Hiatus: Close the window

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, apparently it appears that Celtic captain Scott Brown needs a barber . . . .

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, attention has now been directed at the now-open summer transfer window, where speculation abounds regarding who Celtic should acquire to assure the 10.

Allow me a radical approach to this window in these special times: Close the window and don’t seek anyone new.

Sure, make the deal with Southampton and sign Fraser Forster; that’s a must. Sign Mohammed Elyounoussi, too, while you’re at it. But Celtic has the nucleus of a great team already in place, and some of the recent additions have yet to see adequate playing time on the pitch to show why they were signed in previous transfer windows.

Don’t forget, too, that we have a reserve team full of talent, some of whom have shown they are first-team ready, like Karamoko Dembele and Jonathan Afolabi.

The hiatus forced upon us thanks to Covid-19 has given those on the club with injuries a chance to heal, so we’re starting the next season with a clean slate where everyone is healthy. So the outlook for the club as we go for 10-in-a-row is remarkably good.

Up front, we’re set with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Celtic front line — and behind them we still have yet to see an unleashed Patryk Klimala or Vakoun Bayo, indicating that maybe — and this is a very big maybe — only if the right striker comes along at the right price, the club might take a punt. But even if that does not happen, Celtic is in good shape up front.

One can make the compelling argument that the current midfield is one of the best in Celtic history. Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham — any club anywhere would want some or all of these players patrolling the center of the pitch. But we also have yet to see Maryan Shved playing to his potential, and we’ve yet to see Ismael Soro at all so far. Don’t forget Tom Rogic was starting to get into a good rhythm until the season was unceremoniously curtailed. And, of course, there’s Mikey Johnston. Yet despite the unfortunate departure of Jonny Hayes, the club is still set in this department.

Jeremie Frimpong has been a more-than-welcome addition to Celtic this past season.

Meanwhile at the back, many make the argument that we could use a defender or two. Or more, with the main — and in my opinion, misguided — complaint that the tandem of Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are not adequate at right back. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first let’s look who’s still here: Hatem Elhamed, who was awesome early in the season last year, along with Chris and Kris — Jullien and Ajer, respectively. Jeremie Frimpong’s impersonation of Jimmy Johnstone has been stellar this season, until his mugging at Rugby Park by serial hammerthrower Alan Powers. Having Moritz Bauer on the bench does not hurt, either, and Nir Bitton, listed as a midfielder, has been known to play a pretty good defence himself.

Most football clubs would be wise to stand down in the transfer market while the revenue streams in the near future remain, to put it diplomatically, profoundly unsure. Until things return to “normal” — if they ever do — this is the new reality. Prudence dictates that Celtic should be no exception, and to its credit, the Celtic board has put the club in a very sound financial position heading into uncertain times.

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 tale of two Norwegians

Amid the hubbub of the weekend’s postponments of matches and the wonderful news about the signing of adidas as July’s new kitmaker (and beyond) for Celtic, there also was a couple of disturbing stories about Celtic’s pair of Norwegian players.

Kris Ajer: Not going anywhere, at least not soon.

The first deals with Kris Ajer talking about leaving — or Kris Ajer’s agent talking about him leaving. This mid-week special had Ajer’s agent, Tore Pedersen, saying that he’s testing the waters despite the fact Ajer has two more years on his contract.

Neil Lennon shot this rumor down as quickly as Pedersen had shot himself in the foot. And if I were Big Kris, I think I’d find my agent and give him a good ass-kicking.

But would that be the end of it? Heavens, no.

In the interim between Pedersen being a greedy agent who seems to tend to the needs of his bank account before the needs of his clients and the Lennon quote, a tsunami of fans had already given Ajer his walking papers.

I’ll be brief: If you think Ajer should be let go, you need to think again.

While, yes, Ajer occasionally exhibits lapses on the field, overall he is a solid defender in the Celtic backfield who, more often than not, gets the job done. Chances are the reason Ajer was given a long-term contract was because he is a vital part of the plan for a successful Celtic future. If you want to call it an experiment, fine: This experiment is still ongoing and has yet to conclude.

Meanwhile, Celtic’s other Norwegian, Mohammed Elyounoussi, apparently enjoys living in Glasgow and said so in a quote on social media, praising the people and the city while saying he’s glad to be playing for Celtic.

Thanks, Moi. I persosnally appreciate the sentiment and I’m glad you’re playing for Celtic. And while you say that everyone talks positively to you, at least to your face, it’s clear that the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” contingent of the Celtic support hide behind the shield of anonymity on social media to speak otherwise. Rather than labour the point, I’ll let you see for yourselves if you care to look at the thread.

I would be willing to bet the prevailing opinion of the wider Celtic fandom shares my sentiment toward Elyounoussi. What some of the negatively responding fans seem to forget is that Elyounoussi has, in fact, repaid us so far by being a huge factor early in the season in gaining the insurmountable lead we took into the “Coronavirus break” this week.

Coming back from injury around Christmas may be slow, but we know he’ll be back to his early-season form soon. And with the break in the mix, he will be ready to go when the next whistle sounds.

Both of Celtic’s Norwegians have played an intregal part of the club’s success this season. To suggest otherwise is pure nonsense.

Five Takeaways from Ross County

We went to the Highlands, and after what seems to be a typically meticulous (not “slow,” I’d never say “slow”) start, the Bhoys in Green came away with a 4-1 victory over Ross County on Sunday. Naturally, The Sandman also had his say on the game, which is worth a read, but I also have five takeaways, which are as follows . . . .

