Ange Postecoglou was appointed Celtic manager in 2021. Almost immediately after his unveiling, the Australian alluded to his desire to tap into markets that had otherwise been untouched by Scottish clubs prior to his arrival in Glasgow. In his 20 months in the Parkhead hot seat so far, Postecoglou has more than kept to his promise.
Since his arrival at the club, Celtic have signed a total of 26 players, 10 of whom have been from non-European clubs. In other words, 38% of players signed by Postceoglou for Celtic have been from either Asia or the Americas. This alteration in recruitment marks a refreshing change from years gone by when the Hoops would predominantly explore the British and European markets. For example, in the summer transfer window of 2020, Celtic brought in six new players, all of which were from European or British clubs.
This enticing change in where the club buys their players has brought several positives. Whether it be the quality they bring to the pitch, the inordinate value they provide, the widespread growth in exposure and fan base for which they have allowed, or the vast marketing opportunities their presences have provided, the players Celtic have signed from far-fetched lands have brought a plethora of prosperity. This piece will delve into all of the positives of Celtic exploring relatively obscure markets as well as looking at how it may have been a catalyst for change across the Scottish Premiership.
It is fair to say that the several concealed markets that Celtic have recently begun to explore have provided the Hoops with players of optimal standard for a relatively budgeted price compared to other shop windows.
The first player the Hoops brought in from the J. League was striker Kyogo Furuhashi. The Japanese forward has arguably been the most successful Celtic signing under Ange Postecoglou, having scored a colossal 50 goals in just 79 games across all competitions. His vastly intelligent movement and clinical finishing ability makes him one of the foremost strikers in Scotland and Europe. Celtic were able to secure his services for just €5.4 million in the summer of 2021, just weeks after Ange Postecoglou was appointed manager at Parkhead.
The Australian has been a huge driver in Celtic’s exploration of markets they previously hadn’t touched and in his first winter window as boss of the club, he dived straight back into the Japanese market to sign not one, not two, but three new players. Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi were brought in from Yokohama F. Marinos (Postecoglou’s former club), Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka, respectively, for a combined fee of £3.82m.
Ideguchi has not been a success and recently departed to Avispa Fukuoka on loan. However, Maeda and Hatate have encapsulated prosperity in their time in Glasgow so far. The two were key in Celtic’s title triumph in the 2021/22 campaign after joining the club midway through it, significantly contributing to a masterful run in. Hatate’s foremost moment in green and white thus far was when he scored two and assisted another in a crucial Glasgow derby against Rangers to take Celtic top of the table for the first time in a number of months, back in February 2022. The 25-year-old is a midfielder who possesses a wealth of footballing quality and has been one of the Hoops’ most consistent and virtuous assets over the past year or so. Maeda has equally contributed massively for Celtic in his time at the club so far. The versatile frontman has contributed to 19 goals in his 68 Celtic appearances so far, several of his strikes coming in matches of notable significance, for example away at Rangers in a 2-2 draw and versus Kilmarnock in a recent cup semi-final triumph.
What the likes of Kyogo, Hatate and Maeda have provided for Celtic thus far has been priceless. The Japanese trio have given moments of sheer joy and satisfaction to the Parkhead faithful. But it is not just the J. League where Celtic and Postecoglou have looked to for hidden gems.
In the most recent summer window, a player was brought to Glasgow’s east end from South America for the first time in a number of years as Argentine left-back Alexandro Bernabei penned a five-year deal. Only 22, Bernabei has plenty of room for development (proved by some of his performances in green and white so far) and it is encouraging to see Celtic dipping their toe into markets such like the one they signed Bernabei from.
The acquisition of Aaron Mooy was also one that encapsulated Celtic’s new tendency to explore markets they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Postecoglou, with the 32-year-old being brought in on a free transfer from Shanghai Port in China. Mooy was signed mainly due to his prior relationship with Postecoglou and the midfielder has transpired into another prosperous signing at Celtic. Despite a somewhat tedious start to his career in green and white, Mooy truly took his game up a notch post-World Cup. He has scored four goals and assisted as many since coming back from Qatar, moulding himself into a key player for Celtic who is now one of the first names on the team sheet. His popular chant, which goes by the iconic tune of Bonney M’s ‘Daddy Cool,’ has become ingrained in supporters’ minds at Parkhead in recent years. Mooy’s success in Glasgow once more displays the tremendous value and opulence brought about by clubs opening up their reach in terms of recruitment. In January, all four of Celtic’s new arrivals came from leagues they had never frequently shopped in prior to Postecoglou’s arrival at the club.
J. League players Tomoki Iwata and Yuki Kobayashi were both brought in from Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marinos, respectively, whilst Alistair Johnston was signed from CF Montreal in the MLS and Hyeon-Gyu Oh made the switch to Glasgow from Suwon Bluewings in the K. League. This quartet has shown flashes of how they might be successful signings for the Hoops. Perhaps the most prosperous of the four so far, though, is Johnston. The Canadian was signed for €3.5m, replacing Croatian Josip Juranovic who earlier in the window left for Union Berlin for €8.55m. In the time he’s spent at Celtic so far, which spans around seven weeks, Johnston has nailed down the right back spot and made it his own. The 24-year-old is three years younger than Juranovic yet appears to be a more than ample replacement for the World Cup runner-up. Once more, Johnston’s acquisition clearly shows how Celtic have been able to inordinate value fishing in new ponds. A rather similar example of the situation regarding Johnston and Juranovic also transpired in January with Celtic concerning Oh and Giorgos Giakoumakis.
