Come on,now. I mean, seriously: Could there be any more ridiculous and nonsensical ramblings going on over the last 48 hours than Ange Postecoglou going to Leeds United to replace Jesse Marsch?
Leeds United has released Marsch into the wild, and possibly right into the U.S. Men’s National Team post, replacing Gregg Berhalter. But I digress. What’s important is that the short list, according to experts, has been narrowed down to three candidates.
None of which is Ange.
So just take a minute, take a breath, and calm down already.
This stands to reason: Postecoglou is under contract to Celtic until June of this year — at least. Let me emphasize the last part of that: AT LEAST. It would be heinous of the board to let him get away, and he deserved, among other things, a king’s ransom to stay with the Hoops.
And despite the inevitability of him being drawn southward, it’s not going to be with a relegation-prone Leeds United. In fact, Postecoglou would probably stay longer, too, with a new contract. At least it is my fondest hope that he will, since he’s been a godsend to the club.
One more thing
After a looooooooooooooooong hiatus between the World Cup fiasco(es) and the start of the new year — which has been more rainy than usual in these parts — it’s good to be back.
We have St. Mirren on Saturday at the very reasonable hour of 5:30 p.m., your time — which is 9:30 a.m. mine — at Celtic Park on our way to the Scottish Cup. Mon the Hoops!
So, I wake up on yet another game day and prepare: Check the schedule — away game against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — so I choose the away jersey, put on my special Celtic wear which guarantees victory for the Hoops and fire up the laptop and peruse the Internet in general and social media in particular.
And there it is, the Celtic scandal-du-jour from a sports press in Scotland that is truly as gullible as they are laughable: Steve Clarke moaning about Celtic not allowing its players to play a friendly with Turkey — sorry, Türkiye, to avoid confusion, especially in these parts, with the large bird we Americans are getting ready to roast up for our Thanksgiving meal later this month.
Let’s parse this, um, scandal, shall we? Let’s parse it in to bite-sized pieces so we can properly analyze it, because the Scottish press — particularly the Sun — is clearly incapable of doing so on their own.
Quoting Steve Clarke: “I have to say I’m very disappointed in that decision.”
And you have every right to be, Steve. But let’s look at the big picture.
It’s a friendly. For those of you in the back who may have trouble hearing, “IT’S A FRIENDLY!” It means nothing to anyone outside the Sky Sports ad department because — wait for it — the world’s footballing attention will more than likely be on the start of the World Cup four days later.
So let’s put this in perspective — and let’s put this as rationally as possible — having a friendly (where Celtic has lost players in the past in meaningless games) literally hours before the start of the World Cup is just plain fucking stupid.
Also, and more importantly, Celtic has — as we like to say in the U.S. — bigger fish to fry. Namely the Sydney Super Cup tournament in Australia, which it’s safe to say was formed around Celtic for the benefit of promoting European football Down Under.
Quoting Ange Postecoglou: “From our perspective, the Australian trip is an important part of our football club and we want to take our strongest possible team there.”
And Ange is right.
So what’s a football club to do? Follow FIFA’s guidelines that clubs in countries that did not make the big dance in the desert coming up in a few weeks do not have to send players to a meaningless, thrown-together group of friendlies.
To be fair, though, Clarke seems to be OK with it. And looking at the lineup for the match above, it’s a more-than-adequate squad to take on the footballing powerhouse known as . . . Türkiye.
But the media seems to be having a Thanksgiving-caliber feast on a story that’s not really there. As usual.
One more thing
Stéphanie Frappart is probably a nice person, and probably a competent referee in France. But she called a completely awful game for both sides in the final Champions League match between Real Madrid and Celtic at the Santiago Bernabéu in Spain a week or two ago.
It was so bad an officiating performance that the SPFL will probably be calling her soon to officiate in the Scottish Premiership.
But I digress.
Yet despite having a bad game — and I’m glad to give her the benefit of the doubt here for having a bad match — those who took to social media to make misogynistic comments about her were way out of line.
Despite evidence on social media to the contrary, we are better than that. Or at the absolute bare minimum, Celtic fans should strive to be better than that. But then, without something minuscule to complain about, the “Moan the Hoops” Brigade would have no reason to exist.
Let’s be clear: Frappart’s lackluster performance in Madrid had nothing to do with her gender.
