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.
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.
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.
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.
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.