One year later: In Neil we trust

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.”

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.

Closing the window

One of the advantages — probably the only advantage — of living 5,000 miles west of Glasgow is that the transfer window closes here before the sun goes down. Having the advantage of still being awake and usually on my third cup of coffee for the day, we will see if Celtic makes any further moves as the clock strikes 12 in Glasgow while striking the bewitching hour of 4 p.m. in California, but by all indications it looks like we’re staying put.

And after seeing the deadline pass, with or without any further additions and without any likely departures, I can go have dinner.

Yes, apparently we stay put, much to the dismay of some greeting fans who insist on Celtic spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave on players just for the sake of signing someone — anyone — to fill in for adequate players who are coming off injuries and soon to return to the pitch.

I’m with Neil Lennon: “We have a good squad, decent depth, and once we get a few injuries back we will be fine.”

Contrary to what the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits might think, Lennon is right. Rather than acting like we’re on the brink of relegation, they might want to look at the bigger picture.

While there was also hair-on-fire panic during the last transfer window, in the end it was one of Celtic’s best in recent history. One can hardly make an argument against the fact that Fraser Forster, Hatem Elhamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi and Jeremie Frimpong have made a significant impact on the club. Even Moritz Bauer and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo — both unfairly criticized by some lately in the questionable objectivity of the Scottish football press, let alone the cesspool known as social media — are decent players who have shown they can contribute.

Boom, baby: Leigh Griffiths puts Celtic 3-0 up in the 26th minute on Wednesday, being part of a tag-team duo with Odsonne Edouard in front for the Hoops.

Leaving out the two new additions (we’ll get to them in a minute), Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffith are turning into a tag-team scoring machine. Greg Taylor rightfully may have bought himself a start in future games with his play against the Aints — sorry, the Saints — on Wednesday. Olivier Ntcham, who many think is packing his bags, is showing no signs of leaving while playing remarkably in the midfield. Scott Brown has been shutting down critics who say he has lost a step by having a banner year that defies his age. Until injured, Ryan Christie was unstoppable. I could go on until you are lulled into a coma of boredom, but the fact remains that the team is solid despite injuries.

But speaking of injuries: Christie? Back. Elhamed? Back soon. Elyounoussi? Back soon, hopefully. Jeremie Frimpong? Also back soon hopefully. All of them are joining Jozo Simunovic and Tom Rogic, now back from long-term injuries and getting back into form for the rest of the season.

So, who climbed in the window during this transfer cycle? Let’s take a look at the pair who joined the club this month.

Patryk Klimala

Patryk Klimala joins Celtic.

I have a friend here in the San Lorenzo Valley who is a huge Bayern Munich fan, and he’s pretty much plugged in to European football in general and Polish strikers in particular. He speaks highly of Patryk Klimala, dubbing him “Klimalendowski,” after Bayern’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.

All joking aside, Polish Paddy’s 10 minutes against St. Johnstone did little to show his abilities — and that was outlined in Sandman’s ratings of the St. Johnstone game — but in those 10 minutes, he showed some speed and crossing skills in a cross that, had it not been slightly deflected by a panicked Saints defender, could have been his first assist. In addition, Klimala rejected a ball from the near post in the Saints’ final corner in injury time, saving the clean sheet for the Hoops.

In his introduction at his signing, Klimala said that signing for Celtic is a big step up in his career, and he insisted he is ready to prove his worth. If this brief introduction is an indication of what Klimala can do, then his wide range of talents are a welcome addition to the club.

Incidentally, he takes the number 11, which was worn quite succesfully by the recently departed — OK, a little dramatic, recently departed to Preston North End, that is — Scott Sinclair.

Ismaila Soro

Ismaila Soro shows his current colours — green and white — after signing for Celtic.

First things first: Apologies to The Proclaimers (and sing along if you know it) . . .

“My heart was broken, my heart was broken,
Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .

