There’s nothing like an exciting new player to get the poetic juices flowing in Celtic fans. And in the spirit of a thread on The Celtic Noise forum around Celtic striker Albian Ajeti, the Swiss forward could be gearing up for his own song in the near future.
But before we get to that point, break out the dictionary, because “Ajeti” is sort of hard to rhyme.
Fortunately, that has never stopped us before here at ’67 in the Heat of Felton. Challenge accepted.
So as the sun rises on the Central California coast, yours truly has written a few limericks — yeah, I know . . . “the poor man’s poetry” — during his coffee and Raisin Bran to start the day.
There once was a man named Ajeti Who kicked the ball into the netty When Saturdays loomed Opponents were doomed, Their fans became moany and fretty.
Or . . .
That trick from the Swiss guy Ajeti turned centre-backs into spaghetti. And when the ball crossed, with their goalie tossed, It quickly went into the netty.
If we reverse the order so “Ajeti” isn’t the rhyming word . . .
Ajeti, a bearded Swiss fellow, made goalkeepers turn into Jell-o. A cross that was long from wee lad Frimpong Would always make Celtic fans bellow.
Or, to address more immediate concerns . . .
Ajeti – and let me be blunt – Needs Edouard to help him up front, or Griff would be nice, or Klimala twice, Oh, Lenny — please do take a punt.
Give it a shot. Feel free to put your best efforts in the comments below, or swing by The Celtic Noise forum to the thread about Ajeti and unleash your inner poet.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the Poetry Police are pulling me over and asking for my poetic license and registration . . . .
It inspires awe, unfortunately not in a good way: A club that has won nine championships in a row, not to mention three trebles, has some members of its fan base that excel at either hair-on-fire panic or terminal negativity — sometimes both — for essentially no good reason.
Even some members of the fan base — these same members, of course — who will swear on the graves of their ancestors that they love Celtic constantly, will also, at the same time, make it their sole purpose in life to slag the manager and specific players on the team.
You would think that this crass shallowness would be a hallmark of Glasgow’s other club, and one could successfully argue that it is. Which, of course, is all the more reason why it should stay there instead of encroaching onto the other side of Glasgow.
We’re better than that. Does that even warrant mentioning?
Maybe it does: Elements in the “support” — real or imagined — are calling for the removal of Neil Lennon while dragging players like James Forrest or Greg Taylor or Ryan Christie or fill-in-the-blank for the scapegoat du jour.
Taylor is an above-average fullback who is still learning to play in the Celtic system. He’s not flashy; in fact, he’s what we call in America a “lunchpail player,” a guy who brings his lunchpail to work, puts his head down and does his job without fanfare or attention-grabbing. Is he the answer to Celtic’s problems? No. But he’s not the cause of them either. Primarily a defender who excels in that aspect of the game, Taylor would be ideal in a back 4 and his current role of supplying crosses into the opposition box is one that has come with a learning curve for him. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here because I think ultimately he’ll both succeed and be a more well-rounded player for it.
The ire towards Forrest and Christie is totally unwarranted. Both have consistently given all for the club every game, both have been brilliant overall for the Hoops, and Christie deserves special note for being constantly on the go, whether it’s the first minute or the 90th. Both have established themselves in a midfield that has a vast overstock of talent in it, not to mention both being a scoring threat for the entire 90 minutes.
I am as mystified as anyone at some of Lennon’s choices in the recent lineups, but I’m not at Lennoxtown making that decision. So I trust his vast knowledge of football, not to mention his staff’s, over my approximately two years of studying the game. Yet some of the armchair Steins among the support want to replace Lennon because of it? One question: With whom? Honestly, you want to abruptly halt the momentum the club has gained under Lennon because you don’t like it that he doesn’t play 3-5-2 enough? And even if you could replace him, who would you reasonably get to replace him at this point?
It’s perfectly all right to have an opinion. Unhappy with Lennon and his choices? So am I, but rather than calling him names or worse, I’m more than glad to hear him out. Do I think players deserve to be benched for having an off-day, or even worse, resort to name-calling? Absolutely not.
