Celtic’s most dire problem

To read some banter on social media about the 2-1 win on Saturday at Celtic Park against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — you would think that the club should staff the battle stations and fix monumental problems that afflict the Hoops.

The “Moan the Hoops” Brigade always weighs in — always — with the most ridiculous assessments that makes the real fans of Celtic thank every diety imaginable that these folks are nowhere close to the decision-making for the club.

Items like, “Joe Hart is done.” Bzzzzzz. Wrong answer. Not by a long shot. He’s the best goalkeeper in the SPFL, way out in front of the distant second-place finisher who happens to sit on our bench. Namely, Ben Seigrist.

Then there’s the Josip Juranovic “overrated” chorus, simply because a miscommunication cost the Bhoys an own-goal against Motherwell, which in retrospect is meaningless because — adjusts glasses, check notes — we won the game. Juranovic is a quality player good enough to start for his national team and clearly good enough to start for Celtic. Despite Saturday’s miscue, his jersey fits.

While we wait for both Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt to come back from injury, we are indeed fortunate to have a player like Moritz Jenz picking up the slack and playing admirably. But praise for Jenz and great play by other Bhoys — and again, anyone care to pick apart Greg Taylor? — is a rarity under the crushing tsunami of whining and moaning so prevalent with the online fanbase.

It’s enough to make #MoanTheHoops a recurring hashtag.

But never mind all that. The biggest problem that Celtic faces going forward, the one that Celtic must address and address now, is this:

Yes, Reo Hatate’s mouthpiece is — gasp! — blue. Like . . . you know, them.

What Reo Hatate puts in his mouth is his own damn business.

But let’s look at the big picture, shall we?

Hatate came from Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League, which uses blue as a primary color in their home kit makeup. In addition, as a member of the Japan National Team (though arguably not utilized to his full potential there), their home kit is also blue. Also, if you’re paying attention to international football, the team is referred to as the “Samurai Blue.”

To say nothing of the fact that it could just be a superstition that Hatate uses that particular mouthpiece, or that particular color anyway. Athletes are a superstitious bunch, some moreso than others, some of whom have rituals and wear items that have special meaning to them.

Michael Jordan used to wear his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform, and it didn’t seem to affect his performance while becoming the best basketball player ever. Tiger Woods always wore red shirts on Sundays in golf tournament play in honor of his alma mater, Stanford. Don’t even get me started on the playoff beard phenomenon in the NHL in North America, where hockey players on playoff teams stop shaving until they win, or are eliminated from, the Stanley Cup.

You don’t have to be an athlete to partake in the superstition madness. For example — and in a complete admission of Too Much Information™ — since I started following Celtic in 2017, I have worn a special green undershirt and green boxer shorts on game day under my Celtic jersey and trousers whenever I watch the Bhoys play. Even at work, I wear my Celtic jersey under my work shirt, which gets a lot of interesting looks from people.

I don’t care.

And the truth can now be told: It was completely my fault that Celtic lost to St. Mirren two weeks ago, as while getting ready to go to work that morning, I noticed that my Celtic boxers were in the hamper and not on my body.

Forgive me, Brother Walfrid.

So quite possibly Hatate scored a hat trick at Frontale while wearing that blue mouthpiece and doesn’t want to part with it. Or he has some other attachment to the mouthpiece.

The fact that he even has to wear a mouthpiece playing in the SPFL speaks volumes to the hammerthrowing the league is known for worldwide, and of which the league should be unequivocally ashamed.

But even then: The fact of the matter is it’s not anyone’s business what Hatate puts in his mouth.

Daijobu desu, Reo-kun.

One more thing

O Captain, my Captain: Several post-game observations, even one by Ange Postecoglou, had the red card on captain Callum McGregor as preventable because Stephen Welsh was close enough to defend.

That’s not how I saw it, and far be it from me to disagree with the gaffer. But there’s no way that Welsh is making it to help an out-of-place Joe Hart to defend against the misplayed gift given to Motherhell’s Ross Tierney. Not even if Welsh was on a rocket sled.

Stephen Welsh, at top, needs an F-15 to get to the play on time. Callum McGregor did the right thing.

McGregor clearly, albeit unfortunately, did the right thing in that foul, falling on his sword to save what could have been the tying goal.

And surprisingly, John Beaton — positively without question or debate the absolute worst referee in the known universe, who proved his incompetence consistently during the match, missing a clear hand ball in the Motherwell box by a Motherwell player already on a yellow — got the call right.

