Midweek meanderings: Free agent to consider and quality kits

Now that it’s midweek with no game to watch, unfortunately, it’s the perfect time to let the mind wander after reading the Celtic news of the day. And to paraphrase Douglas Adams, I love transfer rumours — I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by. That said, let’s take a look at a couple of items to ponder . . . .

An experienced centre back on no one’s radar

There’s a free agent currently out there on the market who, I think, has a proven record of success. Yes, he’s a little injury-prone and should probably stay away from the plastic pitches that occasionally pop up on the Celtic schedule. But when he has been on the pitch playing for his team, he has been a steady player who has come up from time to time with some significant play for his club, and has been more than a footnote in his club’s history.

Of course the free agent I’m talking about is Jozo Simunovic. And he even comes with his own soundtrack.

Sure, the key here is whether a smaller contract and a reduced role will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Croatian, and probably playing back-up to whomever is playing that position — Nir Bitton? — but as an insurance policy in a season where Celtic players wear huge targets on their backs for the league’s hammer throwers — and watch the Hamilton game again for a preview — it wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows the system and, from time to time, knows where to be at historic moments.

I’ve said here and elsewhere that releasing Simunovic and Jonny Hayes was a mistake. Hayes is away for good, playing for deferred payments for Aberdeen. But Jozo is still available.

In this day and age where a virus has changed all the rules of footballing business and funding in general, and player aquisition with said funds (or lack thereof) in particular, all options should be on the table and “thinking outside the box” is not only necessary, but prudent.

World-class club, world-class kit

Now that the adidas strip has been rolled to great fanfare — and thank you Celtic FC Store online for putting the New Balance kits on fire sale prior to this, so poor fans like yours truly could score a quality jersey at a bargain basement price — it seems that some of the other clubs in the Scottish Premiership have not been, let’s just say, as fortunate.

Normally I don’t really like to use these pixels to talk about anything other than Celtic, but I will make an exception today to point out that it’s not all that rosy in the kit rollout for Glasgow’s other club.

While it’s not polite to laugh at other people’s misfortu . . . wait. I think we can make an exception in this case. Taking a moment to read Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s post yesterday — a belter, as Phil’s posts usually are, and I’ll gladly wait if you want to go ahead and read it — you might see in the photo of Kemar Roofe a certain lack of editing on his jersey. Saty in Control? And where’s the “t” in “Castore”? That is, if you aren’t already distracted by the “d” in “Ready” falling off the display behind Roofe.

Add to this some of the, um, “problems” that fans of Glasgow’s other club have had in getting their ordered kits in, well, unscathed form, and you have the recipe that only the orcs from Ibrox can cook up. Waiting for the laughter to die down . . . .

Anyway, that will do it for today. Don’t forget that the bhoys get back to work on Sunday — we’re on the road again against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, a 4:30 p.m. kickoff (8:30 a.m. on the North American Pacific Coast).

Mon the Hoops!

Doviđenja, Jozo, i sretno (Goodbye, Jozo, and good luck)

Ground Conrol to Major Ken: Jozo Simunovic launches Kenny Miller into orbit in what could best be described as one of the all-time great tackles in football history.

The memory is ingrained deep in the psyche of all Celtic fans — the moment you saw Jozo Simunovic head the ball into the net against Kilmarnock last April in a game honoring another Number 5, Billy McNeill.

You may have been at Paradise, or maybe you were watching at home. Maybe you were in a pub with like-minded Celtic supporters.

Or if you were at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, as I was, watching with the San Francisco CSC, you might have done what we did: Cheer wildly for the goal, and when the gravity of fate made us realize that Number 5 had scored 67 minutes in, a hush of awe washed over the room.

Shortly afterward, I put the picture of Jozo pointing to the heavens after scoring that goal as the photo on my cell phone. It stays there to this day to remind me about how, on that day, the forces of nature sent a clear and unequivocal sign to Celtic and said, “There’s nothing stopping you now.”

Those who know me in Celtic circles know that I am a full-throated defender of Jozo Simunovic in the face of some of the naysayers within our support. Yeah, he may have knees of glass and, yeah, he may have been in injury recovery a little longer than might be convenient. But when he does make his way onto the pitch, Jozo is a machine.