It was widely speculated Giakoumakis would depart Glasgow in January and he eventually did, joining Atlanta United in the MLS as their designated player for €4m. Celtic knew the Greek would eventually leave and wisely brought in his replacement in advance. Oh joined from Suwon Bluewings in the K. League for €2.8m, becoming only the third South Korean to play for Celtic. This once more goes to show how the Bhoys have been investing in new markets. Although time has been limited thus far, Oh’s acquisition appears to be yet another shrewd one. The striker has been limited to minimal appearances thus far at Celtic although has still been able to impress, netting against St. Mirren in the Scottish Cup.
Celtic brought in a further two players from the J. League in January. Firstly, centre-back Yuki Kobayashi joined from Vissel Kobe on a free transfer whilst Tomoki Iwata made the move to Glasgow from 2022 Japanese champions and Postecoglou’s former club, Yokohama F. Marinos. The purchase of the midfielder cost Celtic around £828,000, reported the Daily Record. With the aforementioned Johnston and Oh, time has undoubtedly been of the essence and this is the case with Kobayashi and Oh. Nevertheless in the appearances the former had made thus far, he appears a solid option at the heart of defence. Moreover, Kobayashi is left-footed which is partially rare yet useful in terms of build-up play. He is just 22 years of age and will be a valid long-term replacement for either Carl Starfelt or Cameron Carter-Vickers. Similarly to all of the players Celtic have brought in from rather untapped markets under Postecoglou, the shrewdness of this deal makes it immense.
The acquisition of Iwata is similar in terms of acumen of price although his profile is rather unusual for the Hoops, at least with Postecoglou at the helm. At 25, Iwata is slightly older than the average age Celtic buy players at although he is still to hit his peak years. Moreover, Iwata was the J. League MVP for 2022 and can take up multiple roles in the Scottish champions’ engine room. The Japanese, though, has mustered just 50 minutes of game time so far in Scotland, making the new acquisition hard to judge. Nonetheless, signing the best player in Japanese football over the course of the past year for less than £1,000,000 is not to be sniffed at for Celtic.
Undoubtedly, Celtic have had a wealth of success from shopping in markets that are relatively untapped. From Kyogo’s goals to Maeda’s menacing speed, players signed from the J. League have contributed significantly to the Hoops’ recent prosperity as have those from various other continents such as the Americas. It is not just on the pitch these assets have contributed, though. Off it, the presence of Celtic’s Japanese players at the club have created several new fans in the land of the rising sun.
In any nation, if a homegrown player is excelling overseas, the country’s fans will take notice and support such a player. In Japan’s case, the numerous assets excelling in green and white have led to a sizeable increase in Celtic’s Japanese fan base. Take the club’s official Japanese-speaking Twitter account, for example, which has amassed over 80,000 followers since it was set up after Kyogo Furuhasi’s signing, in 2021. Moreover, Celtic’s Japanese connection will shortly expand into communities across the country. It was announced at the beginning of 2023 that the club will be holding training camps in three major Japanese cities of Tokyo, Fukuoka and Hiroshima. Celtic have partnered with the Goal App in order to deliver these sessions that will focus on footballing development and English-speaking skills. The events will be open to boys and girls ages 7-12 and will be led by Celtic Soccer Academy staff.
The Scottish champions are making an unequivocal mark on Japan through these events. Such camps will only be beneficial to young aspiring footballers and will cause Celtic to have a special place in their hearts throughout their lives. This can create a domino effect where these youngsters will grow up to be greatly interested in the Hoops, particularly if the Japanese cohort at the club remains. The club will then continually grow their fan base and resultant shirt sales and revenues through this which is only positive. It is not just in Japan, however, this is happening. Celtic are gathering supporters in Argentina and South Korea following the signings of Alexandro Bernabei and Oh. Their influence is much greater in Japan, yet Celtic aspire to build strongholds elsewhere across the world, hoping to reap copious benefits.
Other teams in Scotland appear to have took wind of this success and looked to take the same path as the Scottish champions. In January, Motherwell brought in 22-year-old attacking midfielder Riku Danzaki from J. League side Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. The Steelmen weren’t the only Scottish side other than Celtic to sign a Japanese player last month, with Hearts shelling out a six figure fee to bring in young attacker Yutaro Oda from Vissel Kobe.
This continuous range of markets that Scottish clubs, particularly Celtic, are beginning to utilise is only positive. For a start, the majority of countries’ teams don’t traditionally sign players who provide the utmost value. They give tremendous opportunities for marketing which, in turn, provides clubs with even more financial prosperity. It also adds to the quality and competitiveness of Scottish football thus making its divisions more entertaining and attractive. This constructive change, however, has been spearheaded by Celtic and Ange Postecoglou. Their clever use of untapped markets has provided them with a wealth of success both on the pitch and off it. Due to this, some of their competitors have looked to do the same in order to keep up.
*all fees, figures, stats etc correct as of transfermarkt.co.uk, unless stated otherwise