Thank you, Callum, for your sacrifice. You essentially saved the game.

We’ve got Red Bull Leipzig in Germany on Wednesday — more Champions League play — and while my union goes on strike on Monday, hopefully it will last until at least Wednesday so I can watch the game at home. Mon the Hoops!

The unbearable lightness of the UCL

Needless to say that I realize there are far more important things going on in the world right now. But when Jota isn’t happy, I’m not happy.

In the press after the FC Shakhtar Donetsk match in Poland yesterday in which Celtic drew 1-1, Jota said something to the effect that Celtic players always aim for a win.

He’s right. He gets it.

No need to hang your head, Jota. The foundation for Europe success is set.

Also, as an aside, I think a large part of Shakhtar’s success came as a result of neutralizing Jota for much of the game, but that’s for the experts to debate.

Yet despite a temporary setback where a flurry of shots missed their mark in a game where Celtic clearly outplayed Shakhtar only to come away with a draw, we clearly are putting down a marker in Group F in the UEFA Champions League.

Group F, incidentally, is the home of 15 European Cup/Champions League winners: Of course, 14 of those are Real Madrid and one of those is us.

Ange Postecoglou nailed it, too, when he said that Celtic is on the way to achieving European success. He told the Sun that Celtic was “excellent” on Wednesday, and they were. “Obviously the result was not reflective of that but I thought in the whole game the players gave everything and that’s all I can ask for,” he said.

I would completely agree. Needless to say, the Moan the Hoops Brigade was out in force on Wednesday, failing as always to bring a rational and realistic discourse to social media. Of course, whether having a rational discourse on social media is even possible might be another debate for another time. But I digress.

What the naysayers fail to realize is that Wednesday’s match — like last week’s match against last year’s Champions League, um, champions Real Madrid — is not the same as Celtic taking on Kilmarnock on a given Saturday at Rugby Park. It’s not even in the same universe. Celtic is playing the best of Europe, which also means they’re playing the best in the world.

And they’re holding their own, playing a high quality football — pure, beautiful, inventive football — that belongs with the best Europe has to offer.

So as anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I’m not a fan of Celtic having to play in Europe. Sure, the checks are great and, as consistent top-of-the-table finishers in Scotland, we have an obligation to represent in international competition. But at least now Celtic stands on a level of being competitive, and that makes watching it, while worrying about how injuries may affect the SPFL season, a little more bearable.

You read it here first: At the level Celtic has taken on the Champions League opponents, there is no reason they can’t advance. Those goal opportunities that Celtic missed on Wednesday? They will come back and we won’t miss next time.

One more thing

Two, actually: With all the hubbub around the passing of the Queen of England and the lack of football around the UK as a result (but cricket, rugby and horse racing goes on — go figure), I had to put aside a post I started about the ball handling and passing genius of Reo Hatate, and I still plan on finishing it and posting it. The kid’s outstanding, and like his fellow countrymen Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda, each brings a special quality to the club: Daizen with his speed and endurance, and Kyogo with his remarkable insight to be at the right place at the right time around an opponent’s goal.

Needless to say, Celtic fell out of the lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down in getting Ange, who brought this trio to the club.

Also, as many of you already know, Tom Rogic signed with West Bromich Albion. Sure, the jersey looks as out-of-place on him as the Aberdeen red did on Scott Brown, but it’s safe to say that WBA just made the steal of the century in picking up the Wizard of Oz. Good luck, Tom!

Meanwhile, we have St. Mirren away on Sunday at the crack of 4:30 a.m., California time. Mon the Hoops!

Levels of history

Arguably, Saturday’s game against Ibrox Cover Band FC laid down a marker as one of those historic games that we, as Celtic fans, will be tweaking Hun noses with for years to follow. And those who insist on calling the Glasgow Derby the “Old Firm” clearly saw this: If this was indeed the Old Firm, it was played on Saturday by the ghosts and zombies of a Rangers club that perished under the sheer tonnage of liquidation in 2012.

In other words, the Old Firm died when Rangers did. So stop already.

But I digress.

In the continued afterglow 72 hours later from Saturday’s 4-0 walkover, there is a lot to unpack.

Jota saluting the crowd after his scintillating goal to put the Hoops up 2-0.

Leil Abada’s goals were classic Celtic build-up and shoot. Matt O’Riley’s phenomenal pass to Jota who put it over the goalkeeper’s head, and subsequent salute to the fans, was a masterstroke — one of many we can expect from this team this season.

