Ange Postecoglou hails Celtic and Kyogo Furuhashi as a ‘match made in heaven’ as he reveals plans to unearth more J-League gems in January
The Japanese strike inspired his team-mates to a 2-1 comeback win over Hibernian in the Premier Sports Cup Final at Hampden
An emotional Ange Postecoglou was thrilled to claim his first trophy as Celtic manager after overcoming adversity once again to win the Premier Sports Cup Final at the expense of Hibernian.
The Aussie endured a chaotic start to his Parkhead tenure as he faced up to a major squad overhaul in the summer but his new recruits have excelled in recent months.
After a dominant first-half display but with no goals to match the number of chances created, it would have been easy for the Hoops boss to think the worst after Paul Hanlon headed Hibs in front with their first effort on target after 50 minutes.
However, the response from his side was emphatic as Kyogo Furuhashi led the way during an inspired second half comeback with two moments of individual brilliance to ensure the Postecoglou era is well and truly up and running.
Speaking to the media during his post-match interview, he said: “I’m struggling to find the words this time. I’m just really proud of this group of people; the players and the staff.
“From the day I walked in the door, we’ve had some sort of challenge in front of us on a daily basis to overcome and we always found a way to do that and haven’t made no excuses.
“We really believed in what we are trying to build at this football club. Every time you thought this is becoming too much in the background, I think today was the first time you’re thinking when they scored here’s another obstacle.
“But the response from the players was as it has been since the start of the season and I’m really privileged to be part of that.”
Postecoglou admitted there was no way star striker Kyogo was going to sit out the match, despite fighting against a hamstring strain ahead of the Hampden showpiece.
The 26-year-old’s participation looked to be in huge doubt after sustaining the injury against Real Betis earlier this month with the Hoops boss half-resigned to the fact he wouldn’t win his fitness battle in time.
Try telling that to the Japanese sensation who refused to accept defeat as Postecoglou revealed his star man simply wasn’t willing to let his team-mates down.
Postecoglou admitted: “Of course there is risk, but good luck trying to keep him out. There was no chance. He would have snuck on the bus or snuck onto the field at some point.
“He just had it in his head that he was going to play. He wanted to help the players and the team and to be part of this.
“Having worked in Japan, I know the mentality. They have a really strong culture in facing up to their responsibilities. I think he felt responsible to go out there and help the players.
“From the moment he picked up the injury, there was no way he was not going to play, irrespective of what I was saying or the medical staff were saying.
“This football club and him were a match made in heaven.
Asked how important Kyogo is to what he wants to achieve at Celtic, Postecoglou replied: “I feel a responsibility with him because I’m the one who brought him here.
“When you bring somebody in from the other side of the world, I don’t think anyone would’ve said that he was a cast-iron guarantee to be a hit.
“I knew he would be a fantastic player but he’s an even better person. We were kind of thinking it wouldn’t happen but he just made himself available, even though he wasn’t 100 per cent fit.
“His movement is incredible and the quality of his finishing, to have that composure and touch, they’re two world-class finishes in a big game.
“I don’t know how he did it, but he’s a quality player and a quality person. We are missing some significant talent at the moment, but these boys keep finding a way.”
The success of Kyogo during his short time in Glasgow so far is likely to entice more Asian players to Scotland with Postecoglou already closing in on three J-League targets ahead of the January transfer window.
With 16 goals in just 25 games since joining from Vissel Kobe in the summer, Furuhashi’s incredible form is likely to see Postecoglou bolster his ranks with similar additions next month.
He stated: “Obviously I have an advantage. Maybe if I hadn’t managed on that side of the world, I might have had had the same scepticism about whether their talent could transfer to European football or more particularly Scottish football.
“But Japanese players in general have had a great deal of success on the continent. They have fantastic career in the Bundesliga and places like in Holland and in Italy. They have good pedigree and one or two have had great success in the Premier League.
“I guess I’ve got that added advantage of knowing the market. When I took over I was definitely going to use that expertise.
“Kyogo was always going to be my first pick because I had witness at first hand how good a player he was. I had no doubt he would be successful.
“It’s not just with him, it’s with all of them, especially the ones I have brought in. They put so much into it. Like i keep saying to them: if you put the right things in and work hard you will get your returns.”
Hibernian caretaker boss David Gray felt the manner in which his side lost both goals was disappointing but thanked his players for their resilience and hard work after a testing period for the club.
Following the departure of Jack Ross as manager, the Easter Road outfit are reportedly closing in on appointing his successor with Belgium National Team assistant and former Celtic player Shaun Maloney strongly linked with the post.
Gray, who hopes to remain at the club as a first-team coach, stated: “The overall feeling just now is disappointment but I’m really proud of the players. I thought the way they handled everything over the last ten days has been a credit to them and I said that after the game.
“I thanked them for all their hard work and effort, they’ve given myself and Eddie (May,) absolutely everything from the moment we were placed in charge.
“Unfortunately we just couldn’t get over the line. Losing the goal so quickly was a massive blow and the second goal defensively was not good enough and the players know that.”