Not only does he patrol the backfield with aplomb, he has also been known to wander forward and at a few opportune times — like in the game against Hearts back in February — his forehead happened to be in the right place at the right time to head Ryan Christie’s corner into the net to make the score 5-0. Or when Jozo took some initiative and drove forward to take a Greg Taylor cross in the game against Kilmarnock in March, only to be carried by momentum over the goal line but not before heading the ball back to Odsonne Edouard, who scored.

Two for the road: Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic sadly will be leaving Celtic.

Jozo has earned a spot in Celtic lore not only for his goal in the Billy McNeill game or for launching Kenny Miller in a textbook tackle that should be taught in football academies worldwide, but also for his firm and steady defensive play for the Hoops. It is unfortunate that, due to injury, he could not reach his full potential for the club, but by the same token his play while in good health was of the highest quality.

They say things like this come in threes, so after Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic, who might be next? Some are speculating that it might be Kris Ajer, who has been rumored to be on his way out for some time. My sincere hope is that this is wrong, but it remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, thank you, Jozo, for all those moments with the Hoops, and you are always one of us.

[Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, I went “off script” and wrote a blog item about Nairn County FC in the Highland Football League after their statement assured that their team and staff would be paid, and club resources would be used to help the community through the Covid-19 crisis. Lo and behold, after exchanging emails with the club’s Donald Graham, I am now in possession of a maize (not yellow) and black NCFC scarf. Thanks, Donald, and mon the Wee County!]

A few of my favourite things

Fun fact: “The Sound of Music” was the first movie I went to see with my family when I was a kid. A minor qualification, though: Really, the first movie I ever saw was the night before in a Friday night outing with my Dad and my friends from the neighbourhood to the drive-in, where we saw a forgettable stock-car racing movie called “Red Line 7000” with James Caan.

Anyway, “The Sound of Music” ended up producing a boatload of cultural references over time and, in the Internet age, a raft of memes that range from sublime to hilarious.

“Red Line 7000,” not so much.

As such, of all the songs in “The Sound of Music,” the song “My Favourite Things” has probably been parodied most throughout the 55-year history of the film.

Permit me to add another. Sing along if you know the tune.

My favourite things

Ntcham and Jozo and Rogic and Boli,
Griff blasts a shot that slips right past their goalie,
Jeremie Frimpong flies quick up the wing,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Killie in Glasgow, French Eddy puts two in,
Oh, and hey look, Tom, “Whit’s the goalie daein’?”
Taylor to CalMac, the Green Brigade sings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Broony at Rugby Park, Moi Elyounoussi,
Bitton upfield with a shot like an Uzi,
Forrest and Christie, two midfielding kings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Loss to Cluj, and draw at Livi,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember The Wall is in goal,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

‘You Gotta Have Heart(s)’

In the musical “Damn Yankees,” the manager of the Washington Senators breaks into one of the theatrical performance’s songs about having “heart.” It’s guts, the will to face adversity, the ability to believe that you can overcome sometimes overwhelming odds.

One can only hope that Heart of Midlothian FC were paying attention. Because after the thrashing they received at Celtic Park yesterday . . .

When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start

Celtic’s Callum McGregor shoots and scores at the 52-minute mark to put the Bhoys in Green up 3-0. Celtic went on to beat Heart of Midlothian 5-0 at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

After its usual methodical — some might say “slow” — start with Olivier Ntcham scoring off a rebound at the 30-minute mark to go into the locker room at halftime with a 1-0 lead, Celtic shifted into another gear and, in quick succession scored at 46 minutes (Christopher Jullien) and 52 minutes (Callum McGregor), waiting a bit to score again at 67 minutes (Ryan Christie) and then at 80 minutes (Jozo Simunovic).

All unanswered.

And while it could be a little disconcerting to some to think that Edinburgh could end up a city with only one club in the Scottish Premiership, Celtic on the other hand is a club that is reaching new highs.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that the league, for the second year in a row, may have been won again at Rugby Park — this time by Kilmarnock’s Eamonn Brophy slotting a right-footer against The Rangers making it 2-1 Killie with two minutes remaining — the Celtic team that put on a show Wednesday night in Glasgow fired on all cylinders.

