You have to hand it to the scouts at the MLS club New York Red Bulls: The backroom staff there certainly knows talent when they see it, and it comes as no surprise that they’re focus is on Lennoxtown and Celtic for quality players.
It’s my hope, with fingers crossed, that if Patryk Klimala — now being wooed by the Red Bulls — does go to New York, he goes as a loan and not as a full-fledged signing. But we will have to see.
Despite scoring only four goals since signing in January 2020, Klimala has a good future for whomever he plays for. Klimala has shown a commitment to Celtic, and I believe he can be an integral part of the club’s offseason rebuild.
But more importantly, is this merely a large U.S. club purloining Celtic players or could it be the advent of a potential partnership between New York Red Bulls and Celtic?
There are precedents that apply here when it comes to partnerships between MLS and European clubs. The most notable of these is Dallas FC’s partnership with Bayern Munich and the San Jose Earthquakes’ partnership with Tottenham Hotspur. So it begs the question: In light of the Red Bulls’ recent “interest” in Celtic players, would a partnership be a viable next-step?
To be honest, the International Break drives me crazy. With no Celtic (or no anybody, really) to watch as the nations line up to qualify for the World Cup, the best I can do — after watching endless past games and the Broony DVD multiple times — is watch the bhoys play for their respective countries. If there is any consolation, it’s seeing things you don’t normally see when the Hoops play in the SPFL.
Like . . .
Norway. Why did it have to be Norway?
It seems that whenever I line up ESPN+ to watch whomever is playing at any particular time over the last week, Norway seems to be at the top of the list for broadcast. It could be worse, obviously, but it’s good to keep an eye on Kris Ajer and Mohammed Elyounoussi (not to mention watching the antics of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland). Overall both of the bhoys have been playing well for Norway despite the team’s lackluster results, especially Elyounoussi — I don’t have the stats in front of me, but he seems to have stepped up his game in the take-away department. Ajer, of course, has been the Viking enforcer in the back who does not fear taking the ball up the pitch when the space is available to him. We’ll have to see how it pans out for the Norwegians.
Oh no, Nir! Not again!
One reason — perhaps the main reason — I loathe the International Break is that Celtic players tend to get banged up in the process. Call it the “Tom Rogic Effect.” Once again, an injury rears its ugly head as Nir Bitton tore a groin muscle in the final training session for Israel before they started their games, and now he returns his injured self to the training table in Glasgow. To be fair, Bitton was not 100 percent when he was picked to play for Israel in the first place.
[As an aside, anyone watching the Israel-Scotland match notice how in-the-groove ex-Celt Hatem Elhamed was in defense? Pity he couldn’t stay.]
Kieran Tierney, assist king
Meanwhile, back at home — yours, not mine (over here in the States, we’re still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Men’s Team didn’t qualify for the Olympics, while waiting for some heads to roll) — the Scots under Steve Clarke seem to be holding their own in a group where they precariously hold on to second in Group F. The Scots pretty much had their way with the Faeroe Islands 11 yesterday, 4-0, thanks in large part to three assists by ex-Celt Kieran Tierney; all of which were beauties, and one of them which came from a cracking pass from Callum McGregor — pity there’s no stat for “assists-on-assists.”
It begs the question: Is there anything Tierney, the kid with the Tesco bag, can’t do?
Shocker: Edouard gets the penalty
Take notes, SFA: When you have referees who are not — how can I put this tactfully? — playing the 12th (or 13th or 14th) man on behalf of Glasgow’s other club, you get what can best be described as fair officiating. Proof of that, of course, is the call in France U21 game against Russia where Odsonne Edouard, who was clipped with the same intensity as he was in the Glasgow Derby, getting not a yellow card for simulation but a real, honest-to-God penalty kick, which he slotted away in his usual Edouard way.
Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve always said that there was much more to the SpecSavers’ sponsorship of the SPFL officials than meets the eye.
(Pun completely intended.)
One more thing . . .
Two actually: First, I caught the end of the Germany-North Macedonia game, with the Germans scrambling to draw unsuccessfully at the end of the match, which went the North Macedonian’s way 2-1. First loss at home for Germany in, like, forever, and a boost to the tiny landlocked nation just north of Greece.
Second, it looks like the MLS in the U.S. is starting to expand its scope of players loaned from European to American clubs. That is, when they are not signing them outright, as in the case of ex-Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman. News from Hamburg has FC St. Pauli midfielder Leon Flach joining Philadelphia Union, a rival to Harper’s and Gutman’s New York Red Bulls. Interesting note that Flach goes to Philly to join Stuart Findlay, who came up through the Celtic youth system and played with Kilmarnock before heading stateside.