Criticism can take two forms: Positive and negative. Positive critique has been sorely lacking. The panty-wetting and negativity on forums and social media are beyond the pale and are downright embarrassing.
Again, we’re better than that.
This much is clear: The demands made of Celtic players are far greater than many other clubs. Second place is nothing, to be sure, and one of the main aspects of supporting a football club is experiencing the highs and lows, the good and bad, the euphoria and the horror. In an era marked by championships, “trebles,” and a vast array of silverware, there have been few “lows,” and even fewer “bads” and “horrors.”
Fans should be held to the same high standard, because the Celtic scarf doesn’t shrink to fit inferior supporters.
Mon the Hoops!
[Blogger’s note: Much of this item comes as a result of private discussions with a few friends from The Celtic Noise, and they will recognize their contributions herein. While they know who they are, I won’t identify them for privacy’s sake, but needless to say I gratefully appreciate and acknowledge their contributions.]
Let’s not sugarcoat this: Celtic’s win against St. Mirren on Wednesday was not one of those games that will live on in Celtic lore. Actually, it is one of those grind-it-out affairs that borders on painful. But in the end, we get the three points in the 2-1 victory and come away with a win in one of those games that will be easily forgotten over time.
But didn’t the away kit look good on the bhoys?
After gifting the Saints a 1-0 lead just after the two minute mark, the Celts answered with goals by Shane Duffy at 21 minutes and then James Forrest at 36.
There’s only one real takeaway, and that can be described in two words: Shane Duffy. The man’s a one-man wrecking crew against Celtic opponents, and clearly the best acquisition in this transfer window. The way he’s been playing so far — two games, but still — has been completely flawless, and we now have an additional aerial threat to join Christopher Jullien in set pieces in the box, to say nothing of an additional scoring threat from the back.
Forrest, who has been the target of a plethora of armchair gaffers that populate social media, took a Ryan Christie cross to the forehead to put Celtic ahead. Speaking of Christie, I have to wonder why he didn’t take the penalty in the 2nd half, but never mind. Odsonne Edouard should have delivered, but what’s done is done, and there are three points in the standings.
As always, every silver lining of a Celtic win has to have its cloud for some people. Greg Taylor, who did not have a great game on Wednesday, was the scapegoat du jour in an otherwise nondescript game where St. Mirren, with a handful of exceptions, concentrated on playing everyone back. This would explain the number of passes back and a somewhat impenetrable defense. Never mind the mobility going forward of both Duffy and Kris Ajer, who were all over the field. Rather than dwell on positives, let’s focus on the negatives, shall we?
And the hue and cry when Neil Lennon took out Edouard and replaced him with Olivier Ntcham? Horrors! It’s a wonder — a modern miracle — that we actually won, if you listen to some people who presumably have 3-5-2 tattooed on them somewhere. But folks, here’s how that happened: The bhoys played their standard issue possession game and scored more than their opponents. It’s not flashy. But it gets the job done. And if that’s how Celtic wins 10 in a row — with a whimper instead of a bang — then OK.
One more thing
As I’m noticing an uptick in the tsunami of stupid that comes across social media regarding Celtic, I think I’m going to start just blocking people rather than waste my time discussing their hair-on-fire panic points. There’s a saying that’s popular here in the South — “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” So I don’t care if you’re a season ticket holder since 1888 and have been to every game ever since you got your first tickets personally from Brother Walfrid, if you say something slagging the club, you’re blocked. End of.
On to Saturday against Livi at Celtic Park. Mon the Hoops!
First things first: Thanks to a lightning strike just north of here a couple of weeks ago, the area has been in the throes of a massive wildfire. Now contained at 35 percent, we are allowed to “repopulate” our homes in Felton as of Saturday, and not a moment too soon. All of which is to say that it has been a perfect homecoming for me as the Hoops win 3-0 against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — at Paradise on Sunday.
So the minor blessing in disguise is that I missed much of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the past week, and only intermittently — when the absence of rolling blackouts would allow — got to witness the travesty against Ferencvaros and the drama on social media that followed.
