Ko Itakura: Who is the Manchester City defender linked with a move to Celtic?
Ange Postecoglou is expected to shape his squad while dealing with potential transfer interest at the same time, and Itakura is one of a host of players linked with a move to Glasgow.
Itakura is 24 years old, 6ft 1in tall, and can operate as a centre-back or defensive midfielder, although the majority of his appearances have come in defence. Of his 113 senior appearances, more than 90 have been as a defender.
He is known to Postecoglou having plied his trade in the J.League while the Greek coach was in charge at Yokohama F. Marinos and is likely to be put up for sale by City this summer.
After joining City, Itakura insisted he was "putting himself in a high-growth environment”, adding: “I’m going to push myself forward.”
Yokohama-born Itakura spent eight years in Kawasaki Frontale’s youth system, going on to play 21 times for Fujitsu’s team between 2015 and 2018. He had two loan spells, the more productive stint coming with Vegalta Sendai as Itakura played 32 games and scored three goals – all headers.
His performances earned him a move to Manchester City although the understanding is that he was viewed as a City Football Group acquisition rather than a player destined for the Citizens first team.
Itakura was loaned to Groningen in January 2019. The arrangement was extended for a further season in the summer of 2020, with Itakura now having more than 50 Eredivisie appearances under his belt and one goal – a header in a 3-2 win against Willem II.
Itakura has been capped by Japan at underage level from Under-16 to Under-23 and has five senior caps to his name.
His sole international goal to date for the Samurai Blue came in a 10-0 drubbing of Myanmar in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification match. He has also played alongside former Hearts loanee Ryo Meshino and ex-Dundee United goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima so will be able to get the lowdown on the Scottish game.
Will Celtic sign him?
A lot depends on Postecoglou’s thoughts once he has assessed his squad. Fringe players such as Tony Ralston and Marian Shved are likely to get a chance to impress but it’s also worth noting that Kristoffer Ajer, Christopher Jullien, and Stephen Welsh are the only natural centre-backs in the first team. Nir Bitton can deputise but with Ajer likely to leave this summer, Celtic need reinforcements.
Celtic also have history in dealing with Manchester City with Daniel Arzani, Dedryck Boyata, Jason Denayer, Olivier Ntcham, and Patrick Roberts among those making the move north in recent years to varying degrees of success.
Itakura fits the profile of players over whom the new boss will cast an eye. He said earlier this week: “There is some fantastic talent in Asia, in South America. That is one of the areas that I want to focus on [in terms of recruitment].”
However, Itakura has also been named in the Japan squad for the Olympics in his homeland this summer and if Celtic did sign the player, he would potentially miss the club’s Champions League qualifiers.
Quarantine requirements could also muddy the waters further, as Postecoglou knows.
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