Greg Taylor is fitting in nicely and delivering crosses with apolmb. Christie walked on to the pitch in the second half and, a few minutes later, ended up on the score sheet. Even Simunovic, who many of the so-called Celtic faithful have written off (shame on them!), marshalled the ball around the Celtic half of the pitch on defence for most of the game and, on the last Celtic corner of the game, headed in a delivery into the net with a quick nod to wrap up Celtic’s scoring.

My Man/Woman of the Match? Whomever put on the “Theme from Hawaii 5-0” on the stadium PA after Simunovic, who wears number 5, scored to make the tally — wait for it — 5-0.

OK, seriously: This time, I’d give it to Ntcham, whose ball handling and passing in traffic has been outstanding as of late. Putting back the rebound early in the game didn’t hurt, either, but the Frenchman is showing his worth to the Celtic. Though Taylor is getting better and better now that he’s got a few games under his belt, he easily could have been considered the Man of the Match as well.

It’s a good problem to have — indecision regarding who to give Man of the Match to when there are so many good players performing at peak levels.

But officially, the Man of the Match on Wednesday was McGregor. And rightfully so.

Next up: Aberdeen on Sunday. Mon the Hoops!

Focus, focus, focus

Taking a look at all that’s going on in Scottish football over the last couple of weeks, it appears that distractions are rearing their ugly heads and overwhelming the general public in general, and football fans in particular, in tsunami-sized waves of falsehoods.

To recap:

Celtic fans tried to kill Alfredo Morelos. No wait, that paper-thin perpetrator under Fredo’s Lamborghini is actually a private investigator hired by Morelos’ pregnant wife to place a tracker on his car to keep tabs on him.

So, let’s deflect.

Sky Sports — let’s turn on the Sarcasmatron and see what it calls them . . . it says “a paragon of sport journalism” — produces an interview with a player who can’t understand English, yet he claims there’s racist abuse directed toward him at Celtic Park. But wait: Those subtitles aren’t exactly a match to what he’s saying. In fact, they’re arguably not even close.

The total weight of this disingenuous behaviour could stun a team of oxen.

Thank God for Michael Stewart, who has both the gravitas and the courage to tell the truth, taking to heart the Latin phrase, Fiat justitia ruat caelum — let justice prevail though the heavens fall. To his immense credit, Stewart is doing what journalists should be doing everywhere, but sadly aren’t; especially in Scotland, apparently.

As a former journalist, I can go on for days here regarding how important Stewart’s statements are and the heroic nature of the stand he is taking, just by merely highlighting the truth. But I will spare you.

You’re welcome.

The Dynamic Duo: Leigh Griffiths hugs Odsonne Edouard after Edouard’s opening goal at the 9-minute mark at Fir Park. Celtic went on to beat Motherwell 4-0.

But speaking of the Motherwell game . . .

All distractions aside, what I did want to write about today was yesterday’s game at Fir Park, where Celtic got off to its usual meticulous start in the first half, going into the locker room with a meager 1-0 lead, and came out of the gate in the second half like gangbusters, ending the game with a 4-0 score, and a wider goal differential in its seven-point lead in the table.

Rather than do the usual “five takeaways,” I am going to make this brief, sort of.

During the transfer window, we had a flurry of greeters bemoaning the fact that we need [fill-in-the-position-of-your-choice-here] or we are doomed to extinction. This while ignoring that there really was only one blemish on the season so far, on Dec. 29. One misstep that has seen us atop the league virtually all season and accomplishing one of three steps toward the Quadruple Treble so far.

So I am going to assume they will go contentedly silent now. Maybe.

It’s not only the obvious things that set us apart atop the rest of the league, like the tandem of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — twin strikers from separate mothers — working like a well-oiled machine at the front, or how the crowd in the 3-5-2 midfield is seemingly flawless in their ball-handling, moving the ball efficiently up the field. It’s not only Fraser Forster rejecting everything that comes remotely near him in goal.

It’s also in the little things, too: Patryk Klimala and Stephen Welsh both showing promise; the former showing speed and skill in two brief stints at the end of the last two games, and the latter having a good game in his debut. Tom Rogic and Jozo Simunovic getting back up to speed; especially the latter, who has put together back-to-back adequate games as a starter. And then, to add to the returning wounded, Ryan Christie showing some flash in the Motherwell game, starting the Christie to James Forrest to Callum McGregor goal in the second half.