But the game against Motherhell started off slowly and picked up momentum when Neil Lennon decided to play two strikers in the 2nd half. James Forrest finally got onto the score sheet in the first half, 2nd half sub Albian Ajeti took an excellent pass from Kris Ajer and found himself one-on-one with a helpless Motherwell keeper to hit the back of the net, and Christopher Jullien put the game away late on a cross from Jeremie Frimpong.
I’m going to forgo the takeaways to simply make a couple of observations moving forward.
3-5-2 uber alles
I get it, Lenny and I’m with you here: It’s impossible to play two strikers up front when your star gets his Achilles tendon raked by some hammerthrowing ned in the previous SPFL game and your new acquisition has not played in awhile (to say nothing of the other striker who is in the doghouse for making too many Tik-tok videos when he should have been training). But the only way you’re going to get Patryk Klimala to sink or swim is to throw him into the deep end of the pool, so to speak — and my money is on that he’ll swim. Fast.
Let me also add this caveat to this observation: I am new to football, and I expect my observations may be that of a neophyte. I played a grand total of three games when I was in my early 20s — a fullback whose specialty was standing in the near post during corners in our end — as a favor to a goalkeeper friend whose team needed bodies (and only three games because the team eventually disbanded). Normally I watch games twice before writing about them, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I pore over the games to get a better understanding of the nuances in each game. All of which is to say, yeah I’m new to this, but I’m doing my homework.
So subbing in Klimala changed the complexion of the game pretty quickly, even though he did not score. Adding Ajeti to the mix, who did score, also proves that we should have started with two strikers up front from the start. But rather than do what many of the self-proclaimed experts that populate social media are doing, I’m willing to give Lenny the benefit of the doubt and trust that he’s learned a lesson here. Going forward, I think we’re going to see more of Klimala, possibly starting, and possibly Ajeti, too.
So while I’m giving out advice, let me add this . . . .
Start Jeremie Frimpong
Hatem Elhamed has been doing great over the last few games, but there has been something missing when Jeremie Frimpong is not in the lineup. We saw just what is missing in the 2nd half of the Motherwell game. The kid has the moves, both on and off the ball, and the post-game Motherwell training tables were full, no doubt, of twisted ankles of players who unsuccessfully challenged the Oh My Days Kid.
I’m not sure what the solution is to getting Frimpong into the game, because someone will have to be pulled in order for him to make the starters. Elhamed has been phenomenal overall for the Hoops and unless we can move someone in the midfield, maybe, and put Frimpong there . . . it’s a difficult call which I’m sure the brain trust at Celtic are currently dealing with.
One more thing
For those of us in California, it is heartening to see our native son Cameron Harper picked for the first team over the last few games. We are fully aware of his talents, and it’s good to see they’re being noticed by the club.
So it looks like the Hoops are back on track with their win over Motherwell. And barring any other wildfires that may cause further evacuation, it looks like this blog is back as well. Now to fill in the time during the international break before we go into Victoria Park against Ross County a week from Saturday.
With their 1961 hit single, the Shirelles got it right about Celtic’s foray to Rugby Park on Sunday. And while the wailing and gnashing of teeth continues regarding the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock, believe it or not there are some positive takeaways from Sunday’s game.
First things first: Sadly, a considerable segment of the so-called Celtic support has been taking the post-game time on Sunday to post absolute full-panic-mode nonsense; sheer idiocy rivaling what followers of Glasgow’s other club tend to produce. Yes, Christopher Jullien let the team down by his foul, leading to Killie’s only real chance to successfully score, but who in their right mind would seek a replacement? Yes, probably we should have played a 3-5-2, with Odsonne Edouard and Patryk Klimala (for the absent Leigh Griffiths) up front all game, but firing Neil Lennon for not doing so? Seriously?
For those who are ready to pitch it all because you imagine that your hair is on fire because Celtic needs to buy every player on the planet and fire Lenny in the process, Eddy would like to have a word with you . . .
