Favourite to be crowned the best player in Scotland, Kyogo Furuhashi maintains he wasn’t even the top man at his university.

From signing for J2 League club Gifu in 2017, to drawing comparisons with a handful of Celtic’s greatest-ever strikers, it has been quite the journey. The 28-year-old started out in the humble surroundings of Chuo University and was made to work hard for an opportunity in Japan’s top-flight. You do wonder if he ever pinches himself at the thought of now being a Champions League footballer, not to mention a genuine hero in Glasgow’s east end.

30 goals for the season have earned the Japanese forward a nomination for PFA Scotland Player of the Year alongside Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate and Motherwell’s Kevin van Veen – for whom Kyogo voted for. Ever-gracious, the forward emphasised the contribution of his Celtic team-mates in helping elevate him to a prolific campaign, one which could still conclude with all three of Scottish football’s major trophies.

Not bad for a kid who seemed to consider himself a bit of an also-ran in his early days.

“Not at all,” Kyogo replied when asked if he was the best player at Chuo. “So, I have experienced a lot of things and through this experience I have learned a lot and met a lot of people and that brings me to where I am right now. It was all worth it. I have a career and hopefully I can enjoy the rest of it as well.

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“I’m very happy because there are a lot of good players in this league. So being nominated is a big honour for me.

“Being recognised as a good player is a big honour, as I’ve said before, but still I need to improve some parts of my game to be a better footballer. So I have to work hard. 

“I wish all the players could be nominated but it’s only one person who gets the award. 

“I’m happy for that. This is because of all my colleagues’ support so I’m happy for them as well.  

“There have been a lot of good games and tough games. But in general, as the manager mentioned, we wanted to try and achieve more than last season by winning the cup and the league. Now we are doing well compared with last season.

“As I always say, the goals are because of everyone’s support and the fact they are running to get the ball and are trying to supply me with it where I want to score the goals. 

“It’s a credit to them. At the same time, I didn’t manage to score from some situations which I should have scored from.”

It’s a classic striker’s comment – no matter how high their tally has soared, there could always have been more goals, and Kyogo is no different.

“Yes, definitely [there could have been more goals],” he said. “My first target was the 20 goals because that’s what I got last season and then after that 25 and then 30. So the number increased. 

“It’s always a situation either when I’ve scored or failed or even before in the build up, as a footballer and a human being, all the time I want to improve. 

“My favourite goal was at home against St Mirren in the first game – a chip.”

Comparisons with Henrik Larsson, in terms of overall quality, remain premature, but there are few players who have connected with the Celtic support in the way Kyogo has. Scoring goals at a rapid rate of knots helps, of course, but the player’s willingness to embrace his surroundings from the moment he arrived in summer 2021 suggests a real appreciation of where he has ended up, especially considering those humble beginnings.

That connection was abundantly clear once again as supporters turned out in droves to greet the Celtic players at Parkhead after Sunday’s title triumph at Tynecastle, with Kyogo leading the celebrations.

“Our job is to see the supporters’ smiles,” Kyogo said. “That is what we play the game for and that’s why we want the win. We want to see the supporters with smiles on their faces is great to see all the time and recently we can dance together and that is uniting us and I am very happy about that. It was just fantastic [to see so many at Celtic Park].”

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That being said, he’s not having suggestions that he is fans’ absolute favourite these days.

“There are are good players and famous players so I don’t agree with that,” Kyogo said. “But I am happy to be one of them!”

Having already been crowned Premiership winners for the second season running, Ange Postecoglou and his squad will head for Ibrox on Saturday safe in the knowledge their league objective has already been achieved. Celtic have left Rangers 13 points in their wake this term, and will look to this weekend’s sixth and final derby of the campaign with the chance to finish it unbeaten against their great rivals.

Although there is nothing on the line in terms of league points, these matches never dull in significance for supporters. It took Kyogo a while to find the net in this fixture, but since rescuing a draw for his team away from home back in January, he has since added a further four – including decisive doubles in the Viaplay Cup final and in April’s Premiership encounter, a Celtic victory that all-but confirmed their status as champions.

“I think as a team and as individuals we have more confidence compared to the beginning,” Kyogo said. “What we are working on with the continuity, we got the results and that has helped us as well. That is the big factor. I feel that from the atmosphere in the stadium. It is totally different from the other games because it is a derby.”