But wait, there’s more. Mohammed Elyounoussi is training and will be back soon, followed by Hatem Elhamed and Jeremie Frimpong. Once we’re back to full strength, we should be unstoppable.

Most importantly, what someone needs to do, or should have done, immediately after the final whistle at Fir Park was to wake up Peter Lawwell and have him sign Forster immediately after the game. For life. Right now. As great as our backups are — and both Scott Bain and Craig Gordon are top-notch, even though we haven’t seen them all season — neither one of them is making these same saves. The Wall is in his own class, in his own league, in his own universe.

Forster needs to be Celtic for life.

The same applies to Edouard as well. Though he’s under contract until the end of the 2021/22 season, he needs to be kept around at all costs. Chris Sutton is absolutely right when he says Edouard is “the closest thing to (Henrik) Larsson I’ve seen in a Celtic jersey.” If anyone on the planet can speak with authority on this topic, it is Sutton.

One more thing

Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien might be getting slagged a bit on their defensive lapses in the Motherwell game, and there is no argument there — Ajer’s missed tackle could have sullied the clean sheet that Celtic came away with had Motherwell scored. But they didn’t. And to their credit, Kris and Chris are always in communication, and you can see them discussing play during the celebration of Edouard’s first goal.

Additionally, Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — clearly have worked hard on consistently being a team of hammer-throwing Steelmen; no secret there. They also happen to be third in the Scottish Premiership table, which makes them first-of-the-also-rans behind Celtic and Glasgow’s other club. They’re third in the table for a reason, and on Wednesday, taking advantage of Celtic’s defensive lapses is probably the main reason why they lead the rest of the pack.

Now, for the rest of the season, let’s focus.

Focus on our positives far, far outweighing our negatives, because they do. Neil Lennon has been nothing short of masterful in handling suitable lineups in the face of multiple injuries. Focus on the two prizes needed to complete the next treble; one cup down, one cup and the league championship to go. Focus on the fact that, despite all these infantile shenanigans going on in Scottish football drawing away everyone’s attention (and we’re not even going close to the disciplinary garbage the SFA is pulling), Celtic is playing its best football in quite some time and, barring any disasters, we should prevail.

Focus, focus, focus.

12 Days of Christmas, Celtic style

[Or, what happens when you have too much eggnog on a slow and wintry Christmas Eve . . . ]

On the first day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
the European Cup trophy.

On the second day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the third day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the third day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the fourth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the ninth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Moussa’s big hat trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Eleven Lisbon Lions
Moussa’s big hat trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Twelve ballboys cheering
Eleven Lisbon Lions
Moussa’s big hat-trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

. . . and the European Cup trophy.

Moment to moment

Brown 90+2 — This speaks volumes.

Breathe.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Whew.

After today’s game with Hamilton Accies, I am going to forgo the usual “five takeaways,” because there is really only one. And while I will always suggest taking a look at The Sandman’s ratings on The Celtic Star, there is really only one thing (well, two actually) to say about today’s game.

Scott Brown: Captain. Leader. Legend. Demigod.

That really says it all.

Well, that and for a minute and 37 seconds, The Rangers™ had thought they had continued to keep pace with Celtic when Hamilton equalized right around the 90-minute mark. That was erased after Brown, off his left foot, scored the go-ahead goal.

The bus ride back from Aberdeen to Glasgow for The Rangers™ fans was probably a very somber one.

I wish to God I had sounded more coherent when the ball hit the net, because all I could do when I jumped out of my chair was just scream, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Broo0000000000000000000000000ny!” All the while running around the living room, stopping only to do The Broony™ after standing on the coffee table.

But it does makes one think about how special this club is, and how perhaps forces beyond this realm are guiding the club in the right direction. Today’s “intervention” — for lack of a better term — rivals last seasons’s Billy McNeill game against Kilmarnock, where Jozo Simunovic — number 5 — scored in the 67th minute of the game.

Some are calling this a “Scott Brown won the league at Celtic Park” moment, as this article in The Celtic Star outlines, and they are not far off. Realistically, there is a lot more football to be played between now and the end of the season, but if this game is any indication, we are in good hands.

On to Sunday and the Betfred Cup.