Now for a couple of positive takeaways — yes, there were a couple– from Sunday’s game.
Vasilis Barkas had a good debut
The Athenian Fenian started his first game between the sticks for the Hoops and, aside from Jullien’s gaffe leading to a penalty kick, Barkas played a fairly flawless game. The penalty kick aside, he stopped everything that came his way, and his ball distribution was pretty admirable, though I think he could have launched a few more long balls than he did. But that kind of thing comes with time and if Sunday’s game is any indication, it looks like he’s going to be a solid mainstay in goal.
Hard to play against a 10-0-0 alignment
As previously mentioned, the 3-5-2 which brought us to 9 in a row should probably not be deviated from. It’s hard to ascertain — and it’s not for me to question — if Lenny went with one striker up front because Griff is in the doghouse (again) or he felt our second striker option, Klimala, was not ready, then that’s the call. It’s water under the bridge now. However, Kilmarnock seemed to have come onto the pitch with a 10-0-0 alignment, with 10 defenders, no midfielders and no forwards, which makes things a little difficult for the freewheeling Hoops.
Regardless, both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong — the former moreso than the latter — got the ball in on several occasions only to have the effort fail in a sea of blue jerseys. To his credit, Ryan Christie nailed an absolute stunner of a free kick which rattled the back of the net and Callum McGregor just missed a shot which went inches over the bar in a game that lacked clear chances to score.
Jock is right about refs, but . . .
We all know Jock Stein’s quote by heart: “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, the right call on a ball out of bounds over the right touch line immediately prior to Jullien’s penalty should have been a throw-in to Celtic. I’ve watched it a few times — thanks, Celtic TV — and the ball was completely over the line and out. Of course, one out-of-bounds ball does not win or lose games — just as one penalty kick does not win or lose games in and of themselves — but, in this case, a correct call by an attentive lineman would have changed the complexion of the game.
Where’s Uncle Albert?
One of the things I missed about this year’s visit to Rugby Park is the lack of Kilmarnock fans, especially Uncle Albert — the bearded chap who was the recipient of the Leigh Griffith Tape Hurling Award during a game last season. In fact, I don’t know if he is the same fellow, but I recall last season when Celtic TV, whose play-by-play man and match analyst have to sit painfully close — such is the case at Rugby Park — to the fans, and the broadcasters had to keep apologizing for a garbage-mouthed oaf whose profanities were picked up by the Celtic TV microphones.
Maybe he was at home saying “aye” to a Kilmarnock Pie. Who knows?
Next up is St. Mirren on Wednesday, kickoff at the glorious hour of 6 p.m. in Scotland and 10 a.m. North American Pacific Coast time.
So now that the first game is finally under Celtic’s proverbial belt, a convincing 5-1 against Hamilton Accies at home on Sunday, there are a few positive takeaways from the classroom on the pitch at Celtic Park.
Before we start, however, there are two glaring observations that need to be dispensed of at the outset.
First, if today’s game is any indication, Celtic is playing like a team destined for the history that awaits them, namely winning 10 in a row.
Second, however, and probably more importantly, is Sunday’s game shows Celtic fair warning: If the hammer throwers at Hamilton Academical are any indication, the other 11 teams will ply a trade of constant bodily harm in order to thwart the Hoops’ date with destiny.
That said, let’s take a look at Sunday’s game. Take out your notebooks, boys and girls.
Odsonne Edouard is uninterested?
Yeah, that was the run-up, all-encompassing question prior to Opening Day: Was Odsonne Edouard, as they say in France, too indifférent, as even some were saying paresseux? Pardon my French, but one hat trick against the Accies later, and all that nonsense seems to have évaporé. Any preseason evidence suggesting that Edouard is not ready to get to work for the 10 was vanquished on Sunday, and let’s look forward to more of this, s’il vous plaît.