But the best goal — at least for me — was David Turnbull’s at 78 minutes. It was a classic deke by Turnbull: Take two steps toward a defender on the outside, and when the goalkeeper lobs it to the man in the middle, cut back and intercept, shoot, and score.

It was indeed a “Whit’s the goalie daen, Tom?” moment.

But one of the many stark contrasts between us and them is that not only did the Bhoys play on a level far beyond Surrender FC, they played smarter. Much smarter. And in a field of football geniuses, Reo Hatate is the Einstein of the club, controlling the midfield and sending passes with the accuracy of the theory of relativity all over the pitch.

But if you really want to talk about historic, there’s the tifo . . .

A lot of history here, and rubbing the noses of the Huns in it was delicious.

Imagine being, oh I don’t know, an American living in California up at 4 a.m., and seeing this. Dreaming? And what does this mean? Later you find out: It’s 13-year-old Paddy Coyle, Molotov cocktail in hand, during the Battle of the Bogside in Derry in 1969. The quote is from Bernadette Devlin MP, an Irish independence icon from that era: “Yesterday I dared to struggle. Today I dare to win!”

Then you say aloud, “Holy fuck, that’s brilliant!” You say that loud enough to wake up your daughter, asleep in her room, who resorts to her typical game-day “Daaaaaad,” when you get too loud during the game in the pre-dawn hours. Not only is it a hard slap in the face followed by a kick to the soft ones to a club obsessed with British army iconography vis-a-vis Northern Irleand and being up to their knees in Fenian blood, but the subtext that Celtic is always on the side of the oppressed cannot be ignored.

It’s a classic Green Brigade tifo for the ages, surpassing the greats like “They hung out the flag of war.” I’m so glad they’re on our side. Kudos to them for the consistently awesome tifo.

And for those who don’t think there’s a place for politics in football, perhaps you can take your shallow fandom elsewhere. Maybe to a soulless club like, oh I don’t know, Manchester City. They might be more your speed, where all that matters is an open checkbook and unlimited spending.

One more thing

The rest of the world is watching, and we’re laughing. Scottish football pundits either have no concept of reality or they just suck. Maybe both. Anyway, when brainless mouthpieces like Kris Boyd put players like Alfredo Morelos ahead of Jota, you have to wonder if they are just stupid or having a stroke. And Barry Ferguson. Barry, seriously: You got it hilariously wrong when you said that Gio van Bratwurst had Ange Postecoglou sussed, when the Celts throttled the Huns. But instead of saying four simple words — “Yeah, I was wrong” — you double down by saying something even more moronic: I was right, but the players didn’t hold up their end of the deal.

Really? In other words, I have gaining the US presidency sussed, but my campaign didn’t hold up its end of the deal. M’kay . . .

So yeah, add a group of football pundits seemingly sharing a single IQ point to a sports media that are more stenographers than journalists, and no one really takes you seriously. That’s a huge problem in my book; one I hope gets fixed in a hurry.

But back to history: We have Real Madrid tomorrow in the Champions League opener at Celtic Park. Franco’s fascists are favored, and they are the current champions, but we are not a pushover and, as Chris Sutton said, we can cause them problems. A win tomorrow — and I am lighting a candle and saying a rosary — would be even more historic than Saturday’s drubbing of Filth FC, and that’s saying something.

Mon the Hoops!

Closing the window again

If you will permit me a chance to don my Captain Obvious outfit, that was a fine piece of business this summer. And Oliver Abildgaard, if you would be so kind as to close the transfer window behind you now that you’re here, I’d be grateful.

Celtic clearly outdid themselves this time around, and for this we are truly thankful. Getting deals done early, getting players locked in and under contract instead of under loan — one might think they were dreaming.

Jota, at right, whether on the wing or not, is without a doubt the best Celtic signing in the last several years. The key is to keep him around for awhile, and I hope the Celtic board does just that.

But no. It’s a new morning at Parkhead, and apparently the board is serious about giving Ange Postecoglou the tools to win. A lot. And so we end up with Cameron Carter-Vickers signed, Jota signed, Benjamin Siegrist (a first class first-stringer who I never thought would play behind Joe Hart) signed, Daizen Maeda (previously on loan) signed, and the list goes on: Aaron Mooy, Sead Haksabanovic, Alexandro Bernabei, and Moritz Jenz on loan from FC Lorient, not to mention Abildgaard on loan from Rubin Kazan.