And Celtic fans should know better. In addition, Celtic fans — more than anyone — should know better than most due to this blindingly glaring and clearly obvious reason: The officiating makeup in the SPFL is completely male, and nearly every one of them — and here’s giving them the benefit of the doubt — lack either the skills, the knowledge, or the integrity to call the game honestly.
And I finished this item with a half-hour to spare before focusing on the game at Fir Park. Mon the Hoops!
There’s a story that I like to tell my Celtic-following friends — or anyone who wants to hear it — despite the fact it makes me look like a complete idiot (which, if I’m being absolutely honest, is not terribly hard to do).
When I lived in Japan in 1997 and was teaching English to a class of advanced students — young professionals whose English was (and probably still is) better than most Americans I know — the class took “Larry-sensei” to a Yokohama F. Marinos match. While at the stadium, the thing that impressed me most was the fact that I could get phenomenally decent ramen at the snack stand, which I ate at my seat as my students enjoyed the game.
Playing in this particular game, as I found out years later as a Celtic supporter when I asked one of my students with whom I am still in touch, was a rookie named Shunsuke Nakamura.
Outside of the ramen, the then-incomprehensible cheers that I chanted with my students, and winning the match against either Jubilo Iwata or Urawa Reds, I don’t remember seeing Nakamura play, even though apparently I did.
See? I told you: Complete idiot. Just hand me that pointed hat with the word “DUNCE” on it and I’ll just go to the corner and sit on that stool.
It wasn’t until years later that, after adopting football and supporting Celtic, I discovered Nakamura and his greatness.
Now, the legendary magician who made balls swerve and appear in the back of the net — sometimes at historic times for Celtic — is hanging up his boots at the ripe old age of 44, at the end of second-tier Yokohama FC’s season.
Though he wasn’t at Celtic for as long as he should have been, leaving in 2009 for Espanyol of La Liga before returning to Japan, his time in the Hoops was a storied one, with 166 appearances and 34 goals. Not a high goal count like other Celtic legends, perhaps, but some of those goals were historic. Winning the league on a free kick against Kilmarnock, the two free-kick goals against Manchester United, and there’s always his first goal against Rangers — back before they were liquidated in 2012 — that defied physics; anything that makes that idiot Allan McGregor look this foolish deserves to hang in the Lourve.
There was an NHK program which was broadcast shortly after Nakamura’s departure from Celtic which outlines the effect he had on the club and Glasgow itself. The narrator speaks in Japanese, but much of it is in English (with Japanese subtitles) with Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon giving insights into Nakamura’s time at Celtic, as well as several fans telling their impressions of Nakamura. There’s even a very young Kieran Tierney and his family talking about Nakamura’s influence on the lad.
So どうもありがとうございます — doumo arigatou gozaimasu or “thank you very much” — to 中村俊輔 (Nakamura Shunsuke) for blazing that trail from Japan to Scotland for others to follow. Thankfully, we have a new generation of Japanese players following in Nakamura’s footsteps at Celtic, coincidentally led by the former manager of Yokohama F. Marinos, Ange Postecoglou.
One more thing
Because we’re speaking about Japanese players in Scotland, Kyogo Furuhashi seems to be wearing a target on his back, rhetorically speaking, and it wasn’t more evident than it was against Hibernian last week. Kyogo ended up on the pitch a lot more than he should have, and on one than more occasion Hibernian’s Elie Youan flattened Kyogo, once in front of the referee which resulted in — wait for it — no call.
Of course, minutes later Kyogo retaliated with a push, and the referee was all over that with a whistle in world-record time.
I hate repeating myself, but I will: The SPFL is a rampant breeding ground for hammerthrowing nobodies festering in a petri dish of crooked officiating, both contributing to making the league — and Scottish football — the laughingstock of the world. It’s not enough to just shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, it’s always been that way.” Either it changes and the football becomes respectable, or it founders in a chorus of “same as it ever was.”
Rant over. Celtic is at Fir Park on Wednesday to play Motherwell in a League Cup match at the very weird hour of 10:15 a.m. US Pacific Time. I’ll have on my Celtic jersey underneath my strike t-shirt, as I’ll be on a picket line during my union’s strike against the City of Santa Cruz. But I will have the game on my phone, so Mon the Hoops!
