As the Winter transfer window opened, Celtic surprised us all by immediately announcing they had recruited three new players from Japan. One of the trio was Reo Hatate, who we signed from J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale.
In his first interview with the official Celtic website, Hatate explained how honoured he was to sign for the club and how excited he was for the future. He said:
“I am extremely honoured to finally be able to wear this historical uniform. I’ve only been able to see Celtic Park on videos and pictures, so I’m really excited to finally be able to experience this great stadium and I’m extremely looking forward to meeting the fans and playing in front of them.”
One of the main discussions amongst Celtic fans was the position Ange Postecoglou would be looking to utilise Hatate in. Playing back in his homeland Hatate was known for playing in a variety of different positions. He was most commonly used as an attacking midfielder but also spent a fair amount of time at left back. At times he was also used as both a left and right winger, although he covered these positions less frequently than the others.
He even discussed his versatility during that first interview with the club website I mentioned earlier, saying the following:
“Being able to play in different positions has given me confidence as a footballer. With this team, I want to be able to bring out the best in my style of play and contribute to the attacking side of things a bit more.
“I hope to be the best version of myself so I can contribute towards Celtic and I want the fans to see how I play and to know my style as soon as possible. I will do my best in training and in the games and I’m really looking forward to it.”
So the player himself was indicating he was looking forward to playing a more attacking style than he had done previously. Many of us believed Ange would be looking to play him in the centre of midfield in place of the injured David Turnbull, and we were correct as Ange Postecoglou started his new recruit there in our first match after the winter break against Hibs.
Hatate blew us away on his debut putting in an all action display at the heart of Celtic’s midfield. He showed us all his game had a bit of everything, with him displaying crisp passing alongside a willingness to put a tackle in and a capability to break up our opponents play. It was an absolutely wonderful performance and when Hatate was substituted late in the game he received a standing ovation from the crowd, showing how much his performance was appreciated by the Celtic fans. There was also a nice moment on the bench when James Forrest told Hatate he had won the man of the match award, to the Japanese stars surprise.
A debut so good had left us all looking forward to seeing our new recruit once again and we didn’t have to wait long as Ange Postecoglou, who thankfully decided to rest him during our cup game against the Alloa boot boys, started him again in our next league match against Hearts. Hatate would impress once again, opening the scoring with an absolute thunderbolt of a strike that left Craig Gordon with no chance, as Celtic secured a vital 2-1 win at Tynecastle.
His dream start in a Celtic top continued as we beat Dundee United. Then came his best performance yet, one where we started thinking Hatate could be the best out of all our Japanese contingent even bettering Kyogo, who had blown us away earlier in the season. It was against theRangers of course, in that unforgettable 3-0 win at Celtic Park at the start of February. Hatate wrote his name into Celtic folklore as he scored two excellent goals from outside the box before teeing Liel Abada up for the third.
At this point the £1.4m we paid Kawasaki Frontale looked like the bargain of the century. The praise for Hatate was abundant, and fully deserved. He even went on to provide yet another assist for Liel Abada in our next league game against Motherwell and just when it looked like there would be no stopping Hatate his impact started to subside. His performance levels over the next period started to decrease, although in all honesty it would been have impossible for him to maintain that incredibly high standard he set during his first month at the club.
As the season went on it was obvious the player needed a break. He had came to Celtic straight off the back of playing a tough season helping ensure his old club won the J-League once again. It’s also worth noting that this was really only his third season playing professional football, having previously played at University level in Japan. It was clear to see he was starting to struggle to last 90 minutes, often being hooked early as it was clear his energy levels were zapped and his impact almost non existent at times.
His end of season form definitely took the shine off what was an absolutely incredible start at Celtic. Alongside fellow Japanese January recruit Daizen Maeda, there is no one in Scottish football more in need of a long break this summer to recharge the batteries. It will also help this summer that we have no early season European qualifiers to worry about, giving the like of Hatate a longer break than players at the club would have had in previous years.
Since he arrived in Glasgow in January Hatate has played a total of 21 games for Celtic, scoring four goals and providing three assists. Not a bad return from a centre midfielder but as I discussed most of them where inside his first month, with him only contributing one goal and one assist since that game against Motherwell on February 6th, both against St Johnstone in the final league game before the split.
I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing Hatate next season after his well deserved break. If he can get anywhere near the heights he hit during his first month at the club he will be an automatic starter every week. If he plays the way he did in the latter part of the season, although we can be pretty hopeful the dip in form was due to exhaustion, he will certainly have a fight on his hands from the returning David Turnbull. As I said when reviewing David Turnbull’s season, I am excited by the prospect of these two fighting it out for a starting spot next season. It can only benefit both players in the long term.
In conclusion I will be giving Hatate a score of 7/10. A hard score to decide on with his initial impact being so incredible before petering out as the season progressed. Will be very interesting to see what we get from him next season.
David Potter’s new book, Willie Fernie – Putting on the Style is featured in the new edition of the Celtic View which is out now and available from the Celtic Stores. You can also pick up the Willie Fernie book there too or order direct from Celtic Star Books, link below…