Tomoki Iwata - Come on down!

The stage is set for Iwata to finally make a meaningful contribution as Celtic look to reignite their title bid. The Japanese midfielder has been a bit player in his Celtic career so far but his time may finally have come to perform a solid service over the next 12 games and earn hero status in the process.

Iwata has featured in 10 games in all competitions this season for a total of 303 minutes. He has contributed one goal and one assist and his solitary strike came in an all-too-rare swashbuckling performance by Celtic in a 4-1 drubbing of Hearts at Tynecastle back in October of last year. The 26-year-old smashed the ball into the net with such aplomb that it fizzed off the bar and spun back into the net leaving Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark with no chance.

At the start of December, Iwata was starting to find a bit of rhythm and consistency as he started to feature more and more for Brendan Rodgers's side. An impressive five-minute cameo at McDiarmid Park where he helped set James Forrest up to set the seal on a 3-1 comeback victory in Perth on December 3 was rewarded with back-to-back starts against Hibernian and Kilmarnock. Celtic swatted the capital club aside 4-1, with Iwata showing up well over his first 90 minutes of the campaign, before the team succumbed for the second time this season to their Ayrshire nemesis at Rugby Park, going down 2-1 with the midfielder clocking up another valuable 76 minutes.

READ MORE: It's past time Tomoki Iwata gets a Celtic chance - Tony Haggerty

Back then Rodgers had this to say of Iwata: "Even the best teams need someone to win the ball and he does that. Tomo (Iwata) is very good in that respect and technically strong.

"He is efficient with the ball and aggressive. He recovers the ball well and allows the other guys to have that freedom in front. He is strong, good at counter-pressing and he’s brave. Even though he has not played so much, he has never thrown the towel in. His attitude has been first class, which is why I trust him.”

Rodgers then gave him the starting nod for the final Champions League group game against Feyenoord but it ended abruptly after just 19 minutes when he left the field injured. It could not have come at a worse time for both club and the player. Iwata had looked sharp and he must have certainly felt that he was going to enjoy an extended run in the side and cement one of the midfield berths as his own.

Celtic Way:

If it is one thing that Celtic have lacked this season in the midfield it is an enforcer type in the Victor Wanyama/Scott Brown mould. Iwata has shown that he can mix it and possesses a bit of a dig-and-bite in the engine room. Having returned to full fitness Iwata was on the bench for Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Kilmarnock. However, with Celtic getting completely overrun in the midfield area in the second half, the game appeared to be crying out for Iwata's skill set to come into the fray.

Rodgers failed to allow the Japanese player to enter the fray and protect the single-goal lead by shoring it all up. It seemed a baffling decision by the Northern Irishman then and even more bewildering now. Iwata has always looked composed in the defensive midfield role yet has struggled to get a look-in despite Rodgers giving chances to the likes of David Turnbull, Odin Thiago Holm and Paulo Bernardo before him.

Iwata is as steady as they come. He's a Ronseal midfielder. He does exactly what it says on the tin. Iwata does something that perhaps nobody else in the Celtic team does. He is a ball-winner who shunts it on to more creative players. Every team needs a Didier Deschamps aka 'The Water Carrier'. It's where he is at his best. He is comfortable in that position. Not only that he's bloody good at it to boot.

You do not go from being the J-League Player of the Year to not being able to get a game at Celtic in the space of 12 months. Far from it. Iwata has also shown that he can do it in Celtic's team. Right now, one would conjecture that he is one of the few players at Celtic who possesses the game intelligence to know his function in the team and to carry it out to the letter of the law.

Surely Rodgers is the only one who as of yet is refusing to see the benefits of having Iwata in the Celtic midfield. Deploying Iwata in the Celtic team to play his traditional No.6 role would also free up the likes of Callum McGregor and Matt O'Riley to enable them to get further forward. The 51-year-old may even contemplate bringing in Paulo Bernardo to form a four-man midfield and leave Kyogo up front in his natural habitat to plunder goals with Adam Idah.

Currently, the Celtic's wingers whichever permutation Rodgers opts for are simply not producing the goods. The team needs to be refreshed and the recalibrate button has to be pressed. The reintroduction of Iwata could well be the answer for Rodgers and Celtic. He is a player who has deserved more opportunities than he has maybe been given in Glasgow thus far. He possesses the talent. Of that, there is no doubt.

There is an argument to say that Celtic have looked like a more robust and solid unit whenever he has featured. There is also another argument to say that Iwata should be in the team for that purpose alone as it is his natural game. His Celtic career has been stop/start to say the least and it has been blighted by injuries. That's not Iwata's fault but maybe...just maybe the next 12 games are the platform and stage upon which Rodgers can cut him loose and he can shine.

READ MORE: Can Celtic's Iwata unlock their midfield? - video debate

Back in January, Iwata posted this message: "Be better than I was yesterday in order to be stronger. Keep improving, Never stop. Break through." Iwata's moment for Celtic has finally arrived. Sunday at Fir Park against Motherwell beckons. Celtic badly needs a spark from somewhere. Restoring Iwata to help Celtic gain control of the midfield area in games is not the worst suggestion moving forward.

Surely even Rodgers can't continue to ignore a player who by his own admission is: a) aggressive, b) possesses a first-class attitude, c) is brave, d) is a good counter-presser, e) is trustworthy, f) has never thrown in the towel. That sounds like the kind of player who deserves to be the first name on the Celtic teamsheet for the next 12 games, doesn't it? Let's face it the next 12 games are going to be a dirty dozen, aren't they?

It's also six of the best reasons why it's finally time for the No.6 to come on down. The stage is set. Iwata's breakthrough time at Celtic has arrived. It is in the here and now and it starts on Sunday in North Lanarkshire.