To read some banter on social media about the 2-1 win on Saturday at Celtic Park against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — you would think that the club should staff the battle stations and fix monumental problems that afflict the Hoops.
The “Moan the Hoops” Brigade always weighs in — always — with the most ridiculous assessments that makes the real fans of Celtic thank every diety imaginable that these folks are nowhere close to the decision-making for the club.
Items like, “Joe Hart is done.” Bzzzzzz. Wrong answer. Not by a long shot. He’s the best goalkeeper in the SPFL, way out in front of the distant second-place finisher who happens to sit on our bench. Namely, Ben Seigrist.
Then there’s the Josip Juranovic “overrated” chorus, simply because a miscommunication cost the Bhoys an own-goal against Motherwell, which in retrospect is meaningless because — adjusts glasses, check notes — we won the game. Juranovic is a quality player good enough to start for his national team and clearly good enough to start for Celtic. Despite Saturday’s miscue, his jersey fits.
While we wait for both Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt to come back from injury, we are indeed fortunate to have a player like Moritz Jenz picking up the slack and playing admirably. But praise for Jenz and great play by other Bhoys — and again, anyone care to pick apart Greg Taylor? — is a rarity under the crushing tsunami of whining and moaning so prevalent with the online fanbase.
It’s enough to make #MoanTheHoops a recurring hashtag.
But never mind all that. The biggest problem that Celtic faces going forward, the one that Celtic must address and address now, is this:
Yes, Reo Hatate’s mouthpiece is — gasp! — blue. Like . . . you know, them.
But let’s look at the big picture, shall we?
Hatate came from Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League, which uses blue as a primary color in their home kit makeup. In addition, as a member of the Japan National Team (though arguably not utilized to his full potential there), their home kit is also blue. Also, if you’re paying attention to international football, the team is referred to as the “Samurai Blue.”
To say nothing of the fact that it could just be a superstition that Hatate uses that particular mouthpiece, or that particular color anyway. Athletes are a superstitious bunch, some moreso than others, some of whom have rituals and wear items that have special meaning to them.
Michael Jordan used to wear his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform, and it didn’t seem to affect his performance while becoming the best basketball player ever. Tiger Woods always wore red shirts on Sundays in golf tournament play in honor of his alma mater, Stanford. Don’t even get me started on the playoff beard phenomenon in the NHL in North America, where hockey players on playoff teams stop shaving until they win, or are eliminated from, the Stanley Cup.
You don’t have to be an athlete to partake in the superstition madness. For example — and in a complete admission of Too Much Information™ — since I started following Celtic in 2017, I have worn a special green undershirt and green boxer shorts on game day under my Celtic jersey and trousers whenever I watch the Bhoys play. Even at work, I wear my Celtic jersey under my work shirt, which gets a lot of interesting looks from people.
I don’t care.
And the truth can now be told: It was completely my fault that Celtic lost to St. Mirren two weeks ago, as while getting ready to go to work that morning, I noticed that my Celtic boxers were in the hamper and not on my body.
Forgive me, Brother Walfrid.
So quite possibly Hatate scored a hat trick at Frontale while wearing that blue mouthpiece and doesn’t want to part with it. Or he has some other attachment to the mouthpiece.
The fact that he even has to wear a mouthpiece playing in the SPFL speaks volumes to the hammerthrowing the league is known for worldwide, and of which the league should be unequivocally ashamed.
But even then: The fact of the matter is it’s not anyone’s business what Hatate puts in his mouth.
Daijobu desu, Reo-kun.
One more thing
O Captain, my Captain: Several post-game observations, even one by Ange Postecoglou, had the red card on captain Callum McGregor as preventable because Stephen Welsh was close enough to defend.
That’s not how I saw it, and far be it from me to disagree with the gaffer. But there’s no way that Welsh is making it to help an out-of-place Joe Hart to defend against the misplayed gift given to Motherhell’s Ross Tierney. Not even if Welsh was on a rocket sled.
McGregor clearly, albeit unfortunately, did the right thing in that foul, falling on his sword to save what could have been the tying goal.
And surprisingly, John Beaton — positively without question or debate the absolute worst referee in the known universe, who proved his incompetence consistently during the match, missing a clear hand ball in the Motherwell box by a Motherwell player already on a yellow — got the call right.
