“You have to be smart and I have to improve the speed of decision-making,” Tomoki Iwata

Tomoki Iwata has been somewhat of a slow-burner at Celtic Park. When he arrived on these shores after just winning MVP in the J-League, many expected big things from the midfielder and occasional defender.

Used sparingly by Ange Postecoglou in his last six months in the dugout at Celtic, he was mostly utilised in a back four and looked ropey on a few occasions.

With obvious talent, perhaps the thing that held the player back most was his lack of a more physical edge to get into that engine room. After all, he had Callum McGregor, Aaron Mooy, Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley, who also found it hard to keep a consistent place in the team at that point. Tomoki, as a result, had time to go away from the park and get himself in a more adequate physical condition to cope with life in his new surroundings.

That’s just what the former Yokohama F. Marinos did, and with the chance of fresh life and opportunity under a new manager, Tomoki decided to put himself in the best position possible. Unfortunately for the Japanese star, an ankle injury really stunted his momentum and meant that he would have to wait once again for a regular run-out in that sitting-midfield berth for the Hoops. However, with numerous injuries to our high-profile starts Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate, Iwata has found himself living up to that promise he had when we first signed him.

Celtic v St. Johnstone – Brendan Rodgers speaks with Tomoki Iwata following during the Premiership match at Celtic Park,  Saturday March 16, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Speaking about his wait for an opportunity in this Celtic side and the injury which hampered his progress, the impressive midfielder said to Celtic View: “I was not involved in too many games in the first half of the season and I was frustrated about that. I got a chance to play a few games but I got an ankle injury around the second or third game.

“I finally made it back last month (February) but it hasn’t been the season I wanted it to be. Even though I couldn’t play, I still had some chance to watch the other players around me. It was an opportunity to observe and learn how they play and, without such time, it would be difficult to pay attention to such areas.”

Celtic v St. Johnstone –  Tomoki Iwata in action against St Johnstone s Sven Sprangler during the Premiership match at Celtic Park on Saturday March 16, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

His personal training regime has seen him bulk up for thr rigours and rough and tumble nature of his new environment, and he revealed: “Since I came here, I’ve been doing a lot of physical training but this season I’ve been focusing more on how I can actually use my strength in games. I have been paying more attention to my physical condition and to be in the best shape to play. I think there have been a few changes, like maybe a little bit more control over the volume of workouts. So I think overall there was a change from last season.

“I’m getting the best out of myself in terms of duelling and one-on-one situations with my opponents. But sometimes you can’t beat them physically in an aerial duel or when it comes to pure physical strength. You have to be smart and I have to improve the speed of decision-making on how to deal with the situation. Furthermore, as I said earlier, I want to be more involved in the attack so the challenge for the coming games is to continue to play in a way that allows me to be more involved in goals.”

Tomoki Iwata C is seen in action during the Scottish Premiership football match against Hibernian on Dec. 6, 2023.

Despite screening that Celtic defence in the absence of his captain, Callum McGregor, our number 24 is keen to help the team with goals and assists moving forward. “I always think about the part of my game where I’m involved in scoring. It’s one of my strengths to read and stop opposition attacks from defence, but I want to show that I can also get involved goals on top of that, so I was happy that I could show that in the Livingston game and I want to continue that every game. It’s important to continue to improve my performances and if I have a chance to play, I want to be the player who can contribute to winning matches.”

UEFA Champions League Celtic s Tomoki Iwata against Feyenoord on Sept. 19, 2023, in Rotterdam

He continued: “I want to be more involved in goal contributions – that is going to be important for me. If I have the opportunity to play in the coming matches, I will focus on the results and on showing how I can improve in each match. As a team, I think it is very important for us to focus on one game at a time and win matches together. If we can improve the quality of each performance and improve game by game, I believe we can ultimately end the season the way we want to.”

Paul Gillespie

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About Author

I'm a Garngad Bhoy through and through. My first ever Celtic game was a friendly against Italian side Parma at Celtic Park, in 2002. Currently a student of English Literature and Education at the University of Strathclyde for my sins. Favourite game would be a toss up between beating Manchester United with that Naka freekick, or the game against the Oldco when Hesselink scored in the dying seconds. I'm still convinced Cal Mac is wasted playing that far back.

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