Marseille's Japanese international Hiroki Sakai explains reason for Marseille move - and Celtic snub

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers  looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Celtic and Paris Saint Germain at Celtic Park on September 12, 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Celtic wanted to sign Hiroki Sakai from Bundesliga club Hannover in 2016 - but he chose Ligue 1 giants Marseille instead.

Brendan Rodgers manager of Liverpool looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 4, 2015 in Liverpool, England.

Brendan Rodgers made signing a new right-back one of his top priorities when he took over Celtic in the summer of 2016. However, it’s fair to say the addition of former West Brom flyer Cristian Gamboa has not exactly lived up to expectations.

The Costa Rica international started just 13 Scottish Premiership games last season as he failed to displace Mikael Lustig and has not been seen so far in 2017/18.


Marseille's defender Sakai Hiroki kicks the ball during the French L1 football match Toulouse vs Marseille on April 9, 2017 at the Municipal Stadium in Toulouse, southern France.

However, it appears that Gamboa was not Rodgers’ first-choice. Because Marseille right-back Hiroki Sakai has admitted to France Football (September edition, page 10) that he had an offer to swap Hannover for Parkhead – only for Japanese national coach Vahid Halilhodzic to push him in the direction of the 1993 European Champions.

“I had three offers,” Sakai told the magazine, referring to Celtic, Ajax and Marseille. “Halilhodzic told me Marseille was a good club but it was hard to stand out there.”

“Since that’s what I wanted, I chose to come here. I think he’s happy that I’m in France.”

Fahad Al Muwallad of Saudi Arabia controls the ball under pressure of Hiroki Sakai of Japan during the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Saudi Arabia and Japan at the King Abdullah...

What could've been?

Whether the 27-year-old shares the same view, however, is open for debate. Sakai was a regular in Ligue 1 last season, making 35 appearances, but it doesn’t look like Marseille will be challenging at the top of the table any time soon.

Challenging for the top three and Champions League qualification appears to be the limit for a side who were thrashed 6-1 by Monaco two weeks ago.

Celtic, however, completed an undefeated domestic treble last season and played Champions League football against PSG two days before Marseille scrapped to a 1-0 Europa League win against Konyaspor in the week just gone.

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