Thank you, Callum, for your sacrifice. You essentially saved the game.
We’ve got Red Bull Leipzig in Germany on Wednesday — more Champions League play — and while my union goes on strike on Monday, hopefully it will last until at least Wednesday so I can watch the game at home. Mon the Hoops!
Needless to say that I realize there are far more important things going on in the world right now. But when Jota isn’t happy, I’m not happy.
In the press after the FC Shakhtar Donetsk match in Poland yesterday in which Celtic drew 1-1, Jota said something to the effect that Celtic players always aim for a win.
He’s right. He gets it.
Also, as an aside, I think a large part of Shakhtar’s success came as a result of neutralizing Jota for much of the game, but that’s for the experts to debate.
Yet despite a temporary setback where a flurry of shots missed their mark in a game where Celtic clearly outplayed Shakhtar only to come away with a draw, we clearly are putting down a marker in Group F in the UEFA Champions League.
Group F, incidentally, is the home of 15 European Cup/Champions League winners: Of course, 14 of those are Real Madrid and one of those is us.
Ange Postecoglou nailed it, too, when he said that Celtic is on the way to achieving European success. He told the Sun that Celtic was “excellent” on Wednesday, and they were. “Obviously the result was not reflective of that but I thought in the whole game the players gave everything and that’s all I can ask for,” he said.
I would completely agree. Needless to say, the Moan the Hoops Brigade was out in force on Wednesday, failing as always to bring a rational and realistic discourse to social media. Of course, whether having a rational discourse on social media is even possible might be another debate for another time. But I digress.
What the naysayers fail to realize is that Wednesday’s match — like last week’s match against last year’s Champions League, um, champions Real Madrid — is not the same as Celtic taking on Kilmarnock on a given Saturday at Rugby Park. It’s not even in the same universe. Celtic is playing the best of Europe, which also means they’re playing the best in the world.
And they’re holding their own, playing a high quality football — pure, beautiful, inventive football — that belongs with the best Europe has to offer.
So as anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I’m not a fan of Celtic having to play in Europe. Sure, the checks are great and, as consistent top-of-the-table finishers in Scotland, we have an obligation to represent in international competition. But at least now Celtic stands on a level of being competitive, and that makes watching it, while worrying about how injuries may affect the SPFL season, a little more bearable.
You read it here first: At the level Celtic has taken on the Champions League opponents, there is no reason they can’t advance. Those goal opportunities that Celtic missed on Wednesday? They will come back and we won’t miss next time.
One more thing
Two, actually: With all the hubbub around the passing of the Queen of England and the lack of football around the UK as a result (but cricket, rugby and horse racing goes on — go figure), I had to put aside a post I started about the ball handling and passing genius of Reo Hatate, and I still plan on finishing it and posting it. The kid’s outstanding, and like his fellow countrymen Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda, each brings a special quality to the club: Daizen with his speed and endurance, and Kyogo with his remarkable insight to be at the right place at the right time around an opponent’s goal.
Needless to say, Celtic fell out of the lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down in getting Ange, who brought this trio to the club.
Also, as many of you already know, Tom Rogic signed with West Bromich Albion. Sure, the jersey looks as out-of-place on him as the Aberdeen red did on Scott Brown, but it’s safe to say that WBA just made the steal of the century in picking up the Wizard of Oz. Good luck, Tom!
Meanwhile, we have St. Mirren away on Sunday at the crack of 4:30 a.m., California time. Mon the Hoops!
Arguably, Saturday’s game against Ibrox Cover Band FC laid down a marker as one of those historic games that we, as Celtic fans, will be tweaking Hun noses with for years to follow. And those who insist on calling the Glasgow Derby the “Old Firm” clearly saw this: If this was indeed the Old Firm, it was played on Saturday by the ghosts and zombies of a Rangers club that perished under the sheer tonnage of liquidation in 2012.
In other words, the Old Firm died when Rangers did. So stop already.
But I digress.
In the continued afterglow 72 hours later from Saturday’s 4-0 walkover, there is a lot to unpack.
Leil Abada’s goals were classic Celtic build-up and shoot. Matt O’Riley’s phenomenal pass to Jota who put it over the goalkeeper’s head, and subsequent salute to the fans, was a masterstroke — one of many we can expect from this team this season.