Not the strangest MLS loan transaction, though. The winner of that one, so far, would be Sporting Kansas City’s acquiring Mexican player Dani Rojas on loan from AFC Richmond for, wait for it, a metric ton of barbeque sauce. Don’t believe me? Here’s the press release from SKC.
Wait a minute. Anyone have a calendar? Ah, that would explain it . . .
Without anything else to divert my attention — thanks, International Break — I have been mulling the departure of Scott Brown, the only captain I’ve known at Celtic as a fan, while both navigating the five stages of grief and speculating about what this move might mean for Broony, as well as Celtic, in the future.
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t have any tinfoil hats that fit me well, but after processing the whole departure of the heart and soul of Celtic, I get the sense that Brown will be back: This player-coach stint at Aberdeen is just a warm-up and a “learning the ropes” for a future managerial stint at Parkhead.
It’s just a hunch, but there are precedents at play here.
The great Jock Stein ended his playing days at Celtic and later went on to manage Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian before returning to Celtic and making history. The same for Tommy Burns, who left Celtic for Kilmarnock late in his playing career — serving as a player-coach (sound familiar?) for Killie — before returning to manage the Hoops.
So while I am brokenhearted at the prospect of next season without Brown, as well as sad at the prospect that he will not get a proper send-off thanks to COVID-19, I do think we have not seen the last of this Celtic legend playing a role for the Bhoys.
And who takes the armband from next season? One popular debate is that it is up for grabs between Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer. Both would excel at the role of captain, but I would give the nod to CalMac — not to take anything away from Ajer, but McGregor has done it numerous times in Brown’s absence and he has a long history as a catalyst to the club’s recent successes; a history I hope continues until he hangs up his boots years from now.
In the meantime, there are bhoys playing for their national teams today — Ajer and Norway are hosting Turkey, and Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell and the Irish are hosting Luxembourg. Mon the Hoops on International Duty!
I know there’s probably a joke in there somewhere about Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent, as opposed to the other way around. But I can’t seem to formulate it, and to be honest, it’s probably best left unsaid anyway.
However, the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the U.S. — after adding former Celtic Colt Cameron Harper — have bolstered their lineup with a second former Celtic prodigy in Andrew Gutman.
Gutman was added to the NYRB roster on loan from Atlanta United. After a loan spell from Celtic to FC Cincinnati through the 2020 season, Gutman was selected first in the MLS Reentry Draft by Atlanta United.
“We’re pleased to have Andrew join us,” Red Bulls New York’s Kevin Thelwell said in a club statement. “He has proven that he can play in MLS and has qualities that we think will fit well in our style of play. He is a solid defender, can contribute from wide areas going forward, and has the physical attributes to meet the demands of our system.”
The 24-year-old left back made 20 starts in 29 appearances with FC Cincinnati over a season and a half. He was an academy product of Chicago Fire FC before eventually signing with Celtic. He never made a first team appearance with the Hoops.
Prior to turning professional, Gutman was a four-year standout at Indiana University, with 20 goals and 17 assists in 90 appearances for the Hoosiers. He helped IU to consecutive College Cup appearances in 2017 and 2018 and earned the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best college soccer player in the country.
New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber had high praise for Gutman.
“Andrew brings good experience in MLS,” Struber said. “He is strong on the ball and has good awareness and intelligence going forward, which will help us build our attack and bring good decision making in the final third.”
Gutman brings the total of former Celtic players in the MLS up to three, joining Harper and Inter Miami CF’s Lewis Morgan, who was the club’s MVP last season. Mon the Hoops!
As the Scottish Women’s Premier League gets set to resume next month, new Celtic signing Mariah Lee is equally as ready to pull on the Hoops and hit the pitch when Celtic takes on Glasgow City on April 4.
You can thank fellow American Sarah Teegarden for persuading Lee to join Celtic as one of four winter signings by coach Fran Alonso. After playing three years at Stanford University in California, Lee and Teegarden had both played for Wake Forest University in North Carolina — though not at the same time — and thanks to a phone conversation with Teegarden, Lee was ready to sign.
Lee explained in an article appearing on the Celtic FC website: “I heard about Celtic and knew about the name and recognition especially on the men’s side and then I was looking at the roster and saw Sarah Teegarden’s name, and we both played at Wake Forest. She’s a couple of years older than me, but I got her number and was talking to her on the phone about her experience and she spoke really highly of the club and the competition and I felt like it would be a good fit after hearing what she said.
“She came back to college for a game I was playing in, and we actually had a lot of mutual friends so we met. We never played together, but it’s a small soccer world so I knew of her.”