Not only this, we say goodbye to some players who may not have made it in the new system and have been, well, a burden on the payroll: Christopher Jullien, whose knee injury eclipsed flashes of brilliance on the pitch (Betfred Cup winner against the Huns, anyone?) — he’s now with Montpellier. Albian Ajeti may get more playing time at Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga. Vasilis Barkas seems to be settling in with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie.

And there are some departures to other clubs which you kind of hate to see: I would have liked someday to have seen Karamoko Dembele playing up front with Kyogo Furuhashi, but Dembele is off to Stade Brestois 29 in Ligue 1; a good move for him, but unfortunate for what could have been. Bohemians FC in Dublin got a steal when they picked up Jonathan Afolabi on loan — he had a lot of potential and will help the Bohs immensely. Barnsley, too, got a deal and a half with Luca Connell. And then you hate to see a young talent like Liam Scales in the red of Aberdeen, looking as out of place as Scott Brown and Jonny Hayes wearing the Dons’ kit. Speaking of Liams, Liam Shaw joins Morecambe down south after a season on loan to Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and I know he’ll contribute there.

A hill I’m willing to fight and die on: Mikey Johnston is definitely Celtic caliber who needs to get playing time he wouldn’t normally get in the current club lineup. So a loan spell to Vitoria de Guimaraes in the Portuguese league would be good for him, especially under the terms agreed to by both clubs.

But most interestingly, Mikey Johnston has a season-long loan spell with Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese league, after signing a one-year extension with Celtic. So with no sell-on clause, the good news is that after Johnston gets some time to return to his former level of play, he’ll be back in the Hoops next season.

On trophy day at the end of last season, Ange promised us we’d come back bigger and better, and it appears he’s keeping his word. And the We-Never-Stop gospel has taken root with the Hoops, to the point where essentially a second team throttled the hammerthrowing Ross County on Wednesday 4-1 to advance in the Scottish League Cup.

So close the window and get ready for a wild ride.

One more thing

The Moan the Hoops Brigade on social media are at it again: This time, the whipping boy is Alexandro Bernabei, who had what nearly every Celtic fan who watched Wednesday would describe as a good game — not great, but not bad either — against Ross County. Bernabei moves well with the ball and with a couple of defensive miscues that led to absolutely nothing for the Stags, and he got a full 90+ minutes under his proverbial belt.

But that’s not good enough for some. Seriously, people, get a fucking grip.

If Twitter had existed in 1997 when Henrik Larsson started for the Hoops, the Moan the Hoops Brigade would have ridden him out on a rail after a debut which featured an errant pass leading to a Hibernian goal, and later an own-goal in a European match. Thank God social media didn’t explode on the scene until about a decade later, and thank God, too, that none of these people are within a light-year of making decisions for the club, either then or now.

Also, a hat tip for Sead Haksabanovic, who came on at the 76-minute mark in the Ross County match and showed a lot of potential. Once he gets used to playing with his new teammates, the sky is the limit.

Meanwhile, Celtic hosts Scum of the Earth FC, a 10-year-old club whose sole purpose is to provide the world a cautionary tale about how not to run a football club, to say nothing of being a club with followers who are the dregs of society. It’s the Glasgow Derby at the god-awful crack of 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, and quite frankly destroying them would be worth waking up to.

F*ck the Huns and Mon the Hoops!

LFC: We got 9. Celtic: Hold my beer

It has become commonplace on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 4 a.m. for noon kickoffs in Scotland: Set the alarm for 3:45, shut it off quickly before apologizing to my daughter awakened in the other room of our small apartment, curse the fact I can’t sleep in to 7 for a 3 p.m. kickoff, shower, suit up in the appropriate home/road/third jersey and scarf, and then put on the Celtic match with a very low volume.

If every Celtic game was like Sunday’s outing at Tannadice, getting up at 4 would never be difficult.

There are no superlatives that would do justice to the Bhoys’ 9-0 victory yesterday. Also, not to blame the victim here, but after Joe Hart went down with a boot to the head, got stapled up, and continued to play flawlessly, Dundee United had a whipping coming to them. Don’t injure our keeper, and we’ll let you live . . .

Joe Hart gets his head stapled after a collision with Steven Fletcher’s foot early in Celtic’s game against Dundee United.

Nevertheless, this was a result that was coming when, finally, Celtic fires on all cylinders. Not only were the Bhoys firing on all cylinders on Sunday, they shifted into overdrive as well. Unfortunately, Dundee United had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of Celtic’s pure, beautiful, inventive football in a high-scoring match that the Hoops have been capable of ever since Ange Postecoglou took the helm.

