Scottish champions Celtic may well be ruing their failure to bring Japan defender, Ko Itakura, to Parkhead, with the impressive centre-back having already made his mark for his country at the World Cup.
The 25-year-old has seemingly been a long-term target for the Old Firm outfit with reports back in the summer of 2021 – following Ange Postecoglou’s arrival at the helm – suggesting that the Hoops were keen on striking a deal for the 6 foot 2 sensation.
At the time, the Yokohama-born ace had just ended a two-and-a-half-year stint on loan at Dutch outfit, Groningen, having joined then-parent club Manchester City back in 2019 from J-League side Kawasaki Frontale.
As it proved, no move to Glasgow occurred as the 14-cap menace joined German giants Schalke on a loan deal, although there was again speculation regarding a potential swoop over the summer, with Sky Sports reporting that both Itakura – and fellow Etihad gem Taylor Harwood-Bellis – were on the radar of the Scottish Premiership side.
Again, Postecoglou and co were to be frustrated in their approach as the versatile ace – who can also operate in a defensive midfield berth – joined Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach on a £4.3m deal.
The £8.7m-rated gem – who was previously dubbed “one of the very best central defenders in the Eredivisie” by pundit Haans Kray during his time in the Netherlands – has since gone on to feature just six times this season in Germany, albeit with that impact having been inhibited due to injury.
Having shaken off that issue just in time to feature for his country in Qatar, Itakura went on to play a key role in the Asian nation’s remarkable comeback victory over 2014 champions Germany on Wednesday.
The Gladbach man offered a real rock-solid presence as his side helped to keep Hansi Flick’s men at bay, notably recording seven clearances and three tackles from his defensive berth, while also winning a solid three of his six ground duels.
The defender’s most notable contribution came in the closing stages to help his unfancied side clinch a shock result, having found teammate Takuma Asano with a lofted pass over the top to set the former Arsenal man on his way to scoring a memorable winner.
Unsurprisingly, that all-round performance saw Itakura record an impressive match rating of 7.2, as per SofaScore, while 90min’s Kyle Picknell wrote of his display that he was ‘composed on the ball and tenacious off it.’
Although Postecoglou’s side have only just strengthened their backline with the signing of Yuki Kobayashi, missing out on the 22-year-old’s compatriot will no doubt sting as far as the Bhoys are concerned.