This article was first published in Champions Journal. Read the original article here.
Words Alex O’Henley and Chris Burke
Read the full version of this article in issue 13 of Champions Journal. Buy your copy here.
Hampden Park, 19 December 2021: the day Kyogo Furuhashi cemented his place in the hearts and minds of the Celtic support. The Japan striker had been an injury doubt leading up to the Scottish League Cup final against Hibernian but surprisingly made Ange Postecoglou’s starting XI. Kyogo had already endeared himself to the Hoops support with some stellar early-season feats, including a hat-trick on his home debut against Dundee – but goals that win trophies are the real currency the Celtic faithful trade in. And so it proved that afternoon as Kyogo served up a majestic cup-winning double, the second a delicious lob over the advancing Matt Macey to seal his first trophy as a Celtic player.
Welcome to instant hero status. Not even the dank skies above the south side of Glasgow could dim the forward’s beaming smile out on the Hampden turf. For those jumping off their seats, meanwhile, memories were stirred of another goal-hungry club servant, a Celtic legend with his own knack for the spectacular. Kyogo’s touch, speed, movement and finishing bear the hallmarks of a genuine talent, and for many supporters he is the best striker they have seen since Henrik Larsson, the ‘Super Swede’ who racked up 242 goals in seven seasons between 1997 and 2004.
“That is so flattering,” says Kyogo when the comparison is put to him. This may be just his second season at Celtic Park, but the 27-year-old has been catching up on club history. “Of course, I am happy to be compared to Henrik Larsson. However, he and I are different players. I’m going to keep playing my own style of football and scoring more goals so that many people will know my name.”
Millions already do. Snapped up from Vissel Kobe in summer 2021, Kyogo was advised that Celtic would be a good fit by one of football’s all-time greats: his former Vissel team-mate Andrés Iniesta. “Playing with him on a daily basis, my desire to play overseas became stronger,” says Kyogo, his face wreathed in smiles at the mere mention of the Spanish icon, whose respect for Celtic matchnights was born during his Barcelona heyday. “Celtic Park is a great stadium, the supporters are all so enthusiastic and it’s one of the top stadiums in the world. I was told I would enjoy playing here.”
Kyogo’s profile is also boosted by his voracious work ethic, even to the point where he has been seen picking up litter from the side of the pitch at the end of matches. And then there’s his infectious appetite for the game and sense of fun, which is best encapsulated by his regular goal celebration: hands joined together to form a triangle above his head. As Kyogo explains it, the gesture was dreamt up to represent a fungus, all because a friend once made a joke about his sprawling mop top. “My hair is a mushroom” he says, smiling.
If the Celtic marksman does not take himself too seriously, opposition defenders clearly do. Despite missing four months of action through injury around the turn of the year, Kyogo still managed to find the back of the net 20 times in all competitions last season, helping the Hoops reclaim the Scottish title after that League Cup triumph against Hibs. He announced himself to Europe last season too, not least thanks to his slick control and finish against Ferencváros in the Europa League, a goal voted as the best of the competition’s group stage.
Hence the whispers of Larsson’s name. But just as tempting are comparisons to another club icon: Shunsuke Nakamura, Celtic’s original star from the East. With the Glasgow giants having taken part in the Champions League again this season after a four-year absence, fans have cast their minds back to Nakamura’s sumptuous free-kick against Sir Alex Ferguson’s star-studded Manchester United at Celtic Park in November 2006, a swerving, left-footed masterpiece that sent the hosts through to the knockout stage for the first time.
Kyogo was just 11 at the time but – as with Larsson – this is club lore he has already swotted up on. “I’ve seen this on YouTube as an adult and just watching it makes me feel excited,” he says when Champions Journal fires up the video. “The direction and speed are absolutely perfect. I’ll never get bored of watching it. The fans have their hands on their heads. ‘What?’ There’s just no way of stopping that strike, [and to produce it] in this amazing atmosphere, against this fantastic opponent – it’s simply perfect.”
One man who had an even better view of that memorable free-kick is current Celtic captain Callum McGregor. He was a ball boy that night and a young fan of Nakamura’s set-piece skills. “I was actually sat next to the dugout as that goal went in,” he tells us. “You can just see both sets of staff: one, absolute elation, and the other one thinking, ‘How did that go in?’ Naka could deliver those sorts of moments. His dead-ball situation was absolutely second to none and he would produce that on a regular basis.”
For Kyogo, the former Japan midfielder was an inspiration – and a trailblazer. “Japanese players like Shunsuke and Koki Mizuno flourished at this club,” he says. “This helped to create the image in many supporters’ minds that Japanese players are impressive.”
You can read the rest of this article in issue 13 of Champions Journal. Buy your copy here.