It's difficult to imagine him anywhere else, but his sporting journey started in the swimming pool, not the penalty box.

There was a time where it seemed no one wanted to sign him, and when he even considered giving it all up. But as he stands lauded as the outstanding player in Scotland this season, it seems all of it combined to make Kyogo Furuhashi the player he is today.

The cinch Premiership, PFA Scotland, and now the Scottish Football Writers Association have named the Japanese forward as the best footballer in the country, and it’s little wonder why. Kyogo’s 33 goals have fired Celtic to the brink of a world record eighth domestic treble.

His strikes have already delivered the Viaplay Cup and the league trophy, now all that remains is to sink Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden in next week’s Scottish Cup final for the completion of a clean sweep.

Born in Ikoma in the north west of Japan, Kyogo was darting around the pool from almost about the time he could walk. But as he became aware of his surroundings, it was his peers playing a very different sport that began to catch his eye.

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“I was a swimmer from three years old,” he recalled. “But all the kids in the neighbourhood were playing football and I thought: ‘That’s cool’, so I started playing. Even at that age, I was in front of the goal all the time.

“Every time I received the ball, I’d just shoot and score goals. That was fun for me and it’s how I started playing football.

“I tried really hard at swimming, I tried to compete in national competitions.

“At such a young age, I just played football for my love of it. I enjoyed it.

“But when I got to high school, between 16 and 18, there was a professional footballer in my year.

“Two players came out of my school to be footballers. That’s when I thought, OK I maybe there’s a chance for me.

“Most of the time I played as a striker. At the high school, or after. Up until coming here I was playing winger then I started played striker often then I came over.

“But I used to play as full-back for the high school and that was a bit different.”

His route to stardom has been far from straightforward, and clubs were hardly queuing up to sign the striker after he graduated from Chuo University in Tokyo. It was almost the end of a dream, the prospects so bleak that he wondered if it was time to cast his boots aside and pursue something else entirely.

But then a little known club named FC Gifu came calling from Japan’s second-tier and, with the encouragement of his family, Kyogo kept going. He could have scarcely believed that within a few years he’d be rubbing shoulders with Andres Iniesta at Vissel Kobe in the J-League.

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“I was struggling at one point, no-one was really calling me to play for their club,” said Kyogo.

“When nobody called, I thought about giving up on my career. But luckily Gifu called me with a place on their team and that’s how I started. I’ve always appreciated that.

“My family were saying you try hard but you stop then you think you’re ok, that everyone supported me all the way through until here.

“Nothing is finished so why will I give up? These kinds of words triggered me and switched me on.
So then I thought why not keep trying until the end and see how it goes.

“If you play football everyone is trying to be a professional player. I talk to some friends who say what I’ve done is amazing.

“But even they work at a company or somewhere using whatever they have learned through football. I think they are still using their experiences but at the same time it’s quite rare and only a few people can come through to the professional level.

“You can just play and do whatever you want and get a job. So I feel grateful for that and I feel like I’m carrying all the friends and their hopes who didn’t make it.”

His remarkable exploits this season have finally earned Kyogo – and team-mate Ro Hatate - a recall to international football. It was no secret he was left devastated by manager Hajime Moriyasu’s decision to omit him from his World Cup squad last year, and you wonder if that lit an even bigger fire under the 28-year-old, given how he has performed these last few months.

“First of all I appreciate the coach calling me up to the squad,” Kyogo said. “I have to understand what they are asking me to do within the team. After all, I want to perform to pay back the support of everyone. Play very well and impress using my experience.

“No matter the style of play at the end of the day I am a striker and so I have to score goals. I want to keep working hard to score for Japan.

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“Of course, it's an honour to play for the national teams and it helps me to represent my country.

“It's a great opportunity to be an idol for all the children. Even to play for Celtic is great for this but representing the national team.

“I just like to express what I have and impress all the people.”

He has certainly impressed on these shores, his contribution so significant this year it sparked conversations over whether Kyogo is Celtic’s best striker since the immortal Henrik Larsson.

As the summer transfer window creeps up on us, there’s always the possibility his goals have alerted clubs across the continent. But would he be happy to extend his stay at Celtic?

“Definitely,” Kyogo insisted. “All the players here want to stay as long as they can, and I am one of them.

“But at the same time, I cannot think too much about the future. You have to concentrate on a daily basis on the training pitch.

“Hopefully I can stay and give everything I have.”