One stat stands out: Thirty shots, 13 on target, makes you wonder how many of those other 17 might have gone in had they been closer.

These two guys, Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada, scored six goals between them on Sunday against Dundee United.

Not enough can be said about Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada: Kyogo at 15′ and 40′ and 45’+2, Abada at 50′ and 59′ and 77′. Already the comparisons between Kyogo and Henrik Larsson are being made on social media — prematurely, in my book. However, the Japanese bhoy has certainly made strides in that direction to validate a comparison to the King of Kings, and no one would be happier than me to see that come to fruition.

Jota, too, was his usual flawless self. On his goal right before the end of the half, a very humorous episode took place where a Dundee United defender, on the pitch between Jota and the goal albeit several yards to Jota’s right, put his hand up for offside on Jota . . . when he was in front of Jota on the pitch. The comic relief of that alone made this the goal of the game, in my book.

And it doesn’t stop there.

With the depth on this squad, Ange is orchestrating the games like a conductor leading a symphony. Thinking you may be getting a respite with a second-teamer coming in off the bench? Not a chance. There’s a good chance the replacement is better than the player coming off. It’s a great position for Celtic to be in.

It will be interesting to see if we can keep the level up in our next match, a League Cup tie at Ross County on Wednesday, to say nothing of Saturday’s match against the Huns.

One more thing

There’s this meme floating around social media recently that provided a chuckle. It said, and I’m paraphrasing here, Group F in the UEFA Champions League is the scariest because it has 15 European Cups between Real Madrid and Celtic. Of course, it doesn’t mention that 14 of those belong to Real Madrid, and who am I to mention that part?

Anyway, onward and forward. Mon the Hoops!

Drawing conclusions

Personally, I hate to admit this, but the truth is the truth: Because I’ve only been following Celtic — and football, for that matter — for five seasons, I am hardly an expert on the beautiful game and its multiplicity of nuances. I freely admit that, and what follows here, and in all my blogs, are commentary.

But in my defense, I watch a lot of it, and not only Celtic. The learning curve is not as steep as one might think.

So when it comes to the UEFA Champions League draw on Thursday, my rudimentary knowledge of who’s good and who’s a poseur (hint: Glasgow’s other team that’s not Partick Thistle) leads me to believe that we got a good group this time around.

Not great, but surely it could have been worse.

First things first: I hate Real Madrid with the heat of a nova mostly for their history — and any Spanish team with “real” (“royal”) in their title smacks of fascism — but they’re a phenomenal club. The fact that there are 15 European Cups in our group — 14 of them for Real Madrid and one for Celtic — speaks pretty clearly to the consistent quality that the Spanish clubs puts on the pitch.

But they aren’t perfect. As historically good a coach as Carlo Ancelotti is, Real Madrid can be beat. And I think Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic squad are the only club in this group that can give them a run.

Call it a hunch. A gut feeling. Celtic’s speed matches up with anyone, even the world’s best. And while I don’t want to take anything away from any of the other clubs in the group, Real Madrid is the odds-on favorite here and Celtic have the best chance of knocking them off their proverbial pedestal.

Ange Postecoglou addressed the challenge of this season’s UEFA Champions League draw in his press conference yesterday.

Ange put it aptly at yesterday’s press conference: “You want our football club to be among the big ones in Europe so there was a real sense of anticipation around the draw. After it, irrespective of the teams you get, you’ve got a challenge before you and from our perspective we’re really excited for what’s ahead.”

And the rest?

Red Bull Leipzig — the “other” Red Bull team in Europe to its Group E counterpart Red Bull Salzburg (and, of course, their American MLS cousin, New York Red Bulls, home of ex-Celts Patryk Klimala, Lewis Morgan, and Cameron Harper) — shouldn’t be ignored, despite their slow start in the Bundesliga this season at no wins, two draws and a loss. But there’s nothing that stands out on that club that, at least on paper, can give Celtic problems.

Same with FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Currently sitting seventh in the league and being dinged in a friendly with AS Roma by a score of 5-0, the Ukranian club has concerns that far outweigh their Champions League standing. But they could be a wild card in this group and deserve to be watched closely.

It should be a very interesting group stage, to say the least. And there’s really no reason that Celtic can’t squeak by and take it, or at least finish a strong second.

One more thing

Champions League Group A: No one is a bigger fan of Liverpool in this grouping than I am. My sincerest wish is that they mop the floor with everyone in the group, especially the Huns. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Reds.

Meanwhile the Hoops are at Tannadice against Dundee United on Sunday, kicking off at the God-awful hour of 4 a.m. Pacific time. Mon the Hoops!

