Exclusive: Celtic legend Jackie McNamara on Kyogo and the Larsson comparisons

By Euan Davidson

December 24, 2021

Celtic legend Jackie McNamara has given his take on comparisons between Kyogo Furuhashi and Hoops legend Henrik Larsson.

McNamara, of course, played with Larsson for the Swede’s entire spell at Celtic. The two developed a close friendship, with Larsson writing the foreword for Jackie McNamara’s autobiography.

So, getting him to stick his neck out and compare him to a current-day Celt was perhaps a bit cheeky. But McNamara definitely sees some similarities, especially in how the players around them facilitated their movement.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Since the League Cup final, in which Kyogo scored twice, debates have opened up about the Japanese striker being the best since Larsson at Celtic. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s impossible to underplay the former Vissel Kobe man’s impact thus far.

McNamara told 67 Hail Hail: “He’s different from Henrik, trying to compare him to ones [I] played with. I played with some incredible ones; van Hooijdonk, Sutton, Hartson. These guys were all different, number 9s, back to goal.

“Kyogo, I’m still not sure of his position, which is quite weird! He likes a kind of freedom, I like him in a free role. But his movement is so good, and his desire to win the ball back. I watched his interview the other week there [Celtic FC], he was talking about defending himself front the front.

“I love his desire, I love his work rate, I think that’s infectious for the rest of the team and the fans, through the energy.

“[Larsson’s] movement would dictate where you put the ball. You could see, that was the beauty of it. The free kick the other day [against Hibs] with Rogic, and he just picked the ball up, [Kyogo] is already on the move. You can see just that quick eye contact, that split second [decision making].

“For a defender playing against someone like Kyogo, you’re constantly on the look-out. Where’s he going, what’s he doing? They’re very, very difficult to mark, you end up getting deeper and deeper, and leaving space for midfielders.”

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67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

Jackie McNamara enthused by impact of Kyogo at Celtic, and it’s no wonder there are comparisons with Henrik Larsson

It’s fascinating insight. Especially when asked about what it was like trying to set up Henrik Larsson for goals, something which Jackie McNamara did plenty of from the wing.

Whether Kyogo is the best since Henrik? For me, it’s still too early to tell. In terms of first-season impact, Kyogo has had a more bombastic start to life at Celtic than Larsson did, but when the King of Kings got going, he just didn’t stop.

Also, comparing 7 years to half a season is a little premature. Let’s just see how he gets on.

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Kyogo, though, would’ve been excellent foil for Jackie McNamara. A defender who loved to counter, and spark quick attacking movements, McNamara would’ve effortlessly found Kyogo countless times were he playing today. Of that, we can be absolutely sure.

There’s another interesting point there about Kyogo’s position. He’s not a stereotypical centre-forward by any means. That’s perhaps why there’s so much difficulty replacing him when he’s out the team. He doesn’t operate like normal centre-forwards do.

In any case, it’s glowing and fulsome praise from Jackie McNamara. As genuinely sound a guy as McNamara is, he doesn’t just compliment anyone. If he’s really impressed, he’ll say as much.

You can watch a full video with Jackie McNamara discussing Kyogo, St Johnstone and more on our YouTube channel later today.

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