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The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

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Latest Issue
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Kyogo Furuhashi Interview: Life at Celtic and Hopes for the World Cup

Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi speaks about his soccer beginnings, his first season in Glasgow and his World Cup ambitions

By Matthew Hernon

When Kyogo Furuhashi signed for Glasgow’s Celtic F.C. last summer, some suggested the former Vissel Kobe man might be too small and light for Scottish soccer. He soon proved them wrong. The 5ft 7in (170cm) striker opened his account for the club against FK Jablonec in the Europa League qualifying round, then followed that up with a 67-minute hat-trick against Dundee. Before an injury curtailed three months of his season at Christmas, he had 16 goals in all competitions for the team in green and white. 

“It’s a unique club with special fans,” the man known mononymously as Kyogo tells TW. “Getting those supporters off their feet when you hit the net; there’s no feeling like it. Before flying to Glasgow, Andrés (Iniesta) told me about the atmosphere when he played against Celtic for Barcelona. He said it was intimidating and I can see why, as it can get very loud. My old clubs, FC Gifu and Vissel Kobe were great, but this is on another level. It’s hard to put into words what it means to be here.” 

Kyogo quickly became a firm favorite with the fans at Celtic’s iconic stadium, Parkhead. They took to him, not just because of the goals or his movement off the ball, but his attitude as well. He puts a real shift in for the team before bowing to fans when coming off. He also plays with a smile on his face. This might be due to the fact that he almost never made it in the game, only making his professional debut at the age of 22. 

Bouncing Back

“I was ready to give up,” admits Kyogo. “I’d been playing [soccer] since I was five and did okay at student level. In my final year at university, I had trials at different teams but I couldn’t find a team. Fortunately, I had many supportive people around me, especially my parents who were brilliant. That helped me keep going and I eventually got my chance at Gifu.” 

The Nara Prefecture-native spent a year and a half at the J2 side before earning a transfer to the top flight, joining Vissel Kobe in August 2018. Three months earlier, the ambitious Rakuten-owned club signed Spanish midfield maestro Iniesta, scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final. Germany’s Lukas Podolski was already there and later that year, a third World Cup winner, Spain’s David Villa, arrived. 

“Training was fun,” says Kyogo with a smile. “I learned something new every day, not just from the foreign players but everyone there. Being part of such a strong squad helped elevate my game. It was an exciting time. Growing up, Ronaldinho was my hero so I often saw Barcelona. And then, suddenly, I was playing alongside these guys I watched on television. That’s something I’ll always treasure.” 

If Kyogo was overawed by the stars at Kobe, he didn’t show it. The energetic forward became Kobe’s most potent attacking threat and was soon attracting interest from abroad. In the summer of 2019, he received offers from Dutch clubs, AZ Alkmaar and FC Groningen, but turned them both down. He went on to help Kobe win the Emperor’s Cup on the first day of 2020. It was their maiden trophy. 

Going Green (And White)

The nimble forward continued to improve, hitting 17 goals in all competitions in the 2020 season and followed that up with another 16 in the first half of the next campaign. It was then that Celtic came calling. The first British team to win the European Cup, he was joining a club with an illustrious history and a huge, global fanbase. The fact that compatriot Shunsuke Nakamura had been such a success there in the past added to the pressure. 

“Kyogo absolutely has the talent to play in Europe,” was Iniesta’s take on the transfer. Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou agreed. The Australian was tasked with revitalizing the Hoops after a disastrous 2020/21 season in which they finished 25 points behind rivals Rangers. He took the helm at the Glaswegian club a month prior to Kyogo’s arrival. A title winner in the J-League with Yokohama F. Marinos, he knew all about the Japanese man’s qualities. 

“It gave me confidence knowing he’d watched me play and felt I was the right fit for his team,” says Kyogo. “He’s a top-class coach and all the players here are benefiting from his ideas. Of course, there are times when he’s strict, but he’s also very complimentary when you do well. I think he strikes a good balance in that sense. I’ve got real respect for him.”

Cup Final Hero 

That respect is clearly reciprocated. “He’s a brilliant player, but a great person too,” said Postecoglou after Celtic defeated Hibernian 2-1 in the Scottish League Cup final last December. “He was so determined to get out there today and help the boys. He wasn’t 100 percent [fit]. I don’t know how he did it to be honest.” Kyogo’s two brilliantly taken goals handed the Aussie coach his first trophy at Celtic. 

“The club didn’t win anything the previous season, so there was pressure going into that game,” recalls Kyogo. “In the end it was a fantastic occasion. Lifting the cup and celebrating with my teammates was very special. When I arrived in Scotland, I was concerned about communicating with them as I didn’t speak English. They were all so welcoming and there’s real camaraderie. It helps that we’re doing well on the pitch.” 

According to Kyogo, his English has improved to what he describes as a “so-so” level. He also now has more of an opportunity to speak his native tongue after he was joined at the club by fellow countrymen, Yosuke Ideguchi, Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate in January. While Ideguchi has struggled for playing time, the energetic Maeda and Hatate, who bagged a brace in his first-ever Old Firm derby, have proved popular with the Parkhead faithful. 

Timely Return 

Unfortunately, Kyogo hasn’t featured alongside his compatriots much due to a hamstring injury sustained on Boxing Day last year which put him out of action for over three months. He finally returned on April 10, coming off the bench against St. Johnstone. Celtic scored seven goals in the game, yet the biggest cheer of the afternoon was for the arrival of the Japanese striker. As if he’d never been away, Kyogo went on to bag some crucial goals in the run-in as the Hoops secured their 52nd Scottish League title.

The 2022/23 season is due to be another big one for the 27-year-old attacker with Celtic set to play in the UEFA Champions League. Then there’s the World Cup coming up in November. Japan have been drawn in a difficult group with 2010 champions Spain, four-time winners Germany and the victors of the play-off between New Zealand and Costa Rica. Kyogo, who’s scored three goals in 12 games for the national side, is aiming to be part of Hajime Moriyasu’s plans for the tournament in Qatar. 

“My first goal is to be on the plane and then get picked to start,” says Kyogo. “Nothing’s guaranteed until the squad has been chosen, though. In the meantime, I just have to show I’m good enough by giving everything I’ve got to help Celtic.”