Celtic has rejuvenated in the land of the Rising Sun


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London (AFP) – Celtic took their revenge on Rangers, their great rival Glasgow crowned last season, by winning their 52nd Scottish league title on Wednesday, a return to first place thanks to their unique Japanese colony in Europe.

The “Gers” will certainly play in the Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt on May 18, but in the largest Scottish city, it is the “Hoops” who dominate.

Thanks to their draw (1-1) against Dundee United, Celtic won a new national title and won their place in the group stage of the next Champions League, which Scotland recovered after the exclusion of Russian teams in European competitions after the invasion of Ukraine.

Celtic, winners in 1967, have not appeared there since 2017.

A year ago, few people imagined such a recovery from the “Bhoys”, who finished 25 points behind Rangers last season.

After trying in vain to convince Eddie Howe, today in Newcastle, to join them, they had “fallen back” on Ange Postecoglou, a 56-year-old Australian coach.

The former “Socceroos” coach (2013-17) was Japanese champion in 2019 with the Yokohama Marinos, but had no reference on the Old Continent.

Celtic’s Australian coach Ange Postecoglou during a match against Rangers, February 2, 2022 at Celtic Park ANDY BUCHANAN AFP/Archives

The very good deals of Postecoglou

He shaped in his image a workforce in great need of revitalization, with 17 arrivals since taking office.

“It’s not just about having talented players, it’s above all about having the right players for my football,” he explained.

Postecoglou gave his club the benefit of his knowledge of the J-League by recruiting attackers Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda or midfielder Reo Hatate – a vein still little exploited in Europe.

Bought this summer for around EUR 6 million from Kobe, Furuhashi was quick to become Celtic Park’s idol with 18 goals and 5 assists in 31 matches, including a double in the League Cup final which offered the trophy to the “Bhoys”.

Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi (l) battles Betis Sevilla defender German Pezzela in the Europa League on December 9, 2021 in Glasgow
Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi (l) battles Betis Sevilla defender German Pezzela in the Europa League on December 9, 2021 in Glasgow ANDY BUCHANAN AFP/Archives

He was joined this winter by Maeda and Hatate, as well as central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi, whose adaptation is slower.

“These transfers would not have happened without Postecoglou,” said AFP Sean Carroll, a Japanese football expert.

In total, Celtic spent less than GBP 10m (EUR 12.5m) on the four players, “theft on an indescribable scale”, choked Dan Orlowitz, sports journalist for the Japan Times.

Expected commercial benefits

“There is a part of pride, among Japanese clubs, in sending players to Europe. If they asked for sums comparable to those for players already in Europe, the clubs would not come to recruit in this part of the world because the players are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as not yet having the necessary level”, he added.

A Japanese flag in the stands of Celtic Park, during a Europa League match between Celtic and Betis, December 9, 2021
A Japanese flag in the stands of Celtic Park, during a Europa League match between Celtic and Betis, December 9, 2021 ANDY BUCHANAN AFP

Celtic had already had a Japanese idol with Shunsuke Nakamura, from 2005 to 2009. A stint marked by three league titles and a legendary direct free kick (1-0) against Manchester United in the Champions League in 2006.

If none of the four Celtic players has the aura of Nakamura, their presence has not gone unnoticed in the country.

The official Celtic Japan Twitter account (55,300 followers), launched in July, has more followers than the Paris SG account in Japanese (47,200) and this could also offer some commercial spin-offs.

Celtic's Japanese striker Daizen Maeda before a game against Rangers on February 2, 2022 at Celtic Park
Celtic’s Japanese striker Daizen Maeda before a game against Rangers on February 2, 2022 at Celtic Park ANDY BUCHANAN AFP/Archives

Partnerships, more modest than those of Rakuten or Yokohama Tires with FC Barcelona or Chelsea, could see the light of day.

“We are very confident, given the quality of the players and the intelligence of the coach,” said Cesare Polenghi, president of Ganassa, the company that manages Celtic’s online presence in Japan.

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