As much as it pains me to say it (and as much as I regret calling it a few posts ago), Cameron Harper made the right call for his future by heading stateside to play for Gerhard Struber at the MLS powerhouse New York Red Bulls.
Cue up the Sinatra: He wants to be a part of it — New York, New York.
If he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere . . . .
There are few things I would have liked more than to see Harper, a California bhoy of Scottish heritage thanks to his Glaswegian parents, excel and thrive — as he would have, to be sure — in the Green and White. As an aside, his departure speaks volumes to a system at Celtic that needs addressing, where talent in the Reserves is ready but not utilized; seemingly the only option for talented players like Harper, and other Reserves like Armstrong Oko-Flex and Karamoko Dembele, is to play elsewhere.
But that is another discussion for another time. Today, on this side of the Atlantic, we have a homecoming, and this is Harper’s moment. The future looks bright for the 19-year-old who can set the MLS Eastern Conference alight at NYRB, while being stateside to participate in the U-20s for the U.S. National Team, and beyond.
And who’s to say that another tour of duty in Europe — hopefully at Celtic — is not in the cards for Harper in the future? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, Cameron, bear in mind that unfortunately there are no In-n-Out Burgers in New York — the one that’s furthest east in the U.S. is in Frisco, Texas, which is local when the Red Bulls play FC Dallas — but there are a bunch out here in the West when the Red Bulls come out to play San Jose. And the #1 with cheese, animal-style, is my treat.
Originally, I had planned another topic today, but then I got the news with my coffee this morning that Jeremie Frimpong is now off to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, a league where he doesn’t have to deal with hammerthrowing nobodies like Hibernian’s Alex Gogic and Kilmarnock’s Alan Power.
And while an £11.5 million payday is nothing to sniff at — much of that maybe ending up with Man City — Frimpong’s departure is yet another sad note to a woeful season for the Bhoys. However, while I will miss Frimpong’s positive attitude and speed down the line, it permits me to wrap this into the intended topic of today, which is how youth is not being served at Celtic.
Every transfer window, the clubs and fans alike go window shopping for high-pricetag players when, for all intents and purposes, most — if not all — of the solutions to our needs are ready and able to go from the Reserves. The Colts are stacked with talent that can serve the first team well — Conor Hazard is already Exhibit A here, and Stephen Welsh has already made his mark on the first team and should play more going forward — and why we don’t utilize them is a mystery.
It’s more than a mystery, though. It’s a tragedy.
And herein lies what I was going to write about before the 20-year-old Frimpong’s departure proved the point I had planned to make. Yesterday, the ’67 Hail Hail podcast nailed it on their broadcast dealing with why Celtic youth may be on the road and not returning home.
So let’s take a look at some of those Reserves that should be up on the first team and who sadly may not be because they’ll be off playing somewhere else.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably not.
One of the more frustrating aspects of this is that Karamoko Dembele can make an impact for Celtic given the chance. The thing is, he hasn’t been given that chance. Those handful of times he has played for the Hoops, he has shone. Now it looks like after his contract is up around summertime, reports have him off to France, either to Lille or Nantes. Now that Frimpong is gone, Dembele would be a great addition to replace the departing Dutchman’s speed on the wing, but it looks like we may not get a chance to see that.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully, but maybe not.
As a Californian, this one is personal for me. Cameron Harper’s artesian depth of talent, forged in the Southern California football hotbed of Costa Mesa’s Pateadores Soccer Club and refined and sharpened in the Celtic Reserves, is custom-made for Celtic success. While some thought he had a lackluster game against Hibernian a few weeks ago — I didn’t, since he was playing out of position — Harper has all the tools to be a success on the pitch for whichever club he plays for. That, of course, should be Celtic. But interestingly, rumors say the New York Red Bulls of the MLS also think so, and these same rumors have him returning stateside. This would be a two-edged sword for me: The upside is that I would get to see him play in person when the Red Bulls come West, but the downside is that he’d lose the chance to excel as a Celt, showing Glasgow and the world that Americans can play with the best.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully.
