Mizuno: I'll step into Naka's boots

Last updated : 20 April 2009 By Mikbhoy

Since moving to Glasgow from JEF United last January Koki Mizuno has settled in well both on and off the field and it's thanks to his countryman, friend and mentor Shunsuke Nakamura that his transition from the J-League to the SPL has been so smooth.

If Shunsuke returns home this summer, as many expect him to, then he will be a great loss to Koki but it's also possible that he may be doing his protégé one last, huge, favour. "If Naka goes it could be a chance for me to get into the team," said Mizuno. "I always try to take chances when they come along. That might be a chance for me. All I can do at the moment is show the manager what I can do in training and try to gain his confidence."

"Naka has been a big influence on me in my time here." he said "If he does leave then, of course, I will miss him both as a player and as a fellow Japanese person. A football player like Naka is very big in Japan. Everyone there knows about Celtic. He's like Beckham, even people who don't know about football know who he is. If Naka stays here beyond this season then it will be great for the club and great for me as well. But you can never tell what is going to happen in football or in life."

Mizuno already benefitted when an injury to Nakamura back in December led to the young Japanese international starting his first Glasgow derby at Ibrox just a week after his first ever start for the top team. "When I was told Naka couldn't play that day I thought 'I might get a chance here.' But when I heard from the manager that I would play I was still surprised."

He knows that he didn't do himself justice the day that a stunning Scott McDonald strike was enough to take all three points from the home of the cash-strapped south side club but the experience taught him much about the level he needs to aspire to if he's to succeed at Celtic Park. "In terms of the atmosphere, I felt calm," said Mizuno. "But I couldn't give 100% of what I have in the match because it was quite physical, but if I get the chance again I think I will do better. Afterwards, I realised that I needed to work on lots of things in my game. But the most important thing was the team getting three points to win the match."

"When I came here I was quite worried if I could get into the team or not. But the manager told me I would need time to settle. He was right." said the midfielder. "But I have played more games than last year and that has given me confidence. The experience I have gained from the matches has been useful and now I want to use that experience."

It may be unlikely but another avenue into a first-team berth for the young Japanese player might come via the forward line. Gordon Strachan thinks that Mizuno has the potential to play up front and the manager has experimented by playing him as a forward in Lennoxtown training sessions and in some reserve matches. "I have played as a striker quite a few times in training and for the reserves." said Celtic's number 29. "In training I sometimes play as a striker and I have come up against Glenn Loovens. He is quite a big guy and that has been a good experience for me. If the manager wants me to play as a striker then I will give my best."