But the best goal — at least for me — was David Turnbull’s at 78 minutes. It was a classic deke by Turnbull: Take two steps toward a defender on the outside, and when the goalkeeper lobs it to the man in the middle, cut back and intercept, shoot, and score.
It was indeed a “Whit’s the goalie daen, Tom?” moment.
But one of the many stark contrasts between us and them is that not only did the Bhoys play on a level far beyond Surrender FC, they played smarter. Much smarter. And in a field of football geniuses, Reo Hatate is the Einstein of the club, controlling the midfield and sending passes with the accuracy of the theory of relativity all over the pitch.
But if you really want to talk about historic, there’s the tifo . . .
Imagine being, oh I don’t know, an American living in California up at 4 a.m., and seeing this. Dreaming? And what does this mean? Later you find out: It’s 13-year-old Paddy Coyle, Molotov cocktail in hand, during the Battle of the Bogside in Derry in 1969. The quote is from Bernadette Devlin MP, an Irish independence icon from that era: “Yesterday I dared to struggle. Today I dare to win!”
Then you say aloud, “Holy fuck, that’s brilliant!” You say that loud enough to wake up your daughter, asleep in her room, who resorts to her typical game-day “Daaaaaad,” when you get too loud during the game in the pre-dawn hours. Not only is it a hard slap in the face followed by a kick to the soft ones to a club obsessed with British army iconography vis-a-vis Northern Irleand and being up to their knees in Fenian blood, but the subtext that Celtic is always on the side of the oppressed cannot be ignored.
It’s a classic Green Brigade tifo for the ages, surpassing the greats like “They hung out the flag of war.” I’m so glad they’re on our side. Kudos to them for the consistently awesome tifo.
And for those who don’t think there’s a place for politics in football, perhaps you can take your shallow fandom elsewhere. Maybe to a soulless club like, oh I don’t know, Manchester City. They might be more your speed, where all that matters is an open checkbook and unlimited spending.
One more thing
The rest of the world is watching, and we’re laughing. Scottish football pundits either have no concept of reality or they just suck. Maybe both. Anyway, when brainless mouthpieces like Kris Boyd put players like Alfredo Morelos ahead of Jota, you have to wonder if they are just stupid or having a stroke. And Barry Ferguson. Barry, seriously: You got it hilariously wrong when you said that Gio van Bratwurst had Ange Postecoglou sussed, when the Celts throttled the Huns. But instead of saying four simple words — “Yeah, I was wrong” — you double down by saying something even more moronic: I was right, but the players didn’t hold up their end of the deal.
Really? In other words, I have gaining the US presidency sussed, but my campaign didn’t hold up its end of the deal. M’kay . . .
So yeah, add a group of football pundits seemingly sharing a single IQ point to a sports media that are more stenographers than journalists, and no one really takes you seriously. That’s a huge problem in my book; one I hope gets fixed in a hurry.
But back to history: We have Real Madrid tomorrow in the Champions League opener at Celtic Park. Franco’s fascists are favored, and they are the current champions, but we are not a pushover and, as Chris Sutton said, we can cause them problems. A win tomorrow — and I am lighting a candle and saying a rosary — would be even more historic than Saturday’s drubbing of Filth FC, and that’s saying something.
If you will permit me a chance to don my Captain Obvious outfit, that was a fine piece of business this summer. And Oliver Abildgaard, if you would be so kind as to close the transfer window behind you now that you’re here, I’d be grateful.
Celtic clearly outdid themselves this time around, and for this we are truly thankful. Getting deals done early, getting players locked in and under contract instead of under loan — one might think they were dreaming.
But no. It’s a new morning at Parkhead, and apparently the board is serious about giving Ange Postecoglou the tools to win. A lot. And so we end up with Cameron Carter-Vickers signed, Jota signed, Benjamin Siegrist (a first class first-stringer who I never thought would play behind Joe Hart) signed, Daizen Maeda (previously on loan) signed, and the list goes on: Aaron Mooy, Sead Haksabanovic, Alexandro Bernabei, and Moritz Jenz on loan from FC Lorient, not to mention Abildgaard on loan from Rubin Kazan.
Not only this, we say goodbye to some players who may not have made it in the new system and have been, well, a burden on the payroll: Christopher Jullien, whose knee injury eclipsed flashes of brilliance on the pitch (Betfred Cup winner against the Huns, anyone?) — he’s now with Montpellier. Albian Ajeti may get more playing time at Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga. Vasilis Barkas seems to be settling in with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie.