Back in the saddle

Despite all the advances of modern medicine to date, there are few cures for a lengthy illness — and non-COVID, thankfully — that are more effective and healing than Celtic starting the season like they have so far with three convincing wins. Now that I’m well enough to stop laying in bed and studying the ceiling, not to mention that the timing is right now that the new season is already in gear, it’s time to get back on the blogging horse.

Every Celtic fan on the planet last Sunday was Jota after Carl Starfelt scored his first-ever goal for the Hoops against Kilmarnock.

Expecting the unexpected

There are things over the past several weeks that were inevitable: Sure, Jota was always going to sign — you don’t travel the world wearing the Hoops if you’re going to stay at Benfica or go elsewhere. Nailing down Cameron Carter-Vickers was another feather in the backroom staff’s cap. Adding Benjamin Siegrist was also a coup — to be honest, I never thought he’d agree to play behind Joe Hart, but here we are — and the additions of Alexandro Bernabei, Aaron Mooy, and Moritz Jenz round out the business end of things, despite rumors of one final move for Rubin Kazan’s Sead Haksabanovic.

The transfer window has had the usual suspects come and go, and most importantly and immediately on the table here is where Mikey Johnston will end up on loan. Ange Postecoglou knows there’s still a player there, who just needs some consistent playing time to get back to form, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies Johnston’s play on social media.

But on the whole, business got done early for a change, planned and methodical this time, as opposed to the fire drills in the past, and all indications point to success.

Expectations are high. But Carl Starfelt’s goal against Kilmarnock? No one could have expected that, but yet here we are with the Swede getting his first on the SPFL’s worst rug at Rugby Park.

Then there’s the emergence of Greg Taylor. Taylor has always been a solid player, a dependable defender thrust into a winger’s assignment which, to be fair, may have been a steep learning curve for him. But for those of us who believed in him from the start, we get our “I told you so” moment to the PlayStation pundits and the armchair gaffers who would have just as soon dumped him.

The Japanese bhoys are picking up where they left off last season, which is sugoi. Georgios Giakoumakis, a new father with a new purpose, who could easily start but has come off the bench with amazing results. Jota? Worth every penny and more with the consistently phenomenal play we expect from the Portuguese wunderkind. Even Moritz Jenz, on loan from Lorient, may want to keep his bags unpacked and stay in Scotland for awhile.

Add to this the cast of last year’s regulars who add to the successful mix: Stephen Welsh and Anthony Ralston at the back, Liel Abada on the wing, and David Turnbull showing the solid midfield play that brought him to Glasgow from Motherhell . . . sorry, Motherwell. To say nothing of Matt O’Riley being the biggest steal in the last transfer window, flying under the radar of just about everyone except our staff.

So expect the expected, like another successful season under Postecoglou. But also expect the unexpected as well, like goals from the back like Welsh’s against Aberdeen and, yes, even from Starfelt.

With a combined score of 10-1 in our first three games, giving the Hoops a +9 goal differential, we now turn our attention to the diet Huns, Heart of Midlothian, on Sunday at Celtic Park. Thank God for the 3 p.m. kickoff — that means I can sleep in until 7 a.m. on Sunday morning — and, of course, Mon the Hoops!

One more thing (well, two actually)

I always like to add just one more thought before signing off. In some instances, there are more than one “last thought” that compete for the pixels, and in this case both warrant an appearance here.

First, it appears that the club is doing the right thing in letting the investigation run its due course on the incident involving Alexandro Bernabei, which seems to involve drunk driving and which, of course, is never acceptable or unpunished behavior. However, in typical Scottish media fashion, public details on the incident are both conflicting and nebulous, but the club is doing the right thing by letting the investigations, internal for the club and external in the law enforcement realm, draw their conclusions. Meanwhile, he trains and is available, if necessary, for games. At worst, the kid fucked up and will pay some sort of penalty. Equating this with some other transgressions of the recent past (*cough* Boli Bolingoli *cough*) and seeking Bernabei’s exit for this transgression, especially before all the facts are in, is completely ludicrous. Get a grip.

Also, it’s normally expected for the Scottish sports media to say ridiculous things about Celtic. As someone who has followed the Hoops since 2016/17 — still a neophyte, I know — I have gotten used to airheaded pundits like Kris Boyd spouting moronic nonsense like Jota’s not the best player in the league. The best response to those is just shaking one’s head, rolling one’s eyes, and moving on. But then, very unfortunately, we have some in our own ranks who spout absolute nonsense as well. Not to give the offending blog any more oxygen than it deserves, but recently a Celtic blogger sent up the trial balloon of, “Hey, maybe we should sell Giakoumakis in this transfer window.” No chance, sport, and maybe you should take up another avocation.

