Reo Hatate’s Glasgow Derby debut saw theRangers hit by an almighty force, as our Japanese midfielder struck twice and Celtic had a 3-0 win over their rivals sewn up by half-time. And for Hatate that performance was so inspired because he had the Almighty assisting, as he explained ‘I think God was on my side’.
Hatate has been explaining, as reported in Football Scotland, how that incredible night saw him become a marked man in Scotland, as opposition players resorted to the dark arts – quelle surprise – to stop the player who made quite the impression on Scottish football with a breath-taking Derby performance, and no doubt on the back of that incredible goal at Tynecastle just a few weeks previously.
“I think people played against me differently after that, the marking became tighter — more physical. Players would catch me on the ankle more when they were going for the ball. I think the opponents watched the game and thought, ‘I have to do this now’.
“I am glad my years of work had prepared me for an occasion like that. But when it comes to what happened against (the)Rangers with my goals, I think God was on my side!
“I remember getting goosebumps the first time I went on the pitch just before the kick-off. I was really nervous about that but then I was calm. I really felt the atmosphere and the fact that it blended into that pitch.
“Did I enter the zone that night? I think that’s a time you say that you can see the ball slowly or the opponent’s movements slowly. But I’ve no such experience, so what is the zone? I don’t know if that’s the case. However, I had a strong feeling and I think that these parts combined to make it a perfect match for me.”
Whether the almighty lent a hand, or whether Hatate entered the zone, we’ll never quite know, but it was a performance that had prayers answered at Celtic Park, and tears flowing from those of theRangers persuasion watching on at home. Delicious watching their league challenge go down the toilet, thirsty work for those desperate Bears.
It’s fair to say that since then Hatate’s form has run hot and cold. Yet having admitted to being mentally and physically fatigued – after playing a full season in the J-League prior to coming to Scotland – there were clear mitigating circumstances for such inconsistency in performance.
Yet Hatate appears a thoughtful footballer and one who strives to improve, and in Ange Postecoglou he has the right manager creating the correct environment for such players to flourish. With a restful summer and a full pre-season to come Reo Hatate’s best form is surely yet to come, even if the bar was set high by those early performances.
And a clarity of instruction from the manager and an embracing of defensive responsibilities – something new to Hatate – will surely see the Japan international emerge as one of Celtic’s best players in the season ahead.
“You know what is required for the manager at Celtic. We play good football at a high level and the training is always connected to the game He tells us every day that we need to work hard and he always motivates us. I couldn’t have imagined all of this a year and a half ago.
“I wanted to go abroad, but I didn’t think I would get this transfer. I wanted to win the J-League. Then I won the league with Celtic. I didn’t think I would be able to play in the Olympics but it was postponed for a year. Maybe I had some luck, but it’s all been very fulfilling.
“It was amazing to win the J-League for the second time in a row and then go to Celtic, who were competing for the championship. I feel really blessed and I need to thank my team-mates. The culture and environment are different and I had to fight alone because there were no people with me.
“Being an attacking player, it’s very painful when I don’t get results — I can’t score goals or assist. But I also feel there are more things I can do, such as moving players and calming the game. I don’t know if that’s what I’m looking for, but my range of play has expanded. I was able to calm down when I thought, ‘Don’t hurry’.
“I feel that I’ve been able to work in the defensive part. I think I was able to discover a new part of the game.”
In the absence of any future intervention from on high we’ll have to settle for Reo Hatate producing the goods through a combination of hard work and a willingness to learn.
It appears our January signing has both those attributes, and with time now afforded to him to rest a weary body and mind, next season we may be about to see a consistent Reo Hatate emerge, and the opposition looking to the heavens for a bit of help.
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