Celtic can benefit from signing best Asian talent with EPL ambitions

With this winter’s signings of Yuki Kobayashi and Tomoki Iwata, there are now six Japanese players on Glasgow’s green and white side. Iwata was named the J.League’s player of the year in 2022 and joined Celtic on loan from Yokohama F. Marinos. Celtic has an option to buy him for a bargain price of $1.2 million, leaving room for a tidy profit if they decide to sell him on to a club in England a few seasons down the line.

 Yuki Kobayashi of Celtic is seen during the Scottish Cup Fourth Round match between Celtic and Greenock Morton at Celtic Park Stadium on January 21, 2023.. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The man behind this influx of Japanese players is Celtic’s Australian head coach Ange Postecoglou. Before taking up his position at Celtic, he was with the Yokohama F. Marinos and therefore has intimate knowledge of the J-League. But there is another reason that Celtic and Scottish clubs are looking East in the search for fresh talent.

Due to Brexit, British clubs now have a harder time signing players. Whereas before, any European player could come and play for a British club with absolutely no need to apply for a visa or any other government-issued work papers. This can be frustrating for the clubs and European players but can be described as a Brexit benefit for non-European players.

Celtic midfielder Tomoki Iwata in action against St Mirren on 5 March 2023, Celtic won the game 5-1.

English clubs have already turned to South America in the hopes of finding the next Messi and hopefully shortening their odds in English Premier League betting online, for the chance of winning the title. But Scottish clubs have decided to set their sights even further afield and are now competing to pick up the hottest young Asian players.

That’s because a slight difference in Scotland’s work permit rules makes it a perfect stepping stone to the Premier League for talented young players from Japan and South Korea. In England, players must earn 15 points to qualify for a work permit and at least 10 points to be allowed to apply for a special exemption, which will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. In Scotland, any player can automatically apply for an exemption.

Player points are based on, among other things, the league they play in and their team performance in that league and internationally. This puts players from Japan’s J-League and South Korea’s K-League at a disadvantage when it comes to eligibility for English clubs as these leagues are in the weakest band, Band 6, of the ranking system. The only way players from leagues in this band can transfer directly to a Premier League is if they have already established an international career.

The fact that any player can apply for an exemption means that players from South Korea and Japan have an opportunity to make the move to Scotland, and earn the necessary points playing in the Scottish Premiership, which is in Band 3, to fulfil the requirements for a move south of the border, if that is their ultimate objective.

Ange Postecoglou arrives at the St Mirren stadium on 5 March 2023

Ange Postecoglou’s knowledge of the J. League and its players will help Celtic retain its advantage in signings for the near future, but other clubs are getting in on the act, with Hearts signing Japanese player Yutaro Oda from Vissel Kobe this winter and Cho Gue-sung, the South Korean forward being linked to Celtic, among other clubs where he’d join up with fellow countryman Hyeongyu Oh.

Hyeongyu Oh celebrates scoring his first goal in the Scottish Premiership on 5 March 2023 in Celtic’s 5-1 win over St Mirren

The South Korean internationalist joined Celtic during the 2023 January transfer window on a five-year deal. The striker arrived from K League 1 club, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, where he has played since 2019. He sealed his dream move after scoring 14 goals in the calendar year of 2022 and scored his first goal in the Scottish Premiership at the weekend in the Hoops 5-1 away with at St Mirren.

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