Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou is convinced Reo Hatate has several more levels of performance to attain following his recent improvement.
The Japanese midfielder has been named cinch Premiership Player of the Month after an impressive run of form in February.
Hatate scored consecutive doubles against St Mirren in the Scottish Cup and Aberdeen in the league and set up two goals, including the decisive one in Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final against Rangers.
Six of Hatate’s eight goals this season have come since the World Cup break and Postecoglou feels his performances will continue to improve.
“He is very determined to be the best footballer he can be,” said the Celtic manager, whose team face St Mirren in Paisley on Sunday.
“He’s not on his own though, this whole group has those characteristics and that helps someone like Reo because he is coming into an environment that suits that mindset.
“Sometimes you can have that mindset bit go into an environment that doesn’t allow that to nourish. But here he has walked into an environment where he has got like-minded people around him who also want to be the best they can be, who are very ambitious. The group collectively is very ambitious, the coaching staff is ambitious, and so for guys like Reo they can thrive within that.
“It’s fair to say that when he arrived here last year in January, he made an impact straight away, but there’s no doubt the first six months was going to be tough for him, coming off a J-League season.
“But this year after a good pre-season he has been really strong all year, and he has found another level since the World Cup break.
“My belief is there is another couple of levels in him at least and, knowing Reo and his mindset, he will definitely get there.”
Hatate had targeted more goals and assists following talks with Postecoglou midway through this season and the manager believes his success in that regard has been a triumph for hard work.
“He is just constantly working on aspects of his game that he thinks he needs to, and the feedback we give him,” the former Australia head coach said.
“Whatever that feedback is, he will take that on board and go and work on it in training.
“There is no magic formula here. It’s not about flicking a switch, it’s just about hard work and he is prepared to put that hard work in, and also understand and receive the feedback in the right way.
“Sometimes you give players feedback and they don’t really address the areas they need to address because sometimes it’s easier to fall back on what you are already good at. But he is constantly looking at what gaps there might be in his game and our role is to give him the right kind of feedback to go and work at it, and he goes and works at it.
“He just works really hard at it and has a real focus around it. That’s why I think, whatever level he reaches by the end of this year, he will come back in pre-season looking to take his game to the next level. Our role within that is to guide him in the right way.”
The former Kawasaki Frontale player vowed to raise his game after missing out on Japan’s World Cup squad and is sure there is room for improvement. .
Hatate said: “I think I can bring myself to another level. I will work hard and try my best. I’m a player that makes a difference in the final third and that’s the key for the team as well so I want to make a good number in terms of goals and assists.
“In terms of the mentality, I have improved a lot, I have become much stronger in terms of mentality since coming to Scotland.
“I really enjoy working under Ange Postecoglou. He is always giving me a challenge every single game so that brings me to an even higher level of football.”