The Passive Aggressive Hoops
In his post-game interview, Neil Lennon said that he thought, “we were a bit too passive in the first half.” While that may be true, in typical Celtic fashion the club came out of the gate storming in the 2nd with their usual aggressive attacking football, which is something we had seen all season when the Hoops won their 9th in a row. Sure, it would be great for the Celts to get up to speed quicker and lay down a marker earlier in the game. But when the results are a win, who cares when they pull away from their opponents?
Greg Taylor: Man of the Match
Yeah, I know: Edouard gets the nod by virtue of three goals, but Greg Taylor had a phenomenal game on Sunday. Taylor and his counterpart on the other side, Jeremie Frimpong, kept the Accies busy all game with crosses to the center of the pitch, essentially keeping them back on their heels for a majority of the game. The ball handling by the entire team earned special mention, but the play from the wing — both of them — was unusually good this time around and shows promise for success going forward.
Scott Bain did well
Playing under the shadow of possibly — or maybe even probably — being replaced at some point soon is daunting; a dead-man-walking scenario to be sure. But Scott Bain did not falter and turned in a good game against Hamilton. Not perfect — the pinball for the Accies that went in off of Callum McGregor and Christopher Jullien was a quirk of nature that really no one could have stopped, not even Fraser Forster. But Bain showed some good distribution and make a few good stops and earned the win at his end of the pitch.
[As an aside, pity Ryan Fulton in goal for the Accies: Normally a 5-1 outing would earn a goalkeeper a good thrashing, if not a dawn appointment with a firing squad (no pun intended). But he made several great saves in a game that really should have been 9-1. At least.]
Polish Paddy on the score sheet
Patryk Klimala continues to impress, and now that he’s got a shot at being the number two striker for Celtic, it would probably come as no surprise that the Polish kid will be working hard to claim that spot. His goal at the 90-minute mark in the game came as he outmuscled a defender after a long pass from Jullien. And even after not getting a really clean shot off, it still danced cleanly into the back of the net. At which time — quite possibly — somewhere at the Leigh Griffiths household, Leigh got onto his stationary bike for some additional training time . . . .
One more thing
Not directly Celtic-related, but there has been a debate brewing in the advent, and in the wake, of Arsenal’s 2-1 win in the FA Cup on Saturday about whether it is OK to send our long-time defender and current Arsenal fan favourite Kieran Tierney well-wishes and congratulations. If nothing else, KT is living, breathing proof that the Celtic system, from the youth level to the first team, is sheer quality. When that is given the stage as massive as the FA Cup — regardless of whether you like or dislike the EPL (and I don’t) — it puts the spotlight on our player development system being an unqualified success. So go on with your bad self, Kieran, and congratulations on bringing those championships borne of the Celtic tradition to wherever you might play.
All of that said, it was clearly a great win for the Bhoys on Sunday, and hopefully we can stay at the top of the table wire-to-wire going forward.
After a drought of 141 days of no games at Paradise, no one was happier to get up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning Pacific Time and put on my jersey and scarf to watch Celtic play at home.
The Ross County preseason game on Sunday had its ups and downs, as we’ll discuss here, but overall the Hoops are fine-tuning their game for the upcoming season. With Neil Lennon letting the first team run for the full 90 minutes — Greg Taylor excluded (and we’ll definitely get to that later) — here are five takeaways from the Ross County game.
Mugging Odsonne Edouard
Already there are grumblings among some of the more . . . oh, let’s say . . . “restless” Celtic supporters that Odsonne Edouard is mailing it in and not trying. I would completely disagree here, primarily because opposing teams have now caught up on the strategy of swarming Edouard, triple- and even quadruple-teaming him. Clearly, one of the reasons 3-5-2 had worked so well last season is that Eddy was not alone up front. In France and against Ross County yesterday, who was alone up front? Edouard. How did that work? Not so great. Was Eddy mailing it in? Hell, no. Get a grip.
Bain worked for his clean sheet
One of the highlights of the game was the play of Scott Bain. While Ross County’s chances were few and far between, those that got through with a shot on goal were met with some quality goalkeeping, and none of them hit the inside of the net. Like Fraser Forster — who as of this writing, according to the rumour mill, may be making his way back (fingers crossed here) — when Celtic has the ball for the great majority of the game, percentage-wise, keeping goal becomes a game of keeping your head in the game. Forster was — is — a master at maintaining concentration, and Bain proved equal to the task on Sunday.