A tale of two goalkeepers

Now that the summer is here, and rumors — sorry, rumours — abound with who’s going where and why, a couple of goalkeepers have popped up on Celtic’s radar, according to the press, pundits and various rumour mills.

With the departure of Vasilis Barkas to FC Utrecht on a season-long loan (and we all know what that means . . .), the best way to describe it is that there’s a vacancy on the Celtic bench for a backup goalkeeper to Joe Hart, who is a god among men between the sticks.

Putting aside the fact that the forgotten Scott Bain is a more-than-adequate backup to the Sacred Hart, the two top goalkeeper candidates possibly destined for Hoopdom next season, if you believe the reports and the pundits, are FC St. Pauli’s Nikola Vasilj and Dundee United’s Benjamin Siegrist.

For completely selfish reasons as a FC St. Pauli fan, my hope is that Nikola Vasilj will stay at FC St. Pauli next season.

As many of you already know, I am not only a Celtic fan but I am also a FC St. Pauli fan. Whenever “Hell’s Bells” comes on the radio while in the car, I blast it regardless of where I am or who is with me (often making my daughter say, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaad.”) But I digress. The point is that I spent last season watching both Celtic and St. Pauli games, pretty much in equal amounts. And Vasilj, in large part, is one of the reasons the Boys in Brown from Hamburg nearly got promoted to the Bundesliga.

But — and this is a big “but,” and I cannot lie — frankly, I’d much rather see Vasilj stay at St. Pauli for the simple reason that he’d be starting there, he’d be excelling between the sticks if last season is any indication, and he and others on the squad would hopefully prove that St. Pauli’s flirtation with promotion last season wasn’t just a hoax.

Which leaves us with Siegrist.

I’ll bet anything Benjamin Siegrist would love to play and not have to face a variety of Hoops-wearing players bearing down on him with the ball. But that’s just me.

To relate how Siegrist would be an asset to Celtic would require me to tell you a tale from these shores, from another sport no less. In the ’90s, the San Francisco Giants just missed the playoffs after winning 102 games — Atlanta had won 103 that year — and during the 162-game season, a pitcher named Mark Portugal of the Houston Astros had the Giants’ number, beating them six times over the course of the season. The Giants, in the offseason, acquired Portugal from the Astros and ended up winning the division the following season.

Siegrist — like Zander Clark of St. Johnstone (the final game of the season notwithstanding) — always seems to give Celtic fits when he’s playing in goal for Dundee United. He’s solid between the posts and while some have mentioned a questionable degree of talent with the ball at his feet, any shortcomings can be easily fixed by Stevie Woods, the universe’s greatest goalkeeping coach.

So if you’re following along, Siegrist joining Celtic would erase any annoying top-rate performances against us next season because, well, he’s on our team now.

But . . . Siegrist is an A-level player both in the SPFL and internationally, and whether he’d want to just sit on the Celtic bench and watch Hart is something that may not be to his liking.

Nevertheless, all of this is conjecture at this point — talk that can only fuel pub discussions and set off Twitter wars. But it remains to be seen what the Hoops do in the off-season to bolster their already talented squad.

Mon the Hoops!

Meanwhile in the MLS . . .

There’s no doubt that Celtic fans are still basking in the afterglow of winning the league title. With a boost from Eintracht Frankfurt yesterday sending Glasgow’s other Premiership club home empty-handed from Seville, there continues to be a wealth of joy and mirth to spread around this week.

While much already has been written about the championship and while there is room for metric tons of conjecture about what is next for Celtic going forward, allow me to divert your attention for a moment to the Celtic-driven game on these shores last night between the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire — a match which had a distinct Celtic connection.

The game itself was a typical MLS barnburner — apologies to the Chicago Fire, though ironically Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had no bearing on the match — which ended in a 3-3 draw.

The unique thing about it, though, was that all three goals for New York Red Bulls were scored by ex-Celts.

California bhoy Cameron Harper is starting to make an impact with his MLS club, New York Red Bulls.

This may not be a surprise. The New York Red Bulls went on a shopping spree a while back and picked up a couple of Celtic players. A bulked-up Patryk Klimala looked primed and ready to dominate in the SPFL before being lured across the Atlantic to the Big Apple. NYRB also had the foresight to pick up American winger Cameron Harper, a star on Celtic’s B team who was about to break through to the first team.

