THREE, is the magic number. So said Celtic today as they announced the arrival of Japanese trio Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi and Reo Hatate.
Whether the players go on to emulate the success of compatriot Kyogo since he arrived on these shores in the summer remains to be seen, but given his impact, it is little wonder that Celtic supporters are ready to place their faith in manager Ange Postecoglou’s knowledge of the J-League market once more.
They immediately, of course, offer depth to Postecoglou’s stretched squad. And as the Celtic manager pointed out, they come to Scotland not as promising prospects, but approaching what should be the peak years of their career. Maeda and Hatate are 24, while Ideguchi is 25.
For supporters in Scotland though, the triumvirate are not yet household names, so what can the Celtic support expect from their new arrivals?
The first thing that was perhaps noted about Maeda’s arrival was the curious structure of the deal that brought him to Celtic from manager Postecoglou’s former club, Yokohama F Marinos.
He joins on an initial loan basis for six months, leading some to speculate that he was coming in on something of a trial basis before Celtic committed to bringing him in on a permanent deal. It was revealed yesterday though that the purchase clause set for £1.7m in the summer is a compulsory one, and he will be in Glasgow to stay.
Given Postecoglou has worked with Maeda before, the twice-capped striker is perhaps the one that has given Celtic fans most cause for excitement. He can play off the left or behind the main striker, as he did for the most part for his club last season, as he ended up as the J-League’s joint top scorer with 23 goals.
The forward has gone on record with his desire to prove himself in Europe, and he in fact had a previous loan spell at Portuguese club Maritimo that was cut short prematurely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He told Sky Sports recently: “I felt that I still have a long way to go after playing against foreign players.
“If I don’t experience playing against foreign players, I won’t be able to close the gap, so if I have a chance, I love to go to such a stage.”
Having burst onto the J-League scene last year, he now has his chance.
Maeda started his career with Japanese second-tier outfit Matsumoto Yamaga, making his senior debut back in 2016, becoming the youngest player to turn out for their first-team.
He is of a similar diminutive stature as Kyogo, standing at just five foot eight, but his most notable asset is his burst of speed, with Maeda once holding an ambition to become an Olympic sprinter before turning his full focus to making it as a footballer.
His all-action style of play and high work rate make him a useful asset when it comes to pressing too, rating highly for ball recoveries in the opposition half, suggesting he will fit into Postecoglou’s style perfectly.
He is certainly looking forward to the reunion, with his farewell message to Marinos reading: “I’ll do my best, and I’m going to visit the BOSS!”
Central midfielder Ideguchi – who joins Celtic for a fee of £850,000 on a four-and-a-half year deal – is perhaps the most established player of the trio, having picked up 15 caps for Japan since his international debut back in 2017.
He has spent most of his career – over a decade – with Gamba Osaka, but he thought his big European break had come in 2018 when he was snapped up by Leeds United.
Unfortunately for Ideguchi though, he didn’t meet the work permit requirements at the time, and was immediately loaned to Spanish side Cultural Leonesa, where he struggled to make an impact and subsequently was left out of the Japanese squad for the 2018 World Cup.
Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa spoke warmly of Ideguchi’s professionalism and ability, but was candid when he delivered his assessment that he would not even be second choice for any position in his team.
A further loan move to German outfit Greuther Furth was agreed with an option to buy, but despite scoring on his debut, Ideguchi’s luck was out once more as he suffered a cruciate ligament injury.
He ended up back at Gamba Osaka, where he has rebuilt his career and now earned another crack at European football with Celtic.
Primarily deployed as a defensive midfielder, he too is small in stature, but is dogged in the tackle and is renowned for his reading of the game. Interceptions are a strong suit.
Versatility is the one word that crops up the most when discussing Hatate, with the left-sided player able to perform adeptly at either full-back or in midfield.
Joining from J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale on a four-and-half year deal, Hatate came into senior football straight from Juntendo University. Frontale’s faith was justified, as he helped the club to two consecutive J-League titles and the Japanese Super Cup.
Capped all the way up to under-23 level with Japan and for the Olympic side, Hatate is nevertheless the only member of the new Celtic trio still awaiting his first full international cap.
Hatate has primarily been used as an attacking left-back by Frontale, an area that has proved something of a problem position for Celtic this season.
After an early season injury to Greg Taylor, right-back Josip Juranovic was deployed there as well as the likes of Adam Montgomery and even Boli Bolingoli before Taylor’s recent return to the first-team.
Postecoglou may have found his solution in the shape of Hatate, who chipped in with four goals for Frontale last term from the position.