While it may be too early to purloin the Hibs’ song for our own purposes, Ismaila Soro arrives to bolster Celtic’s midfield. The Ivorian signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Hoops after a multi-year stint with Israeli club Bnei Yehuda.

The gaffer has high praise for Soro. In a recent interview, Lennon said, “He’ll bring a bit of quality and support in the midfield area. He’s had a good career so far and has played in some tough leagues. He’s come from a team who, while they’re not the top team in Israel, he’s stood out by a distance with his performances there.”

We’re looking forward to it.

Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots 2: The sequel

Because I still have my head buried in a tsunami of documents related to my previous post — and thank you to Auldheid for the great interview — I thought I’d take a break from my “homework” to make a few observations about the last two wins by the Hoops, and other items of perceived interest, in the world of football; like the following, for example.

SPFL referee Bobby Madden sporting “The Scarlet Letter” of SpecSavers on his sleeve.

Oh, the irony . . .

Putting aside the numerous missed calls on hand-ball fouls by Celtic opponents this season, is it any wonder some marketing genius who holds the SpecSavers advertising account sold that company’s executives on the nearly infinite value of sponsorship of SPFL referees? Each referee has what is essentially a “scarlet letter” of less-than-ideal vision on their sleeves, and in so many cases it is justified. One of a plethora of examples is the 78th minute of the Celtic-Ross County game where Scott Brown was clearly fouled, followed by James Forrest fouled less than 10 seconds afterward. Of course that joins a long list of referee malpractice this season that, fortunately, has only been a minor irritant to Celtic fans everywhere, rather than history-altering decisions. But we’re only halfway through the 2019/20 season. . . .

Here we go again

Once again, we are in the midst of another transfer window. And once again, the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits are bent out of shape because we haven’t signed half of FC Barcelona — the good half, hopefully — and in not doing so, we just threw away 9 in a row. Just today, on the digital cesspool known as Twitter and other online social media, Neil Lennon is being unnecessarily raked over the coals for suggesting the Celtic may be done for this window. The fact of the matter is, frankly, that if we are done for January, it’s still not a bad window, and with the success of the previous window carrying over, we are in great shape for the rest of the season, especially those who are injured — Hatem El Hamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi, Jeremie Frimpong for starters — get back onto the pitch. Also, not given enough credit has been Moritz Bauer’s efforts in filling in for the injured Frimpong against Ross County; Bauer himself is another new addition from the previous window.

Even if Ismaila Soro is the last piece of the puzzle in January, we are looking great for the rest of the season. Some people really need to get a grip.

Cameron Harper scored the final goal for Celtic as the Hoops cruised past Huddersfield Town 3-1

The California Kid strikes again

The Celtic Reserves team hit the road to visit Huddersfield Town on Tuesday, and came away with a 3-1 victory in the friendly. Karamoko Dembele, Kieran McGrath and Cameron Harper scored in the game. We all know that Karamoko has already made the grade, but those watching the reserves have strong praise for Harper as well. We in the Golden State have high hopes for the Southern Californian to go on and wear the hoops for the first team in the near future.

Buy this guy a beer

Funny how The Rangers wanker — sorry, winger — and all-around world-class douchenozzle Ryan Kent can’t bring himself to gun down Hearts fans like he did at Parkhead last month. But this JamTarts fan has the right idea. If anyone in Edinburgh who knows this guy can buy him a beer for me, I’d be grateful. Oh, and the Hearts 2-1 victory over The Rangers? Fantastic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, FC St. Pauli is playing today and it’s gametime. See you tomorrow at the St. Johnstone game. Mon the hoops!

Five takeaways from Celtic-Lazio

With roughly 45 seconds left in extra time, Olivier Ntcham sends the fascist hordes in Rome home in tears as Celtic beats Lazio 2-1 on Thursday. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

So the second of the two good-versus-evil football matches transpired in Rome yesterday, and leave it to a black Muslim Celtic midfielder — Olivier Ntcham — to shut down the team so favored by Mussolini back in the day and so favored by lily-white fascists everywhere — OK, at least fascists in Rome — in the present.