And there are some departures to other clubs which you kind of hate to see: I would have liked someday to have seen Karamoko Dembele playing up front with Kyogo Furuhashi, but Dembele is off to Stade Brestois 29 in Ligue 1; a good move for him, but unfortunate for what could have been. Bohemians FC in Dublin got a steal when they picked up Jonathan Afolabi on loan — he had a lot of potential and will help the Bohs immensely. Barnsley, too, got a deal and a half with Luca Connell. And then you hate to see a young talent like Liam Scales in the red of Aberdeen, looking as out of place as Scott Brown and Jonny Hayes wearing the Dons’ kit. Speaking of Liams, Liam Shaw joins Morecambe down south after a season on loan to Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and I know he’ll contribute there.
But most interestingly, Mikey Johnston has a season-long loan spell with Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese league, after signing a one-year extension with Celtic. So with no sell-on clause, the good news is that after Johnston gets some time to return to his former level of play, he’ll be back in the Hoops next season.
On trophy day at the end of last season, Ange promised us we’d come back bigger and better, and it appears he’s keeping his word. And the We-Never-Stop gospel has taken root with the Hoops, to the point where essentially a second team throttled the hammerthrowing Ross County on Wednesday 4-1 to advance in the Scottish League Cup.
So close the window and get ready for a wild ride.
One more thing
The Moan the Hoops Brigade on social media are at it again: This time, the whipping boy is Alexandro Bernabei, who had what nearly every Celtic fan who watched Wednesday would describe as a good game — not great, but not bad either — against Ross County. Bernabei moves well with the ball and with a couple of defensive miscues that led to absolutely nothing for the Stags, and he got a full 90+ minutes under his proverbial belt.
But that’s not good enough for some. Seriously, people, get a fucking grip.
If Twitter had existed in 1997 when Henrik Larsson started for the Hoops, the Moan the Hoops Brigade would have ridden him out on a rail after a debut which featured an errant pass leading to a Hibernian goal, and later an own-goal in a European match. Thank God social media didn’t explode on the scene until about a decade later, and thank God, too, that none of these people are within a light-year of making decisions for the club, either then or now.
Also, a hat tip for Sead Haksabanovic, who came on at the 76-minute mark in the Ross County match and showed a lot of potential. Once he gets used to playing with his new teammates, the sky is the limit.
Meanwhile, Celtic hosts Scum of the Earth FC, a 10-year-old club whose sole purpose is to provide the world a cautionary tale about how not to run a football club, to say nothing of being a club with followers who are the dregs of society. It’s the Glasgow Derby at the god-awful crack of 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, and quite frankly destroying them would be worth waking up to.
It has become commonplace on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 4 a.m. for noon kickoffs in Scotland: Set the alarm for 3:45, shut it off quickly before apologizing to my daughter awakened in the other room of our small apartment, curse the fact I can’t sleep in to 7 for a 3 p.m. kickoff, shower, suit up in the appropriate home/road/third jersey and scarf, and then put on the Celtic match with a very low volume.
If every Celtic game was like Sunday’s outing at Tannadice, getting up at 4 would never be difficult.
There are no superlatives that would do justice to the Bhoys’ 9-0 victory yesterday. Also, not to blame the victim here, but after Joe Hart went down with a boot to the head, got stapled up, and continued to play flawlessly, Dundee United had a whipping coming to them. Don’t injure our keeper, and we’ll let you live . . .
Nevertheless, this was a result that was coming when, finally, Celtic fires on all cylinders. Not only were the Bhoys firing on all cylinders on Sunday, they shifted into overdrive as well. Unfortunately, Dundee United had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of Celtic’s pure, beautiful, inventive football in a high-scoring match that the Hoops have been capable of ever since Ange Postecoglou took the helm.
One stat stands out: Thirty shots, 13 on target, makes you wonder how many of those other 17 might have gone in had they been closer.
Not enough can be said about Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada: Kyogo at 15′ and 40′ and 45’+2, Abada at 50′ and 59′ and 77′. Already the comparisons between Kyogo and Henrik Larsson are being made on social media — prematurely, in my book. However, the Japanese bhoy has certainly made strides in that direction to validate a comparison to the King of Kings, and no one would be happier than me to see that come to fruition.
