Two Scottish Premiership starts and as many goals for Celtic’s new star Daizen Maeda.
Like countryman Kyogo Furuhashi before him, Maeda has hit the ground running at Parkhead since his January arrival from Japanese outfit Yokohama F.Marinos.
Reunited with the man who brought him to F.Marinos, Maeda has made a swift transition from life in Yokohama to Glasgow, scoring in both of his league starts under manager Ange Postecoglou, including Sunday’s 4-0 rout of Motherwell.
Maeda arrived in Scotland amid much fanfare after earning a share of last season’s J1 League Golden Boot with 23 goals, while his sprint numbers raised the most eyebrows.
With pace to burn and the ability to play on the flank or through the middle, Maeda tallied the most sprints across Japan’s top flight in 2021 (1,457), well ahead of Consadole Sapporo’s Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (869).
Shaun Ontong was part of Postecoglou’s coaching staff when the Australian brought Maeda to F.Marinos, initially on loan in 2020, after a brief spell in Europe via Portuguese club Maritimo.
As Maeda takes league-leading Celtic by storm, F.Marinos assistant Ontong warned there is more to come from the 24-year-old Japan international.
Speaking to KEEPUP, the Australian coach and former A-Leagues midfielder said: “His physical attributes straight away would impress anyone.
“It’s not just his speed but what impresses me so much physically with Daizen is his ability to repeat speeds, repeat sprints. A lot of quick players can make one quick burst and then they need time to recover and go again. His ability to do that and do it again, again and even in the 80th, 90th minute he is still doing it. It’s just incredible.
“Daizen took a little bit of time like most players coming into the environment to adapt. But he really embraced it. When Ange had the ability to let him off the leash and go and press, score goals. He put that belief into him and he really embraced it. You could see his true character come into play. I think this style of football, it just suits his game so much.
“He has a next level in him. He always had a hunger to learn. Great character. Even before, last year, he was studying English. He would practice with me sometimes. You always knew he had ambitions again to go. You see that a lot with some of the Japanese boys. Which ones are learning English, they are thinking next step for them.”
Maeda was part of a trio of Japanese players who were brought to the club by Postecoglou, hot on the heels of Kyogo’s success following his switch from J1 side Vissel Kobe at the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
January recruits Maeda and Reo Hatate have made huge impacts, while Yosuke Ideguchi has also impressed, further justifying Postecoglou’s raid on Japanese football, given his knowledge of the league and country.
While F.Marinos and their fans continue to hold Postecoglou to a high regard, after ending the club’s title drought in 2019 with an entertaining and high-octane brand of football, the Australian has a whole new wave of support with the entire nation now firmly in his corner.
That is because Postecoglou has thrust Japanese football into the spotlight with the signing of not only F.Marinos star Maeda but Hatate from J1 champions Kawasaki Frontale, Ideguchi from Gamba Osaka and Kyogo from Vissel.
There are more just like the quartet as rival clubs look to mirror Celtic’s strategy, with Ontong highlighting the quality throughout the Asian country.
“You couldn’t be prouder as a club for Daizen, knowing the kind of character he is. Everyone here is. They do get behind the boys. Even Ange, around here, now Japan because he hasn’t just brought in Marinos players, it’s amazing how proud they are as a nation of what he is doing. How the Japanese boys have gone,” Ontong said as runners-up F.Marinos prepare for their 2022 season opener against Cerezo Osaka on February 19.
Ontong added: “The Japanese level of player is exceptional. You can see in a lot of teams.
“Places like where I’ve worked in India, they heavily rely on foreigners, either to win you matches or to be the core of the squad throughout. You’ll see it in many games here, foreigners on the bench. It’s not relied on foreigners to come in and improve quality. Of course there’s some good foreigners here, we have good foreigners in our team. But there isn’t a reliance, it doesn’t all fall onto that.
“I can’t speak more highly of the Japanese players. Technically, work ethic, their samurai mentality. All the time, we’re looking at how to pull these guys back because they want more and more. They’ll stay out there all day if you allow them to, to work on their game. Incredible mentality, technique and tactically in games. They are great players. I speak about them very highly.
“I see the guys Ange has brought in and to be honest there’s many more that can make the next level.”