Lee played for the OL Reign, formerly the Seattle Reign, in the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. The Reign, now are under the auspices of Olympique Lyonnais, has featured such U.S. National Women’s Team stars as Megan Rapinoe and former USNWT midfielder Allie Long.
So now that there is no mathematical path to the top of the table for Celtic — thanks to Sunday’s rendition at Tannadice of “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight” — it appears that the season’s best for the Bhoys in Green would be second place in the Premiership table.
In the first COVID season, in a season without our 12th man in the stands for the most part, in a season fraught with injury and with a management style that, to put it diplomatically, was lacking, this is what brought us where we are today. And despite the chance for John Kennedy to stamp his authority on the team, he produced business-as-usual, like late, and arguably odd, substitutions (it’s way past time David Turnbull gets to stay in for a full game).
And today, we end up here: second in the table. And while Glasgow’s other club finally wins its first league title since its founding in 2012, their fans seem to have forgotten — if they even heeded them in the first place — each and every COVID protocol and have taken to the streets to celebrate both yesterday’s win against St. Mirren and today’s clincher in Dundee, undeterred by the authorities in Scotland who seem to prefer police escorts to reminding those outside they’re under lockdown.
Celtic has had a magnificent run over the past nine years, one that will not be repeated ever. Glasgow’s other club, only nine years in existence, can only dream about the accomplishments Celtic has had in the last couple of decades, or even the last nine years for that matter. As for the future, changes are on the horizon to be sure for Celtic, but the results next year surely will be the same as they have been in years past: success on the pitch going forward starting next season.
So they’ve won a trophy. Good for them, and congratulations. But bear in mind that it’s only one since 2012 to Celtic’s 18. Let me repeat that: Celtic has won 18 trophies, which includes four trebles in a row between 2016-17 and 2019-20, since their club’s inception.
Which of course means, this: No, I still don’t see them coming, and I probably won’t until they win a few more.
One more thing
It came as a DM on Twitter the other day, but it bears mentioning. It seems that I’m not the only Celtic fan blogging from California, since SentinelCelts also originates from the Golden State. Sonora, way east of here in an beautiful part of the state near Yosemite National Park, to be exact. Give the blog a read, and tell ’em Larry sent you . . . .
While the math is still there — barely — for Celtic to pick up 10 in a row, let’s put aside the contortionistic algebra on that one for a moment and take a look at what the next season may have in store for Celtic. To be certain, the team landscape, and the leadership on the field and in the boardroom, will look much different.
John Kennedy’s first start at the helm was an inauspicious 1-0 win over Aberdeen in a hard-fought contest. Would a stellar end to the season earn him the reins of the club for the following year? Not likely, and with all the candidates being bandied about like tennis balls whizzing over the net at Wimbledon, it appears that Kennedy is keeping the seat warm, so to speak, for whomever is coming in.
I’m going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: Next season’s manager will be Steve Clarke.
In an age of COVID — get used to that phrase, because the virus and its effect on society, in general, and football, in particular, changes the entire — spending will be tight. So when watching the budget is a matter of survival, as it is now, the more flashier names on the list that come with a high price tag are out the window. And that’s OK, as Celtic doesn’t have to go far for a replacement.
The hallmark of Scotland national team coach Clarke’s tenure at Kilmarnock was consistently having Killie punching above their weight, so to speak. Evidence of that is the downward spiral toward relegation the club has suffered after his departure. Clarke’s talent for motivation probably could have been used this season, but for next season he would have the bhoys primed and ready.
Should they stay or should they go?
Ideally, everyone should stay. They won’t, of course, but there’s always that hope.
Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer should be paid a king’s ransom to stay. However, there has been a lot of interest regarding Edouard, and lately Arsenal is the latest in a long line of clubs with interest piqued for Eddy, and AC Milan keeps badgering Celtic for Ajer. Clearly, with large clubs come large offers (even in an age of COVID) which might not be resisted.
However, we do have several options on this front. As mentioned ad nauseum in the past on these pages, Celtic has an artesian depth of talent on the bench and in the reserves, so we may be in good shape without having to make expensive signings — Conor Hazard and Stephen Welsh are proof that our Reserves produce excellent players for us as well as for other clubs, in the case of Cameron Harper going to the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, and wherever Karamoko Dembele ends up next season if it isn’t Celtic.
Patryk Klimala should get a good run for the rest of the season to see how he will fare up front, and my sense is that there’s a solid striker there. A tandem of Klimala and either Leigh Griffiths or Albian Ajeti clearly would not be the same as having Odsonne Edouard up front, but it might be adequate while we have goal scorers behind them in the midfield, like Mohammed Elyounoussi.