Jota, too, was his usual flawless self. On his goal right before the end of the half, a very humorous episode took place where a Dundee United defender, on the pitch between Jota and the goal albeit several yards to Jota’s right, put his hand up for offside on Jota . . . when he was in front of Jota on the pitch. The comic relief of that alone made this the goal of the game, in my book.
And it doesn’t stop there.
With the depth on this squad, Ange is orchestrating the games like a conductor leading a symphony. Thinking you may be getting a respite with a second-teamer coming in off the bench? Not a chance. There’s a good chance the replacement is better than the player coming off. It’s a great position for Celtic to be in.
It will be interesting to see if we can keep the level up in our next match, a League Cup tie at Ross County on Wednesday, to say nothing of Saturday’s match against the Huns.
One more thing
There’s this meme floating around social media recently that provided a chuckle. It said, and I’m paraphrasing here, Group F in the UEFA Champions League is the scariest because it has 15 European Cups between Real Madrid and Celtic. Of course, it doesn’t mention that 14 of those belong to Real Madrid, and who am I to mention that part?
Personally, I hate to admit this, but the truth is the truth: Because I’ve only been following Celtic — and football, for that matter — for five seasons, I am hardly an expert on the beautiful game and its multiplicity of nuances. I freely admit that, and what follows here, and in all my blogs, are commentary.
But in my defense, I watch a lot of it, and not only Celtic. The learning curve is not as steep as one might think.
So when it comes to the UEFA Champions League draw on Thursday, my rudimentary knowledge of who’s good and who’s a poseur (hint: Glasgow’s other team that’s not Partick Thistle) leads me to believe that we got a good group this time around.
Not great, but surely it could have been worse.
First things first: I hate Real Madrid with the heat of a nova mostly for their history — and any Spanish team with “real” (“royal”) in their title smacks of fascism — but they’re a phenomenal club. The fact that there are 15 European Cups in our group — 14 of them for Real Madrid and one for Celtic — speaks pretty clearly to the consistent quality that the Spanish clubs puts on the pitch.
But they aren’t perfect. As historically good a coach as Carlo Ancelotti is, Real Madrid can be beat. And I think Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic squad are the only club in this group that can give them a run.
Call it a hunch. A gut feeling. Celtic’s speed matches up with anyone, even the world’s best. And while I don’t want to take anything away from any of the other clubs in the group, Real Madrid is the odds-on favorite here and Celtic have the best chance of knocking them off their proverbial pedestal.
Ange put it aptly at yesterday’s press conference: “You want our football club to be among the big ones in Europe so there was a real sense of anticipation around the draw. After it, irrespective of the teams you get, you’ve got a challenge before you and from our perspective we’re really excited for what’s ahead.”
And the rest?
Red Bull Leipzig — the “other” Red Bull team in Europe to its Group E counterpart Red Bull Salzburg (and, of course, their American MLS cousin, New York Red Bulls, home of ex-Celts Patryk Klimala, Lewis Morgan, and Cameron Harper) — shouldn’t be ignored, despite their slow start in the Bundesliga this season at no wins, two draws and a loss. But there’s nothing that stands out on that club that, at least on paper, can give Celtic problems.
Same with FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Currently sitting seventh in the league and being dinged in a friendly with AS Roma by a score of 5-0, the Ukranian club has concerns that far outweigh their Champions League standing. But they could be a wild card in this group and deserve to be watched closely.
It should be a very interesting group stage, to say the least. And there’s really no reason that Celtic can’t squeak by and take it, or at least finish a strong second.
One more thing
Champions League Group A: No one is a bigger fan of Liverpool in this grouping than I am. My sincerest wish is that they mop the floor with everyone in the group, especially the Huns. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Reds.
Meanwhile the Hoops are at Tannadice against Dundee United on Sunday, kicking off at the God-awful hour of 4 a.m. Pacific time. Mon the Hoops!
Despite all the advances of modern medicine to date, there are few cures for a lengthy illness — and non-COVID, thankfully — that are more effective and healing than Celtic starting the season like they have so far with three convincing wins. Now that I’m well enough to stop laying in bed and studying the ceiling, not to mention that the timing is right now that the new season is already in gear, it’s time to get back on the blogging horse.