And on the other side . . .
Additionally, a hat-tip should also go to the Ross County goalkeeper, Celtic loanee Ross Doohan. Doohan couldn’t really do anything against the own-goal, but he made some spectacular saves as the game developed.
Kerr McInroy stepped up
When Greg Taylor went down to an ankle injury thanks to a yellow-card quality foul from Connor Randall — and remind me to include Randall in my list of “SPFL Players to Meet while Swinging My Louisville Slugger” — my first thought looking at the available subs was . . . Stephen Welsh? Maybe Luca Connell? No, Lenny was a few light years ahead of me. Kerr McInroy was slotted in and performed pretty well as Taylor’s sub. McInroy moved the ball well and at one point took a shot on goal that went off a Ross County player. He also made a sharp cross which, had someone been there to receive it, would surely have been a goal. Like Welsh last season, to see players like McInroy stepping up and doing well is a promising sign.
John Hartson in the booth
I like John Hartson a lot. I follow him religiously on social media, and I was looking forward to hearing his insights on the Celtic TV broadcast. Overall he gets high marks for his commentary on the game and at halftime. However, I thought he spent a little too much time scolding Jeremie Frimpong on his gaffe in the 2nd half which left a Ross County player alone with the ball in the box. As it turned out, crisis was averted and it amounted to nothing. I think that falls under the no harm/no foul category, but Hartson wouldn’t let it go. Again, this is preseason and hopefully Hartson will get some good broadcasting practice in before the start of the season.
Until tomorrow’s game against the Hibs, here we go again . . . .
Watching 131 straight days of reruns of every Celtic game of this past championship season — thanks, Celtic TV — I am grateful, like all other Hoops fans, for this: Celtic finally took to the field against Nice on Thursday for the start of French friendlies to tune up for 10 in a row. As is the postgame custom in this blog, we’ll take a look at some takeaways — namely three of them — from Thursday’s game.
VAR sucks, and the SPFL doesn’t have a monopoly on bad referees
First things first: VAR sucks. Full stop. And I have said in the past that I find the offside rule an unexplained mystery that rivals how gravity works or the what the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” really means. But watching Odsonne Edouard sandwiched between two Nice players while the ball passes all of them leads me to believe that he was clearly onside and the goal should have stood.
Add to this the arbitrary calls and non-calls during the course of the game by a referee who definitely has been away from the game far too long and needs just a bit more practice, and what turned out to be a rust-shaking 90 minutes could have been a Celtic win.
In the first half with the starters on the pitch, Celtic got into a pretty good rhythm and did not lack chances on goal. Credit a combination of getting timing down in the first game with a few phenomenal saves by Nice’s goalkeeper Walter Benitez. With the exception of a couple of good moves and a shot by Kaspar Dolberg (after a foul downfield against Mohammed Elyounoussi which was not called, but never mind) to make the score 1-0 to Nice after 38 minutes, Scott Bain played well, making a few good saves in his first start in several months.
Then came the wholesale team change in the second half, as Neil Lennon went with the subs. They all played well, and some were phenomenal. Boli Bolingoli had a fairly remarkable game where his defense was solid, his passing was crisp and he had a shot on goal that, although wide, shows that his first for the Hoops may not be far off. Hatem Elhamed, now number 44, showed the speed and defensive form that made him a fan favorite early last season. Ismaila Soro also impressed with his defensive play, with many of his passes getting the Hoops out of danger.
And then there’s Patryk Klimala. Not only did Polish Paddy score to equalize on a misplayed ball by the Nice goalkeeper, but his play during the second half was pretty remarkable. What should have been more notable during the game was Klimala’s range — he was all over the field and he made a couple of defensive plays in the Celtic end that saved potential scores.
Which, of course, leads us to consider another Celtic striker who is currently not with the team, so . . .
Meanwhile, back in Scotland . . .