Bringing back Jonathan Afolabi and Maryan Shved from their loans would be a sensible option, especially since the latter has had his butt kicked by the Mechelin coach which has inspired Shved’s interest in playing again. His performance in Belgium has been fairly remarkable as of late and he may finally be reaching his potential.
The nucleus of a great team is here already, and it’s a tragedy that due to injury or poor game choices, this season has ended up the way it did. But there have been bright spots in the dark season as well: Jonjoe Kenny’s loan spell has been fairly remarkable, as has the play of Ismaila Soro. David Turnbull has proven he is a player to bulid a team around for the future. Add to the mix a fully healthy Mikey Johnston and James Forrest, not to mention a fully healed Christopher Jullien, and the future looks a lot better than it does now.
We won’t have the luxury of seeing everyone on today’s team in the Hoops next season. However, the potential is phenomenally high for next year’s team to put aside the dumpster fire this season has become and return to the top of the table, wire-to-wire.
Meanwhile, on to Tannadice for Sunday’s match against Dundee United. Mon the Hoops!
The Celtic segment of the documentary series “The Fans Who Make Football, ” broadcast on Al Jazeera, pulls you in immediately, right from the start: “Celtic’s home ground is in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded by Irish immigrants. So our story begins in . . . Albania.”
After that lead-in, how could you not want to watch?
Clover Films has done a remarkable job in this documentary series, with each episode appearing a few times a week on Al Jazeera (it is probably available on cable, but I don’t have it, so I watch on aljazeera.com), before becoming available on the documentary section of the Al Jazeera site.
The Celtic story begins in Albania thanks to the current Albanian president, Ilir Meta, being a Celtic fan and how he became one. It then pivots to the worldwide range of support Celtic has garnered over time. Without giving away spoilers, it deals with sectarianism and the symbiosis of football and politics that makes Celtic, well, Celtic.
Two items of special note are Lisbon Lion John Fallon, who recounts probably my all-time favorite Celtic story: Bertie Auld breaking into “The Celtic Song” — with the rest of the team joining in — in the tunnel before the 1967 European Cup match while their Inter Milan counterparts looked on curiously. And the segments in the film about Jay Beatty, whose childhood and adolescence seem intertwined with Celtic, are also very detailed and moving.
Clover Films has done a few documentaries in this series that are worth watching, as in “put down what you’re doing right now and watch this.”
The segment on FC St. Pauli is another gem, outlining the club’s history from one of the Nazi’s darlings in the ’30s to the paragon of antifascism it is today. Like Celtic, it paints a picture of a club with a worldwide reach due to their principles.
In addition, there are several Celtic “Easter eggs” in the FC St. Pauli documentary: Early on, there is a crowd shot where the fans are singing something to the tune of ” ’67 in the Heat of Lisbon,” the head of security in one shot is wearing a St. Pauli CSC cap, there is a group of Scots at the FC St. Pauli game talking about the club’s politics and how it aligns with theirs (and one of them is wearing a Celtic/FCSP scarf), and in the shot of the New York bar of St. Pauli supporters watching the Hamburg Derby where the group is singing “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”
There is one segment about Liverpool FC which shows how the club — and the city — overcame adversity over the years to rise to excellence, going in great detail about both the Thatcher administration’s hostility toward the city as well as the Hillsborough incident which took the lives of 96 fans.
Of special note is the documentary on Indonesia’s PSS Sleman. As Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, it is remarkable that women are in the forefront of the Sleman ultras, not to mention some of the demands they have made to the club to make it more fan-friendly to the point of holding boycotts.
Again, put down what you’re doing right now and watch each of these. You can thank me later.
And thank you, Clover Films, for a remarkable series.
One more thing
There’s been a tsunami of commentary about Neil Lennon’s departure, and rather than contribute a thimble of water in this giant wave, I would only like to add that the most tragic thing about the whole oredeal — yes, even more tragic than losing the 10 — is that Lennon’s career with Celtic might be defined by the dumpster fire this season has become, rather than being defined by his playing career and his successes in getting Celtic a hefty amount of silverware as a manager. I’d like to be wrong about this, and I would thank Lenny for his overall remarkable service to the club.
And personally I’d like to see Steve Clarke get the job once the season ends. Kilmarnock and the Scottish National Team have punched above their weight under his leadership, and it’s something we might need to get the club righted.
As is my custom, I like to watch games twice — win, lose, or draw — before writing about them. I do this to get a better understanding of the immediate game in front of me, as well as to pick out tactics and strategies on both sides to see what worked and what didn’t.
