By Ryan McGinlay
New Celtic defender Yuki Kobayashi is the latest in a growing list of defenders to make the move from his native Japan to European football, but the 22-year-old sees his transfer as a great opportunity to shine a light on the ever-improving quality of Japanese football, and defenders in particular.
Kobayashi, whose contract with former club Vissel Kobe was up at the end of the J-League season, signed a five-year deal with the Glasgow club, becoming the first January signing for Ange Postecoglou, as his side looks to retain the Scottish Premiership for the second year in a row.
The highly-rated centre-back, who has been capped internationally at Japan U20 level, is impressed at the amount of knowledge that European clubs and supporters have of his countrymen plying their trade overseas, such as Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu and Borussia Monchengladbach stopper Ko Itakura.
He said: “I think it is positive that a lot of people think they are playing very well in Europe.
“I think the value of Japanese defenders is increasing, so I would like to show my quality in order to improve the valuation of Japanese defenders as well.”
Kobayashi made a total of 78 appearances for Vissel Kobe in all competitions, playing alongside renowned names such as Andres Iniesta, Thomas Vermaelen and Lukas Podolski for the J1 League side. He spent time on loan at Machida Zelvia in the J2 League, as well as gaining top-level experience at Yokohama FC in the J1 League before becoming a mainstay in the Vissel Kobe back-line.
He even played alongside Celtic cult hero Shunsuke Nakamura during his time at Yokohama FC, with the former Celtic midfielder assisting Kobayashi to score his first professional goal in senior football during his time on loan in 2020.
The young defender will be looking to break into the Japanese National Team, especially after his country’s exploits at this year’s World Cup. The ‘Samurai Blue’ made it to the last 16 of the competition, defeating heavyweights Germany and Spain to top their group, before narrowly losing out to Croatia on penalties after drawing 0-0 in 120 minutes.
He becomes the fifth Japanese player signed under Australian manager Postecoglou, following in the footsteps of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi, who all arrived thanks to catching the eye of the former Yokohama F. Marinos manager in his time in charge of the Japanese side.
Celtic’s new recruit has a familiar face in the dressing room to help him acclimate to his new surroundings, however, with the aforementioned Kyogo a former teammate of his at former club Vissel Kobe. The two have wasted no time in catching up, with the pair getting into the festive spirit at Glasgow’s Christmas markets, judging by Kobayashi’s Instagram account.
Hoops fans will not have to wait long to see Yuki Kobayashi in action, with the new defender being available for official registration on the 1st of January 2023, ahead of Celtic’s seismic clash against Rangers at Ibrox the following day.
Categories: Sports Journalism