The European precedent that suggests Celtic would be wise to explore Japanese market

By Euan Davidson

July 1, 2021

When I say Celtic and Japanese footballers, one name pops into your mind, doesn’t it?

Sublime technique, an eye for goal; a player who, really, we wish we could’ve had for longer. The poster-boy for the Japanese national team, a man who brought people from all over the world to Celtic Park. Still an icon, and arguably one of our most naturally gifted players of the modern era.

That’s right – Koki Mizuno. But we also had Shunsuke Nakamura, the King of Free Kicks. After Hidetoshi Nakata’s Serie A success, Nakamura followed suit by joining Reggina. A master-stroke of a signing by Gordon Strachan, Nakamura’s most famous moments are also Celtic’s most famous moments this millennium. A real gem of a player.

Since Gordon Strachan and, to an extent, Tony Mowbray, players from Asia have been a rarity at Celtic, broadly speaking. Ki Seung-Yeung was a brief success, who moved on to establish himself in England.

Now though, there’s a really promising generation of players from the Japan national team sealing moves to European sides.

At the start of June, I wrote a relatively controversial piece on 3 J-League talents who could easily make the move to Celtic. But more broadly, Japanese players are having a real “moment” in European football.

Minamino signed for Liverpool in 2019 / (Photo by Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Japanese players are thriving across Europe; it’s a good market for Celtic

Take Keita Endo, for an example [Transfermarkt]. A former Postecoglou player at Yokohama F Marinos, plucky German side Union Berlin loaned the Japanese international to get a better look, and have since signed him up permanently. A versatile winger, who provides pace and spark off the bench for the Bundesliga’s surprise package, his game has translated well to German football.

See also Takumi Minamino. With a staggering 16 goals in 31 Japan caps, the winger was a revelation for the perennially astute scouts at RB Salzburg. Having made over 100 goal contributions in 199 games for the Austrians, a big-money move to England followed, with Liverpool meeting his £7.25m release clause in 2019 [BBC].

Even today, a J-League star and Japan international is sealing a move to Europe. Hayao Kawabe, at the time of writing, just needs to pass a medical to join Grasshopper Zurich [Sanfrecce Hiroshima]. And, perhaps most excitingly, Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo; the former Barcelona youngster who caused controversy in La Liga [Guardian]. It’s no exaggeration to say that, at 20, Kubo could be the real deal, having impressed on loan at Getafe CF last season.

Celtic ‘target’ Itakura / (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Former J-League manager or not, Celtic need to be keeping an eye on unexplored markets

There are plenty more examples, of course, but we’d be here all day. The point is, it’s exciting to hear that Celtic are possibly after Ko Itakura, and that our CEO and Manager are willing to test the waters internationally. The Bhoys will leave “no stone unturned” in the transfer market, according to Dom McKay.

Because, while scouring the Scottish and English leagues is never a bad idea, the Hoops have scoured for gems beyond our borders for a long, long time. And while few players can achieve what Nakamura did, it’s strange that Celtic largely abandoned East Asia for as long as they did.

Having a manager in who’s knowledgable about a country who are having a real moment in cultivating star players is extremely handy. The trick will be cashing in now before it becomes a more fashionable market for top clubs to shop in.

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