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The J.League Connection that Won Celtic the Scottish Title

Prior to the 2021/22 season, not too many football fans in Europe were familiar with the names Ange Postecoglou, Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, or Reo Hatate, whilst the name Yosuke Ideguchi was synonymous with a number of failed moves across Europe at the likes of Leeds United, Cultural Leonesa, and Greuther Furth. However, to Asian football fans, these names are all too familiar, with the quintet having been honed in the Japanese top flight, the J.League 1. Apart from Ideguchi, the group is embarking on their first venture outside of Asia, and despite their doubters – and a slow start – they managed to win Glasgow Celtic this season’s Scottish Premiership title, which was confirmed on May 12th when the Bhoys played out a 1-1 draw away at Dundee United.

Ange arrived at Celtic Park during the 2021/22 off-season, being signed by the club from J1 giants Yokohama F. Marinos following former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe turning down the Parkhead gig. Using his knowledge of the J1, Ange brought Furuhashi from Vissel Kobe, where the 27-year-old attacker had scored 15 goals in only 21 games. Ange, who had also previously worked with the Australia national team and Melbourne Victory, banked upon Furuhashi’s goalscoring instinct and his experience working with Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta at Vissel to turn him into Celtic’s new focal point of attack for the 21/22 campaign.

And whilst Furuhashi did flourish in his first few months at Celtic, things had been relatively slow on the pitch. The Bhoys lost three of their opening six league games, which include shock defeats away at newly-promoted Hearts of Midlothian and Livingston as well as dropping the first Old Firm of the season 1-0 away at Glasgow Rangers. Celtic also suffered a heartbreaking elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Denmark’s FC Midtjylland.

During this period, though, Celtic also won 6-0 twice in the league, against Dundee and St. Mirren, with Furuhashi scoring a hat-trick against the former. Furuhashi also shined in Europe, scoring in the Europa League against the likes of FK Jablonec, AZ Alkmaar, and Ferencvaros.

The ship was then somewhat steadied. Furuhashi linked up beautifully with three of Ange’s non-J.League signings from the summer, Israeli winger Liel Abada, Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, and Portuguese midfielder Jota, the latter coming on loan from Benfica. Anthony Ralston, a bit-part player in the previous management, found himself galvanized by Ange, establishing himself as a key member of the Australian’s squad.

A Furuhashi brace guided Celtic to the 2021/22 Scottish League Cup title in a 2-1 win over Hibernian, Ange’s first honor as Celtic boss. However, things got a little bit rough after that – Furuhashi was injured in a league match away at St. Johnstone on December 26th and had to sit at least the next four months on the sidelines.

The winter transfer window gave Ange a premium chance to reinforce his squad and once again he tapped into his J1 knowledge to bring in players whom he was all too familiar with. Daizen, the joint top scorer of the 2021 J1 season, was brought in on loan from Yokohama with the move becoming permanent in the summer, while Hatate, an integral cog to Kawasaki Frontale’s recent dominance of the J1, was signed on a permanent basis. Ideguchi, on the other hand, was brought in to give some degree of experience to the young Daizen and Hatate, as well as provide the former Gamba Osaka man with a shot at redemption, having failed to shine in his previous European adventure.

Both Daizen and Hatate were impressive in their Celtic debut, with the former scoring after 4 minutes and the latter bagging Man of the Match as the Bhoys won 2-0 over Hibernian in their first league match after the winter break.

Hatate then took Scotland by storm in another Man of the Match worthy performance on February 2nd. The young midfielder scored a brace and assisted Abada as Celtic thrashed Rangers 3-0 at Celtic Park, allowing the Bhoys to move one point clear above their city rivals in the league table.

Slight hiccups then occurred for Celtic in the Scottish Cup and the Europa Conference League, where they were eliminated in the semifinal by Rangers in the former and in the knockout play-offs by Bodo/Glimt in the latter. These would prove to be Celtic’s last slump in form as they sailed smoothly in the league, going 33 games unbeaten in league play after that defeat away at Livingston in Matchweek 5. This, in turn, guided Celtic to a deserved 8th Premiership title – their 52nd Scottish league title overall.

Furuhashi ended the season as Celtic’s top scorer in all competitions with 20 goals from 33 appearances, quite an impressive haul for someone who is embarking on his first season in Europe. Mid-season arrivals Daizen and Hatate also impressed – the former scoring 8 times in 22 games, while the latter scored 4 times in 21 games. The trio was also capable of creating goals – Furuhasi has 5 assists, Daizen also has 5, while Hatate made 3. Ideguchi, on the other hand, despite not contributing as much as he wanted, he’s well included in Ange’s plans for next season. The Australian manager heaped praise on Ideguchi’s hard-work rate in training, which would surely help him for the upcoming campaign.

Celtic’s successful J.League connection goes more than the deserved league and league cup trophies that Ange and co have earned this season. Until today, the name Shunsuke Nakamura is still hailed as one of the greatest players to have graced the Celtic Park pitch, with the Japan legend having made 128 league appearances for the Bhoys, scoring 29 times in the process.

The likes of Furuhashi, Daizen, Hatate, and Ideguchi still have a long way to go if they wish to emulate their senpai, but underneath the tutelage of someone who knows the way they play very well like Ange, they could see themselves reach Nakamura’s level in the near future.