Expecting the unexpected
There are things over the past several weeks that were inevitable: Sure, Jota was always going to sign — you don’t travel the world wearing the Hoops if you’re going to stay at Benfica or go elsewhere. Nailing down Cameron Carter-Vickers was another feather in the backroom staff’s cap. Adding Benjamin Siegrist was also a coup — to be honest, I never thought he’d agree to play behind Joe Hart, but here we are — and the additions of Alexandro Bernabei, Aaron Mooy, and Moritz Jenz round out the business end of things, despite rumors of one final move for Rubin Kazan’s Sead Haksabanovic.
The transfer window has had the usual suspects come and go, and most importantly and immediately on the table here is where Mikey Johnston will end up on loan. Ange Postecoglou knows there’s still a player there, who just needs some consistent playing time to get back to form, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies Johnston’s play on social media.
But on the whole, business got done early for a change, planned and methodical this time, as opposed to the fire drills in the past, and all indications point to success.
Expectations are high. But Carl Starfelt’s goal against Kilmarnock? No one could have expected that, but yet here we are with the Swede getting his first on the SPFL’s worst rug at Rugby Park.
Then there’s the emergence of Greg Taylor. Taylor has always been a solid player, a dependable defender thrust into a winger’s assignment which, to be fair, may have been a steep learning curve for him. But for those of us who believed in him from the start, we get our “I told you so” moment to the PlayStation pundits and the armchair gaffers who would have just as soon dumped him.
The Japanese bhoys are picking up where they left off last season, which is sugoi. Georgios Giakoumakis, a new father with a new purpose, who could easily start but has come off the bench with amazing results. Jota? Worth every penny and more with the consistently phenomenal play we expect from the Portuguese wunderkind. Even Moritz Jenz, on loan from Lorient, may want to keep his bags unpacked and stay in Scotland for awhile.
Add to this the cast of last year’s regulars who add to the successful mix: Stephen Welsh and Anthony Ralston at the back, Liel Abada on the wing, and David Turnbull showing the solid midfield play that brought him to Glasgow from Motherhell . . . sorry, Motherwell. To say nothing of Matt O’Riley being the biggest steal in the last transfer window, flying under the radar of just about everyone except our staff.
So expect the expected, like another successful season under Postecoglou. But also expect the unexpected as well, like goals from the back like Welsh’s against Aberdeen and, yes, even from Starfelt.
With a combined score of 10-1 in our first three games, giving the Hoops a +9 goal differential, we now turn our attention to the diet Huns, Heart of Midlothian, on Sunday at Celtic Park. Thank God for the 3 p.m. kickoff — that means I can sleep in until 7 a.m. on Sunday morning — and, of course, Mon the Hoops!
One more thing (well, two actually)
I always like to add just one more thought before signing off. In some instances, there are more than one “last thought” that compete for the pixels, and in this case both warrant an appearance here.
First, it appears that the club is doing the right thing in letting the investigation run its due course on the incident involving Alexandro Bernabei, which seems to involve drunk driving and which, of course, is never acceptable or unpunished behavior. However, in typical Scottish media fashion, public details on the incident are both conflicting and nebulous, but the club is doing the right thing by letting the investigations, internal for the club and external in the law enforcement realm, draw their conclusions. Meanwhile, he trains and is available, if necessary, for games. At worst, the kid fucked up and will pay some sort of penalty. Equating this with some other transgressions of the recent past (*cough* Boli Bolingoli *cough*) and seeking Bernabei’s exit for this transgression, especially before all the facts are in, is completely ludicrous. Get a grip.
Also, it’s normally expected for the Scottish sports media to say ridiculous things about Celtic. As someone who has followed the Hoops since 2016/17 — still a neophyte, I know — I have gotten used to airheaded pundits like Kris Boyd spouting moronic nonsense like Jota’s not the best player in the league. The best response to those is just shaking one’s head, rolling one’s eyes, and moving on. But then, very unfortunately, we have some in our own ranks who spout absolute nonsense as well. Not to give the offending blog any more oxygen than it deserves, but recently a Celtic blogger sent up the trial balloon of, “Hey, maybe we should sell Giakoumakis in this transfer window.” No chance, sport, and maybe you should take up another avocation.