Reo Hatate: How Celtic's reported pursuit ofJapanese might not be as a left-back

There potentially has been a slight misunderstanding in gauging Celtic’s reported pursuit of Reo Hatate.

KOBE, JAPAN - JULY 17: Reo Hatate of Japan in action during the U-24 international friendly match between Japan and Spain at the Noevir Stadium Kobe on July 17, 2021 in kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

The versatile 24-year-old Japanese performer’s contract with Kawasaki Frontale will expire next month, by which time the club will hope to have added the Emperor’s Cup to their already-sealed 2021 title. Ange Postecglou’s in-depth knowledge of the Japanese market courtesy of his three-and-a-bit years in charge of Yokahama F Marinos – which paid dividends with his dipping into an under-exploited market to recruit Kyogo Furuhashi - has led to it being presumed that if Hatate makes his way to Glasgow in the January transfer window it will be to challenge the currently injured Greg Taylor for the left-back slot.

On the surface, that would appear to make sense. It is a berth that is currently being filled by Josip Juranovic, despite the Croatian’s orthodox position being on the right of defence. Meanwhile, other possibles for the position - taking the form of teenager Adam Montgomery and left-sided centre-back Liam Scales - appear on the raw side for Postecoglou. All of which has engendered the belief that the Celtic manager is earmarking Hatate for left-back. And the 56-year-old has certainly witnessed Hatate doing an effective job there. He was in that role for Frontale’s first game of the J-League in February...which just happened to result in a 2-0 home win over Postecoglou’s then team.

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However, that is not how Hatate’s second season as an established member of the club’s senior set-up subsequently developed. A period that followed his graduation from Juntendo University after he had turned out for Kawasaki during his studies as a special designated player. The slight 5ft 7in, whose strengths are given as his stamina, turn of pace and crossing ability, has only been deployed at left-back in five of his past 25 club games. Instead, he has tended to be utilised as a central midfielder over the past six months, with a smattering of outings as an attacking midfielder in that time.

This knowledge allows for some dots to be joined, perhaps. The workload for those entrusted with berths in the central midfield triangle Postecoglou favours has been punishing. With Ismaila Soro seemingly pushed to the fringes and James McCarthy still in the early phases of assimilating to the demands of his manager, Callum McGregor, David Turnbull, Tom Rogic – about to return from five weeks out with a hamstring pull – and, to a lesser extent, Nir Bitton have been required to do some heavy lifting. An appreciation of that very fact prompted Postecoglou to state last month that he judged midfield to be the priority area for strengthening in the forthcoming window.

The right-footed Hatate could bolster the options right across the left of the pitch, then, as well as potentially offer cover for Jota, who cannot be expected to push through every game this season. A player still in an early stages of his career with only 75 senior club appearances, and not yet a full international, Postecoglou may look upon the adaptable performer as one he can mould over time rather than expect to nail down a slot instantly. In any one of five positions – he has also popped up on the right as well as left-wing – he has operated in.

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