Celtic aiming to be big in Japan for very little money

It has probably bypassed much of the English football consciousness, but quietly a revolution of sorts has been happening in Scotland at Celtic. They now have four Japanese players on their books. This is because coach Ange Postecoglou came to Celtic from managing in the J-League with Yokohama F. Marinos, where he won the title in 2019.

He knows the players in the land of the rising sun, knows their quality and is, somewhat on the quiet, bringing in some of the best for next to no money.

It started with the £4.6million signing of Kyogo Furuhashi in the summer. The 26-year-old has torn up the Scottish Premiership, scoring 16 in 26 games and playing some sublime football. He has been an absolute revelation and easily one of the most exciting players to watch this season and for the sort of money that Premier League clubs think is beneath them to pay. If you were really any good, you’d be expensive.

While Celtic will want to hold on to him for at least another season, if a Premier League club swaggers up to Parkhead with a lot of used £20s falling out of their pockets, of course they are going to be interested in selling him and making a massive profit. And he is Premier League ready. So ready that if the Newcastle owners have heard of Japan, which isn’t a given, I’d be amazed if they are not heading down the M8 with a bin-wagon full of blood-splattered cash this month or in the summer.

Then again, they have probably absorbed the anti-Scottish bigotry that is rife in the Premier League; that routinely leads to under-rating talent in Scotland and under-paying for that talent when they do decide to buy.

This month Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Daize Maeda have been brought in too. The latter was the joint top scorer in the J-League last season. This new trio has cost about £3.5million. Which is an absolute pittance.

Celtic have a lot of money by Scottish standards but almost nothing by Premier League standards, so finding bargains, developing them and then selling them on for big fees has to be part of their business model.

But the positives don’t end there. When Shunsuke Nakamura signed for Celtic for under £2.5million in 2005, he became something of a cult legend and there was a big uptick in interest in the Glasgow club in Japan. He is actually still playing, now aged 43 for recently relegated Yokohama FC, having taken up a contract for another year.

With four Japanese now at Parkhead it means that there will be benefit to Scottish football, more broadly, as the broadcast rights fees for Scottish football will increase in the Far East. And it makes sense for Celtic too. They get a lot more attention from a big football market. The average J-League attendance figure for 2019 was over 20,000. Football is big so it’s a win-win.

Although there are four at Celtic now, there are only two Japanese players in the Premier League: Takehiro Tomiyasu at Arsenal and Takumi Minamino at Liverpool. But if the three newcomers make an impact at Celtic like Kyogo Furuhashi, the club will be inundated with offers from English clubs that are too scared to take a chance on such players themselves until they’ve played here.

Good Japanese players, like good Scottish players, are available for not much money. The fact that other leagues are scouted far more than either is something of a blind spot. Meanwhile, up here in Scotland, we get to enjoy some of the cream of Japanese talent. It’s a footballing and financial progressive move that will influence British football more widely in coming years.

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