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Paddy McCourt: I haven’t been as excited about a Celtic player in years, and Kyogo could be worth £25-30m in no time

© Rob Casey / SNS GroupCeltic's Kyogo Furuhashi
Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi

Celtic fans have always loved a crowd-pleaser.

In Kyogo Furuhashi, the Hoops faithful already believe they have a man to match the impact made his fellow Japanese Bhoy, Shunsuke Nakamura, back in the mid-noughties.

And Paddy McCourt, himself a huge favourite of the support when he played for the club, believes the 26-year-old striker – who hit a devastating hat-trick on his home Premiership debut against Dundee last Sunday – will wow them before earning the Parkhead outfit a huge profit in the transfer market.

Bought for £4-million from J-League side, Vissel Kobe, McCourt reckons it won’t be long before Furuhashi is on the radar of every top European side, and his value will soar towards £30m.

McCourt, who played with Nakamura at Celtic, said: “Shunsuke was a special player. I arrived in 2008, which was to be his final season.

“He had established himself as a top player, and I knew about him from afar. But when I got up close every day in training, I could see his talent was frightening.

“He worked hard every day in training, and then took that ethic on to the park with him on a matchday.

“Sometimes it looked as though he was hardly moving around. But then you would see the stats on a Monday morning for distance covered and number of sprints – and he was always ranked No. 1.

“Without fail, Naka covered a minimum of 12k per game. More often than not, it was 13k.

“He had terrific ability too, of course, and it was great to learn from him. His left foot was phenomenal.

“He had a knack of being able to find himself 10 yards of space at all times. That was all down to his awareness and intelligence. It wasn’t by accident.

Title-winning playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura © SNS Group
Title-winning playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura

“Off the park, Naka was quiet and unassuming. But he joined in with the boys when required. He could speak English and talked away fine.

“He became a Celtic hero, and it looks as though Kyogo Furuhashi has the ability to make a similar impact – if not an even greater one.

“I watched him closely in the first leg of the Europa League tie against Jablonec, almost as if I was preparing a scouting report. I was really impressed.

“The variation in his game is frightening.

“He can come short and take the ball into feet. He can stretch defences and work them hard. They never know what’s coming next from him.

“Kyogo can also go long. It’s very rare for a striker to be able to do all those things so effectively. His awareness and movement are also really good.

“It’s obvious the club has signed a breathtaking talent.

“I don’t think I’ve been as excited about a Celtic player, as I am about him, in a long, long time.

“The club bought him for around £4m. I’d say he’ll be worth in the region of £25-30m mark in less than two years.

“He’s at a good age, and his name is going to spread around Europe quite quickly.

“Credit to Ange Postecoglou. He clearly knew about the player from his own time managing in Japan, and told the club to go and get him.

“It shows the manager has an eye for talent, and also quickly identified exactly what was needed after working with the squad for a week or so.

“The board has backed him well so far in the transfer market, and need to continue to do so.

“It already looks as though things are really shaping up for an exciting title race, and there is no doubt that Celtic can win the league back again.

“That has to be the aim, for sure.”

Paddy McCourt in action against Rennes in 2012 © SNS Group
Paddy McCourt in action against Rennes in 2012

After today’s Premier Sports Cup clash at home to Hearts, Celtic will prepare for their Europa League play-off tie against AZ Alkmaar.

The Dutch side have been impressive for the past four or five seasons, and have brought through some brilliant footballers from their academy set-up.

McCourt knows how important group-stage football in Europe is to Celtic, and wants to see them emerge victorious.

His maverick style and off-the-cuff play made him a firm favourite with the Celtic supporters. He knew how to get them up off their seats.

Now director of football at Derry City, McCourt said: “I was fortunate to be involved in many great games for Celtic, and I suppose two European games really stand out for me.

“Top of the list is when we beat Barcelona 2-1 back in 2012. I was on the bench that night but it was still an exhilarating experience.

“That Barca side is one of the very best there’s ever been. They had Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Messi, all in their absolute prime.

“And, of course, they also had Pep Guardiola as manager.

“They were capable of destroying any side in the world, and just a year or two earlier, they had battered Manchester United at Wembley in the Champions League Final.

“But we beat them, and a lot of credit has to go to Neil Lennon and his backroom staff for that one.

“We worked hard on it all week and had a tactical plan.

“We knew we had to deny them space to play through the middle, and force them into wide areas whenever possible.

“In an attacking sense, we were going to have to rely on set-pieces, and we worked on one that led to Victor Wanyama scoring with a header from a corner kick.

“The plan came to fruition, then young Tony Watt got the second goal and the unimaginable was going to happen.

© Craig Williamson / SNS Group
Furuhashi is already a favourite of the Celtic support

“It was great to beat a team with Messi in it. He is now away from Barca and I still can’t believe it.

“I’d rather he moved to the MLS or back to Argentina rather than head for France.

“I didn’t want to see him playing for another club in Europe, and it’s hard to imagine him turning out for PSG.

“But it goes to show that things move on.

“I didn’t get on the pitch that night against Barca, but I did play in a Europa League game against Rennes at Celtic Park a year earlier, when we won 3-1.

“That was in 2011, and we scored through a double from Anthony Stokes and one from Gary Hooper.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that night. It will stay with me.

“Ange and the new players will now be keen to make their own mark on European football.

“The aim has to be to get past AZ Alkmaar and into the Europa League group stages. Sure, the Champions League would have been brilliant, but it wasn’t to be.

“It’s important for the football club to be participating in some form of European competition for as long as possible.

“It’s good for the players and, of course, for the club’s finances.”