THERE was, other than the Premier Sports Cup final triumph over Hibernian at Hampden last month, very little for those of a Celtic persuasion to cheer in 2021.

The past 12 months have been, what with the Dubai debacle, Neil Lennon departing as manager, Rangers ending their bid to complete 10-In-A-Row and Odsonne Edouard being sold, an annus horribilis for them and no mistake. 

But a wretched year finished on a huge high on Friday when the Parkhead club announced they had signed Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Daizen Maeda.

The prospect of the Japanese trio teaming up with their countryman Kyogo Furuhashi in Scotland in 2022 is an enticing one for fans. 

Furuhashi has been nothing short of a sensation since completing a £4.6m transfer to Celtic from Vissel Kobe in his homeland back in July; he has netted 16 times in all competitions and become a firm fans’ favourite.

It will be interesting seeing how he fares with three fellow players from the Land of the Rising Sun alongside him in the months ahead. Will they shine like Shunsuke Nakamura? Or will they struggle to make an impact like Koki Mizuno? The excitement is palpable.

Hatate, Ideguchi and Maeda promise, too, be the first of a few new arrivals in the East End during the transfer window.

Ange Postecoglou, who has had to put his faith in untried kids of late due to a lengthy injury list, is keen to strengthen his squad this month. He has been working tirelessly behind the scenes with his recruitment team identifying targets.   

Landing a number of them will lift supporters’ spirits, give them optimism that better times lie ahead and generate hope they can pip their city rivals to the cinch Premiership come May. 

But it was, as always, interesting listening to Postecoglou speak about his future plans last week and heartening to learn that he is, despite the pressure on him to land silverware, eager to keep promoting promising Scottish youngsters in his side going forward.

“It’s an important part of any club and of this club,” said the Greek-Australian coach. “Having players who were brought up with this club is a big thing. It’s a priority that we keep developing our own players.”

Postecoglou has been forced to hand game time to Joey Dawson, Ewan Henderson, Owen Moffat, Adam Montgomery, Dane Murray, Anthony Ralston and Stephen Welsh during the 2021/22 campaign because he has had a lack of options.

If Celtic are to reclaim their mantle as the dominant force in the country and do better in continental competition they need to be able to field established internationalists, not baby-faced teenagers with limited, in some cases non-existent, experience of the senior game, in every position.

Those who are currently pushing for a start must be of a sufficiently high standard to earn a start in the same side as Joe Hart, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Josip Juranovic. In the last six months many of them have got in by default.

That said, there are still definite advantages to be had both from giving kids who are impressing in the age-group teams the chance to show what they are capable of by giving them extended runs. There is also much to be said for retaining a Scottish identity.

James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney, who all came through the youth ranks, contributed enormously to the quadruple treble. The efforts of Stuart Armstrong, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, Craig Gordon, Leigh Griffiths and Greg Taylor during that unprecedented spell of success were vital too.

The presence of Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton, Dedryck Boyata, Edouard, Olivier Ntcham, Mikael Lustig, Tom Rogic and Scott Sinclair, to name just a handful, was kind of helpful as well.

Celtic supporters care not a jot about the race, religion or nationality of those who represent their team. Being able to perform at a high level on a weekly basis is all that matters to them. It is more important than knowing the names of all the Lisbon Lions or the words to The Fields of Athenry.

Still, having home-grown players, individuals who understand the culture, history and demands of the Glasgow club, remains key. Would they have won nine consecutive Scottish titles without Brown cajoling from the middle of the park? Would the summer signings have adapted so quickly without McGregor leading them?

It will be a shame if Henderson, Moffat, Montgomery, Ralston, Welsh and their contemporaries are denied the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, prove their worth and develop their undoubted talents further in the coming months.

Ralston and Welsh have certainly grasped their chances with both hands and shown they have much to contribute both at home and abroad. They add energy, enthusiasm and no little nous to Postecoglou’s side. They can help their foreign team mates to settle.

Scotland, who will bid to land a place at Qatar 2022 in March, have benefitted from having a number of their mainstays winning trophies and competing in the Champions League and Europa League with Celtic in the past.

It will be detrimental to the national team if fewer Scots are exposed to that level of competition.