1. Be like Mike-y

Over a quarter-century ago, the sports drink Gatorade had an ad campaign featuring its centerpiece athlete, Michael Jordan, and the tagline “Be Like Mike” was all over the fields and courts where sports were being played. And while I, nor anyone else, would suggest that “I Wanna Be Edouard” should be substituted here, “Be Like Mikey” Johnston would actually be a welcome alternative. Johnston came into the game, deked a couple of Ross County defenders and — bang! — into the net at 72 minutes. Which leads us to Celtic’s current “conundrum” . . .

2. So many scorers, so little time

Goal posts notwithstanding — and if only they gave maybe a half-point for glancing the ball off the post; I mean, really, it’s not easy to do — Celtic had close to 20 shots on goal against Ross County. I bring this up because despite Ryan Christie’s clockwork scoring, the club has a huge number of options on getting the ball into the net. Even Leigh Griffiths, who came close to scoring on Sunday, is getting a lot closer to finding striker nirvana. No Edouard? No problem. Speaking of scorers . . .

3. The Viking can pass

Kris Ajer getting the ball to the right person on Sunday is something that cannot be understated. The big Norwegian was right on the mark with passes which turned into goals. Not only this, but it looks like in the last few games that Ajer has been — I don’t know how to put this, exactly — a little adventurous in wandering out of the backfield with the ball and advancing way past the half-way line. Not that I’m complaining, mind you . . .

4. The right call, for a change

Not to give referee Nick Walsh much in the credit department, as his carding Mikey Johnston for celebrating when the fans are literally on top of the pitch was pure nonsense; to say nothing of all the non-calls on fouls against Celtic during the course of the game. But I will give him props for his call on revoking Ross County’s second goal. Now, I don’t fully understand the offside rule yet — and I still think it’s arbitrary, judging by what I often see as “offsides” and what isn’t — but as it was explained to me, the guy in the dunce cap, Ross County’s Brian Graham was offside because while he made no attempt to play the ball, he obstructed Christopher Jullien, meaning that Graham was an active player and, thus, offside. I hope that doesn’t end up on the final exam, but at the very least, Nick got that one right.

5. What video game did we see him in?

Putting aside for a moment the unique gaffer arrangement — “manager by committee” would be the best way to describe it between Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson at Ross County — but during the game on Sunday when they panned the camera to the Ross County sideline to show Ferguson, I only had one thought: Didn’t I see him in Grand Theft Auto V? OK, so I’m probably the last person to comment on someone else’s appearance, but if game developers haven’t used the slick-haired Steven Ferguson look so often for bad guys in video games, this takeaway would be something else altogether.

On to the Accies on Wednesday.

A Takeaway from Aberdeen-Celtic

No truer words were spoken: The hosts at Aberdeen got a high-pressure pumping by the Celts on Sunday, as the Bhoys in Green cruised to a 4-0 victory at Pittodrie.

First things first: My apologies for this late post. Thanks to the power company Pacific Gas & Electric, which had turned off the power in my area “for my safety” on Saturday night (turning it back on again last night), I had to scramble to find a place with power and Internet connectivity on Sunday to watch the Aberdeen-Celtic game.

At 5 a.m.

A shout out to the Satellite Felton workspace, located at the traffic light (Felton only has one, two if you count the one on Graham Hill Road and Mount Hermon — and the former road is named after the actual hill here, not the British Formula 1 driver of the same name), which had both power and connectivity.

Thanks to the modern miracle that is Celtic TV — I am completely serious — I re-watched the game finally this afternoon; the game that I came in late on early Sunday morning. It was as awesome as it was on Sunday morning, but a second look at the game led me to notice something really awe inspiring.

It wasn’t Jeremie Frimpong’s goal, though it was great to see the lad score his first for the Celts, and to see how well the talented young lad is fitting in with the club. He’s definitely a keeper.

It wasn’t the fact that Celtic dominated the game from start to finish. That’s always a welcome sight, no matter who the opponent is. And, of course, thrashing some opponents is better than thrashing others.

But I wanted to go back to the first half, at around the 17-minute mark, where Celtic ended up passing the ball 46 times, by my count, before ending up with a corner. This was not the “death of a thousand passes” that was so loved by the former manager, now at Leicester City. Under the former manager, where 46 passes might — might — have gotten the ball to midfield.

This was pure ball-handling artistry — a game of keep-away that was frustrating Aberdeen — which I hope Celtic will continue during the course of the season. Add to this the 14-pass sequence before James Forrest’s goal — started after a sixth pass was intercepted by an Aberdeen player and his first pass was picked off by Frimpong to start the sequence — and you have a ball-control nirvana that any team would die for.

Also, it was great to see Kris Ajer and Christoper Jullien playing up. Ajer and Scott Brown literally had acres of space to run during the course of the game, and both took advantage of it, while Aberdeen hunkered down in defense in their own side of the pitch.

It’s play like this that make me proud to be a Celtic fan, even if I have to get up before sunrise and, in Sunday’s case, scramble for a place to watch.

Mon the hoops!

Obligatory match report: If you’re not on Celtic Noise talking about all things Celtic, you should be there. Right now. One bonus is the match rundowns from the celebrated Sandman, which are first posted on Celtic Noise, you can find on The Celtic Star here.

Now it’s on to St. Mirren tomorrow at Parkhead. Keep it up, bhoys!

Thank you, Socceroos

The Bhoys in Green playing for their respective countries during the International Break.

International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.

Maybe I’ll sign up for Netflix.

In the past, the International Break has involved watching a lot of YouTube videos of Celtic, like the ’67 European Cup Finals or Henrik Larsson’s Greatest Celtic Hits or All the Celtic Goals by Shunsuke Nakamura (and I never, never get tired of watching his first goal against Rangers where he made Allan McGregor look like an idiot). Now that I have Celtic TV, maybe I can dig around there for some uncovered gems.

Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.

But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.

Tom Rogic, the Wizard of Oz.

I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.

Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]