player, a club who we’ve scoured for gems prior to now.

And, of course, he’s Japanese, and played in the J-League when our new boss was there. So, when the Daily Record reported there was interest, it made total sense.

But just who is Ko Itakura? Let’s have a more detailed look.

Well, despite being just 24, he’s been a professional since 2015. Itakura signed for his boyhood club Kawasaki Frontale, where he was loaned out twice. A 2018 spell with Vegalta Sendai was particularly fruitful for the young centre-back, playing close to 2,000 minutes, making 24 appearances and scoring 3 times [Transfermarkt].

It was enough for the City Group to launch a successful bid for the right-footed defender. At the time, he made his ambitions clear [Manchester Evening News], saying: “”I’m going to put myself in a high-growth environment and push myself forward.”

Immediately loaned out to FC Groningen, where Virgil van Dijk made his name, it took a while for the Japan international to get going. However, in 20-21, Itakura garnered over 3,000 minutes of playing time in the Eredivisie, in the fourth-best defence in the league [ESPN].

On paper, Itakura to Celtic link makes perfect sense

Given Celtic’s informal relationship with the City Group, this definitely seems a realistic signing. We’ve signed Olivier Ntcham, Jeremie Frimpong, Patrick Roberts and more the same way. If there are talents to be had, who aren’t near the Manchester City first team but are impressing elsewhere, they’re worth a look.

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

But it’s Itakura’s play itself that is most encouraging here. A tall, elegant striker, Itakura combined doggedness and desire with an excellent first-touch and solid range of passing. His reading of the game is impressive, too, boasting an average of 2 interceptions per 90 [WhoScored?].

He also has that bit of aerial presence that Celtic so sorely need. In the Eredivisie last season, Itakura won 2.1 of his 3.6 aerial duels per 90 minutes [WhoScored?]. It’s not just stats, though; watching clips from his last season Groningen, there’s a determination that’s most encouraging.

If he’s unsuccessful with an initial tackle, he’ll repeatedly try to win the ball, before moving it on to a more advanced player. That’s a function of sensible, but aggressive pressing, and would fit perfectly into a Postecoglou side.

By all metrics, this is a good signing for Celtic. And given the pre-existing relationships we have with the City Group, and with a manager that’s highly respected in Japan, it could work beautifully.

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