Celtic's Reo Hatate and the "long foot" issue the midfielder believes he must overcome

The ceaseless quest for self-improvement is a hallmark of the finest players.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 26: Celtic's Reo Hatate wheels away after the 30-yard strike that he has admitted is "the best" of the 24-year-old's career. Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 26: Celtic's Reo Hatate wheels away after the 30-yard strike that he has admitted is "the best" of the 24-year-old's career. Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

And Celtic’s Reo Hatate – admittedly through an interpreter – seems to more than talk a good game. The midfielder could hardly have made a more resounding impact in Scotland. As a second act, his 30-yard howitzer to open his goal account in the 2-1 win away to Hearts on Wednesday was a blinding follow-up to the 24-year-old finesse-filled debut that landed him the man on the match award against Hibs 10 days earlier.

The inventive, accomplished Hatate has packed these qualities into a mere 164 minutes of competitive action since a £1.5million move Kawasaki Frontale. Yet, offer him opportunities to pat himself on the back over his start to life for Ange Postecoglou’s team and he seems more interested in picking holes in his two outings. There was one exception during his midweek post-match. Hatate dispensed with the assistance of his interpreter when asked if he had ever scored any better goals. “It’s the best goal,” he shot back, breaking into a smile.

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Otherwise, though, Hatate proved deadly serious about the need to adapt to the furious and, sometimes fearsome, football environment here. He doesn’t present it as populated by some variety of Sasquatches, but, randomly, confesses concerns over the odd big foot … lengthwise. And concedes the intensity of fan passions can send a shiver. “I have enjoyed every game a lot. The environment of the stadium is very hot and I was sometimes very scared of that,” he said, in reference to the collective growl generated by a packed-out Tynecastle. “The reach and the toughness [on the pitch] is very different. They are tall and long and have long feet. I consider that I am also a physical player, but I still have to improve to compete in this league. This is why I have to work harder in the training.”

Hatate hasn’t had it easy. The unavailability of Callum McGregor and David Turnbull through injury, coupled with Tom Rogic’s Australia commitments, resulted in him – incredibly – being the senior partner in the playmaker pairing formed with debutant Matt O’Riley against Hearts. The duo, with a goal and assist between them, came through the sternest test, each exhibiting the drive and deftness that suggests they are perfect Postecoglou personnel. The Japanese midfielder, though, didn’t pretend being forced to feel their way through a first link-up was straightforward. “With Matt we don’t have enough time to train,” he said. “We have to learn about each other during the game. But I think I can play very well with him. He also tried to utilise me efficiently.”

Hatate described himself happy and relieved at finding the net. A collective sense of relief would have been felt in the Celtic ranks through surviving a late onslaught from Hearts despite appeared on easy street in being 2-0 up, going on 4-0, following a fizzing first half. To the player, unsurprisingly, the conclusion told of areas to be addressed. “We have times when we can keep ourselves [in shape], but there are times when we can’t keep our discipline,” he said. “We will have to talk and communicate to each other within the team, make it better and improve.” It is all about that for Hatate.

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