Later, Andrew Gutman — who never got a really got a chance in Scotland thanks to various immigration snafus — joined the Big Apple club last season on loan from Atlanta United. Though solid in defense for the Red Bulls, Gutman has since returned to Atlanta.

Back in December during the off-season, Lewis Morgan — who was Inter Miami’s MVP in their inaugural season — was acquired by Red Bulls in a preseason deal that included $1.2 million in allocation money to Inter Miami. Earlier this season, Morgan scored a hat trick in the first 40 minutes of a match against Toronto FC.

Suffice to say that the New York Red Bulls have a definite eye for quality in picking former Celts.

But meanwhile, back at last night’s draw at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, here’s how Celtic’s fingerprints were all over this match.

Morgan scored on a penalty midway through the first half. Harper scored his first MLS goal near the end of first half — after a series of passes that would be at home at Celtic Park, Harper received a back heel from Klimala and took a shot so hard it went through the Chicago keeper’s hands and in. And while down 3-2 in injury time, NYRB leveled when Klimala got on the end of a cross inside the box in the waning seconds of the match.

Suffice to say, it’s great to see the reach of talent developed at Lennoxtown in the rest of the football world.

Mon the Hoops!

The envelope, please …

Remember where you heard it first: In my last blog post, I outlined the conundrum for picking this year’s Player of the Year. So what does the club go and do, in the advent of this weekend’s semifinal at Hampden against Old Firm FC? Celtic has decided to release the ballots for superlative players and performances for the year.

Thanks, guys!

Go and vote here. Meanwhile, here’s how I voted, if you are interested.

Player of the Year: Joe Hart

First things first: Each of the nominees are easily qualified for the award, and truly there are no wrong answers on this one. It takes a special type of leadership to harness the wide range of talent at Celtic, so that’s where Callum McGregor deserves the award. Tom Rogic’s renaissance on the pitch this season has been a godsend. Jota zooming past defenders on the wing is a joy to watch, and he gets what Celtic is all about, which of course begs the question why the club hasn’t signed him yet. Kyogo Furuhashi is a phenomenal threat whenever he sets foot on the pitch. Cameron Carter-Vickers is the linchpin of the airtight Celtic defense and, like Jota, needs to be signed as soon as possible.

But I am sticking with Joe Hart. Hart’s reboot between the sticks at Celtic is, in large part, one of the primary reasons for the Hoops remarkable turnaround. Many times, goalkeepers tend to get overlooked, unless they become a goal-leaking sieve, but Hart has been a rock. A wall. All of the candidates deserve the nod, but I would give it to Hart.

Honorable mention: Given a second choice, I’d go with CCV.

Goal of the Season: Kyogo Furuhashi vs Ferencvaros

Those who know me know that I am a sucker for long-range shots. So you might think that I might go with David Turnbull’s shot against Motherwell or Reo Hatate against Hearts, but no. And while Tom Rogic navigating the Dundee United defense deserves special mention, I have to go with Kyogo Furuhashi’s goal against Ferencvaros, not only for the goal itself but for the remarkable long pass from Jota that put the ball right at the Japanese lad’s instep at mid-stride on his way to the goal. If there’s any clip of any goal that should be taught at soccer academies worldwide, it’s this one.

Honorable Mention should also go to both of Kyogo’s goals against Hibs as well.

Young Player of the Year: Liel Abada

Another category where all the candidates are deserving, even with David Turnbull out with injury for a significant portion of the season. Matt O’Riley’s play since coming to Celtic has put him in the starting blocks of becoming a Celtic favorite, and maybe someday a Celtic legend. And B-team/Academy grad Stephen Welsh shows what hard work and good training with the B team can produce for Celtic.

But Liel Abada gets the nod because, more often than not, he’s always at the right place at the right time and deserved the award this year.

Honorable mention should go to Matt O’Riley, who will definitely be on annual ballots for years to come.

Women’s Player of the Year: Charlie Wellings

In the words of the ancient Charlie perfume ad: Kinda young, kinda now, kinda free, kinda wow. Charlie Wellings has been a scoring machine for the Ghirls this season and makes her the clear choice. And though both Jacynta Galabadaarachchi and Olivia Chance are both remarkable players worthy of the award, it’s unfortunate that this category wasn’t expanded to include other candidates, like my American homeghirl Sarah Harkes.

So, how did you vote?

Mon the Hoops.