As widely reported, Lennon has dropped the hammer on Leigh Griffiths for coming into training overweight and for his social media exploits, keeping him off the roster for the French games. And with Klimala already impressing on the pitch, Griffiths’ work is cut out for him to regain his spot.
Unlike a chorus of social media pundits who think Griffiths is through, I would disagree. You read it here first: Griffiths will come back with a vengeance. In the best of all possible worlds, I am confident that Super Leigh will take this latest wake-up call and make the best of it.
One more thing
The refrain from the Grateful Dead’s “U.S. Blues” would be a fitting verse to sing for the person who raised the 9-in-a-row Celtic flag atop Glasgow City Hall last week: “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.”
And as you might expect, the social media response to this has been pretty hilarious, now that each of the staunch statue guardians becomes a “flagpole sitta” (thanks, Harvey Danger). This one below is of special note . . . which has drawn requests from NASA to investigate (although my guess is that the American space agency will pass).
Until the Lyon game, we are Celtic supporters, faithful through and through . . .
There’s a part of the “Broony” DVD where Scott Brown talks about meeting Neil Lennon for the first time as Celts. As the story goes, then-manager Gordon Strachan sent Broony up to a meeting room for a talk after he takes care of a couple of things beforehand.
As he tells the tale, Brown walks into the room, there’s a big circular table, and Neil Lennon is sitting behind it, alone, in the room. “And I’m like, ‘Oh no.’ This is possibly my worst nightmare. We’ve been kicking the crap out of each other for the last five years, not saying a good word to each other on the park, and the first person I run into when I sign for Celtic is Lenny.”
“I had a lot of admiration for him, even though I didn’t show it on the pitch at the time,” Lennon said in the video.
Brown continues in the video about how Lennon made him feel at home, sat him down, told him about how the club works, and how Brown fits into the scheme of things.
Lennon countered in the video that because Brown is a Celt now, it was Lennon’s responsibility as captain — albeit the outgoing captain that Lenny was — to make sure his transition was seamless, which apparently he did.
Adversaries united for a common good: This, in and of itself, shows the kind of leadership that Neil Lennon brings to the table as the gaffer for Celtic.
Superstars on the field don’t always make the best managers. In many instances, it’s the player who puts in the extra effort on multiple levels that makes the step to the leadership rung on the football ladder. These players-to-gaffers, mostly unrecognized during their playing days, have to put in extra time on the training ground and the weight room — to say nothing of being a constant student of the game — to succeed at the highest level of the sport, and it pays off later in their football life.
One example of this is a textbook case in American baseball. Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter in the history of the sport, was a lackluster manager, to put it diplomatically. Bruce Bochy — I can hear you all saying “who?” — was a nondescript catcher with the San Diego Padres during his playing career who became the last decade’s best manager with the San Francisco Giants and a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Watching videos of Neil Lennon as a player (thanks, YouTube!), he was not a flashy player, but he was solid and got the job done. And while it might be a cliche, the stars get all the accolades, but it’s really the supporting cast that always makes the club work.
A year ago, when the former Celtic manager departed for Leicester City, arguments ensued about who should take up the reins at Celtic. Names with high price tags were listed and debated on social media and forums, but there was really only one choice: the caretaker appointed at the time, Neil Lennon.
Then, when the myopic and anguished hue and cry on social media and in the forums persisted after his hiring immediately after delivering the Treble Treble, Lennon has silenced the critics with the level of play that Celtic has delivered this season.
Where we stand now this season: Top of the table, 12 points clear of the second place team, with a goal differential lead of 20, one cup won. All this with injuries to key players from time to time as well.
While it’s true that Lennon does not do this alone or operate in a vacuum — he has great support from John Kennedy, Damian Duff, Stevie Woods and others on the coaching staff — he is the one whose leadership makes the Celtic ship sail.
He has brought the thunder.
So one year after “the crisis,” it is an undisputed truth that Neil Lennon is the man most qualified to lead Celtic.
And for this we are truly thankful and say, confidently, “In Neil we trust.”
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.