“A cover player for the squad,” Brendan Rodgers on Tomoki Iwata

Brendan Rodgers described Tomoki Iwata as a cover player in his Celtic squad but promised the Japanese holding midfielder that there is always an opportunity to force his way into his team at Celtic.

Tomoki’s main barrier to that happening is of course the competition for places within the squad and he’s up against Celtic captain Callum McGregor in that holding ‘no.6’ role in the current Celtic side. Of course McGregor, who is currently on the sidelines with an injury issue, can play further forward in the advanced midfield role that is his more natural position.

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

Champions League 

And Rodgers admits that there’s an option of playing both Tomoki and Calmac in a defensive midfield role but that would mean a change in system. Thinking back to the three Champions League defeats away from home earlier this season, that surely is something that the Celtic manager should be considering for next season.

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

At the weekend, while 3-0 up, Brendan Rodgers substituted Cameron Carter-Vickers. That was to protect the American defender who has just returned from his latest injury lay-off in a stop start season for Celtic’s Big Strong Man. Rodgers however didn’t replace like-for-like and he had the rather unfortunate Gustaf Lagerbielke on his bench. Instead he brought on a midfielder and pushed Tomoki Iwata into the back four.

Ange Postecoglou

As Ange Postecoglou found out last season that doesn’t work and St Johnstone grabbed their consolation before Rodgers quickly rectified his mistake. A failed experiment with no hard down, except of course to the goal difference.

You can understand the Celtic manager’s logic though.  He wanted to see if Tomoki Iwata could also play as defensive cover for the central defenders.  And he got a clear but negative answer to that one.

Tomoki Iwata of Celtic walks into the stadium. Celtic v St Johnstone, Cinch Scottish Premiership, Football, Celtic Park, Glasgow, UK – 16 Mar 2024. Photo Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock

“With any player, it’s about getting a run in the team. He’s come in and done well in games when we have either moved Callum up or he hasn’t been available,” Rodgers explained at the weekend, as reported by Daily Record.

“That’s what he has been, a cover player for the squad. He’s done a really good job when he has come in. I’ve been really pleased with Tomo.”

More than a cover player?

Celtic’s Daizen Maeda R celebrates with teammate and compatriot Tomoki Iwata after completing a hat-trick in the second half of a Scottish Cup football match against Livingston, on March 10, 2024.

“There’s that opportunity there for every player. I can’t play both him and Callum as controllers. Well, I could do, if I switched the system. But he is definitely an important member of the squad.

“Not everyone can be a starter all the time. There are a number of players who do that. But in terms of the impact he has made, I’ve been really pleased because he has struggled with bits of injury on and off this season. He would have played more games if he had been fit.

“There were periods when he was going to play in some of the Champions League games but he wasn’t quite ready. I’m just pleased he’s done well when he’s come in.”

Callum McGregor 

The Celtic midfield next season could look significantly different to this campaign with Matt O’Riley likely to be the subject of interest this summer. And that could result in Callum McGregor pushing forward out of necessity.

Celtic will be happy enough to sell if their valuation is met and with another £25m in the transfer kitty (no laughing at the back) Brendan Rodgers should be funded as he looks at strengthening his squad.

What is clear is that Tomoki Iwata is clearly worthy of his place in the Celtic midfield and is also a popular player amongst the Celtic support.  Long may it continue.



Tags Brendan Rodgers Callum McGregor Celtic news Celtic Shorts Gustaf Lagerbielke Latest Celtic news Matt O'Riley Tomoki Iwata
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