Shut them down with about 45 seconds to spare, no less. Merci beaucoup, Olivier.

The legendary Sandman of The Celtic Noise fame has got his ratings on the game here, and it’s definitely worth a read before you continue. I’m glad to wait.

Now that you’re back, here are five takeaways from the successful conquest of Rome.

1. This team is awesome

While it’s probably obvious that this year’s Celtic team is one of the best in the last several years, it’s not often said enough. Down one goal early to one of Italy’s best teams? Not a problem. James Forrest comes back and evens it up, and in the interim, the Celtic defence tightened up and Fraser Forster lived up to his nickname after allowing a “gimme” at the 7-minute mark. One could easily argue that this team can play with, and beat, anyone anywhere, and that wouldn’t be hyperbole.

2. Neil Lennon is awesome

Try as I might, I’ve been attempting on Twitter to give a “hat tip” to those who are coming out and saying, in effect, “I was wrong about Celtic hiring Neil Lennon.” However, after about the 240th post, I gave up. So here’s a blanket “hat tip” to all of those who have admitted to being wrong to have preferred someone else to lead Celtic — someone who would have used Celtic as a stepping stone to another post — rather than Neil, whose gaffer skills are now hitting their stride with a more-than-able Celtic team and whose dedication and devotion to Celtic, like Julius Caesar’s wife, is above reproach.

3. Olivier Ntcham is awesome

I’m going to bet the mortgage that we’re going to see more of Ntcham in the Celtic lineup after the victory in Rome. Why we don’t see more of him — especially after the missile he sent into the net from about 35 yards out against Partick Thistle, the first of two scores by the Frenchman in that game — is a mystery. But I get it: When you have a club that has got so much talent at midfield, it’s hard to start everyone, though those who have been calling for Callum McGregor or Scott Brown to get some rest might have a good case to put in Ntcham in either one’s place.

4. Chris Sutton is awesome

I get it, BT Sports. You block your video feed to the United States because, well, you want to ignore a potentially huge untapped market in North America with a growing number of “soccer” fans in the U.S., hungry for what you can offer. Well, that’s your loss. But thanks to the modern miracle known as the Internet (and how long the video clip stays up remains to be seen) and thanks to a Twitter user named Adam Lynch, we get what is probably the best call of the season, so far, in Chris Sutton on Ntcham’s goal. A HD version is here. “Wow! Wow! Wow! Rome. Conquered.”

Three things about Ntcham’s goal, and Sutton’s reaction, that deserve special mention: a.) After watching this clip about, oh, 900 times (so far), I have no idea who the Lazio player is passing to, other than Odsonne Edouard, unless he is passing to his teammate to his right; otherwise there is no teammate within about 30 yards of him, b.) the funniest reaction, next to Sutton’s, is that of Mohammed Elyounoussi, who just raises his arms and walks — walks — toward Ntcham while his teammates run past (long game, he’s tired, I get it), and c.) there is no sorrier lot on the planet than the greeting clowns who took to social media calling for BT Sports to fire Sutton for his reaction.

5. Fascism still sucks, and has no place in football

Somewhere on social media, a Celtic fan reposted a tweet from a Lazio fan saying something to the effect of, “I am a Lazio fan, but I hate fascism.” Sorry, mate, but you’re an enabler — maybe an unwitting one — of fascism. If that’s your club, you own them. No excuses. Full stop. You own the goosestepping assclowns marching in Glasgow throwing up Nazi salutes. You own the deaths of Tottenham Hotspur fans several years ago at the hands of your fans. You own the stabbings of three — a third, according to a report late on Thursday when one of the buses carrying fans broke down — Celtic supporters. Rome is a large enough city to have more than one club — Italy itself has hundreds — and if it’s your choice to support a club that embraces fascism while UEFA and FIFA both turn a blind eye to it, then you own it. There’s no place for fascism in football. There’s no place for fascism anywhere, period.

On to a match against Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, on Sunday.