Wednesday’s Celtic game against St. Mirren was a joy to watch twice. In fact, I may watch it a third time.
Not for the three goals in five minutes, punctuated in this SPFL highlight reel of the game at around 4:08 with someone yelling, “f*cking sh*t” when David Turnbull scores to make the score 0-4 to the visitors. Not for Odsonne Edouard’s penalty kick that started the tsunami of scoring in the 2nd half.
It was an absolute joy to watch because of Tom Rogic, “the Wizard of Oz,” who I honestly thought was going to get a full 90+ minutes, but he was pulled at 85 minutes for Leigh Griffiths.
An absolute joy “because of the wonderful things he does,” as the song in the movie goes.
Rogic’s goal at the 16-minute mark, his first since March of last year, was a stunner, to be sure; coming across the front of the goal and shooting with a couple of St. Mirren players in tow. I watched it a couple of times in the replay because it came so fast. Pure Rogic.
His ball-handling through traffic during the course of the game was also pure Rogic, skipping in and out of challenges from one or more defenders. And his pass to Ryan Christie on the third goal of the game was textbook.
Rogic has always been one of my favourite Celts, but his recovery time from injury has been lengthy, to say nothing of the fact that breaking into a Celtic midfield already stocked with enormous talent is nearly impossible. My hope is that he is part of the club’s rebuilding plan for next year — I think he’s got a couple of years left in the tank, assuming he’s not being run into the ground by the Socceroos (which I think is responsible for his long-term injuries).
While that remains to be seen, if today’s 85 minutes is any indication, Rogic is back.
A recent article in The Athletic (subscription needed) outlines in great detail the reasons that Jeremie Frimpong has jumped ship from the cozy confines of playing for the Hoops at Celtic Park in Glasgow to donning the black-and-red and playing in the antiseptic Bay Arena in Westphalia.
The article is full of high-road plaudits and reasons for his departure. There’s no doubt that Frimpong wants to play in a more prestigious league — he certainly has the talent to do so — and at his age, 20 at his last birthday, his entire football career is in front of him. Neil Lennon described him in a press conference as “ambitious.”
Said Frimpong in the article, “It was the right time to leave Celtic because it was about a big club like Leverkusen coming, rather than about Celtic. And obviously the Bundesliga was really attractive. So when they came, I was like, ‘I could play in the Bundesliga!’, and that was it really.”
Frimpong highlights that he wanted to play in the Bundesliga, which he calls correctly “one of the top three leagues in the world,” and who can blame him?
But I think there’s an unspoken reason for Frimpong leaving Celtic and saying goodbye to playing in the SPFL, and my guess is that most of it has to do with the latter.
Let’s set the stage: In a league like the SPFL which has questionable officiating — where the referees’ SpecSavers sponsorship has gone way beyond irony when multiple clear red-card fouls go uncalled — and in a league like the SPFL where hammerthrowing is the rule moreso than the exception, why would a player with a potential for greatness want to play in a leauge like the SPFL where a career-ending injury might be just one late tackle away?
My guess is that what is not being said as Frimpong takes the high road in interviews is that he had enough of the likes of Kilmarnock’s Alan Power or Hibernian’s Alex Gogic — two examples of several players in the league who serve no real purpose on the pitch other than to create mayhem and injure opponents. And frankly, Frimpong was right to go. I would have helped him pack his bags, too, because I would rather see him play for years, or decades, elsewhere rather than see his career cut short by a mouth-breathing neanderthal nobody in a Killie jersey.
For the same reason, Kieran Tierney — a kid who spent 2/3rds of his life in the Celtic organization — was absolutely and completely justified in taking the money Arsenal offered him to play at Emirates. It physically hurts to say that, but that is the truth. Tierney will always be a Celt, but why should he sacrifice his football career on the altar of poor officiating and unpenalized rough play that is part and parcel of the Scottish Premiership? Tierney himself had career-threatening injuries playing for Celtic — he didn’t get them slipping and falling in his apartment — and he overcame them to both excel at Celtic toward the end of his career in Glasgow and to shine in North London, where he is showing the EPL the quality of the Celtic system.
And when Celtic has a poor transfer window because players are hesitant to come ply their trade in the SPFL? Are you really surprised quality players pass on us in an effort to avoid what has degenerated into a style of play in this league more resembling ice hockey than football?
Until the SFA gets a grip on more consistent officiating — consistent insofar as actually making calls instead of blowing them off, mostly for the benefit of one club (and it isn’t Celtic) — and until the quality of play in the SPFL starts more resembling other respectable leagues around the world, quality players in the Hoops will always have an eye on playing elsewhere.