Like Harper, Armstrong Okoflex has an abundance of talent that has not gone unnoticed elsewhere. Why he wasn’t put on a loan like Jonathan Afolabi — who we’ll get to in a minute — is a head-scratcher, because with regular playing time, Okoflex can be a high-quality player for Celtic. But we may never know because he has already caught the eye, according to reports, of two Serie A clubs in Italy, Torino and Bologna. Understandably, if Okoflex can get regular playing time elsewhere, he’d be foolish not to take it. But it would be detrimental to Celtic to invest all the coaching and training for Okoflex, and the players mentioned above, and not get a quality player in the Hoops for it.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably.
I always thought that Jonathan Afolabi was a good signing for Celtic, and I thought it was a good idea to get him playing time on loan elsewhere to hone his skills. He has done exactly that on loans first to Dunfermline Athetic early in 2020 and to Dundee FC more recently. Hopefully when he returns to the mother club he will be the quality player we all thought he’d be. For the moment, there is no one actively on the radar pursuing his services, so that’s a good sign he’ll probably stay in the Hoops once he returns.
The moral of the story . . .
It’s pretty clear that Celtic have an overabundance of talent in the Reserves. Why they aren’t being utilized better is a concern, but it’s something that can be corrected going forward. If this season is officially a dumpster-fire throwaway — and I don’t think it is, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is — then perhaps it’s time to give the Colts a run on the first team to get them the playing time they need to flourish.
I woke up early on Sunday morning because a couple of hours before the historic Celtic match at Hampden, FC St. Pauli played Fortuna Dusseldorf — we won’t go there at this time, except to say it was not pretty — and my mood going into the game with Hearts was not exactly chipper.
Then the starting lineups came out on social media. I expected Scott Brown to start in place of Ismaila Soro, but I kept tripping over the goal choice. Conor Hazard. You want the kid to be between the sticks in what is possibly the most historic game of the 21st century?
Clearly we do. And this is why they pay Neil Lennon, and not me (who would have gone with Scott Bain), the big bucks. Hazard did remarkably well in goal for the Celts, as he has since he has been brought up to the first team.
There is a lot to be said for the accomplishment of a quadruple treble, and that will be written by writers and pundits with a lot more experience than me. But something about today’s game spoke volumes to what could be a changing of the guard at Paradise; the historic Celtic game where not only do we acknowledge the tremendous gravity of winning four trebles in a row, but also it was a game where we look back and say that youth was served.
It speaks to an issue that I hope will be explored further in the upcoming weeks as we head into the 2nd half of the season: Bringing up some of the other Celtic Reserves to play on the first team. We all saw today that the dues Hazard paid toiling in the Reserves is now paying dividends for the first team.
Hazard is not alone in that department, and the list of worthy Reserves is long: Armstrong Oko-Flex, Cameron Harper, Karamoko Dembele, Jonathan Afolabi, Scott Robertson, Kerr McInroy, and on and on. Along with Hazard, one other Colt who has made a mark on the first team this season in Stephen Welsh, and each of these aforementioned players listed arguably are in the starting blocks of a successful career for the Hoops.
They’ve all shown what they can do in the Reserves and in loan spells with other clubs. It’s time to put them to work for the Hoops.
Hazard has punched his ticket on the Celtic history express, and hopefully he will translate this huge accomplishment into a successful Celtic career in goal. Seeing his performance in the last several games, no doubt he will. But the quality of his play Hazard has shown he has set the table for others in the Reserves to follow suit.
If you’re like me, you’re still basking in the glow of this monumental feat: the quadruple treble. So while I process this, I may have more to say about this amazing feat itself in an upcoming post.
Unlike me, though, you’re probably not still apologizing to your neighbors for waking them up so early on a Sunday morning — remember, I’m 8 hours behind Glasgow here — with a rousing chorus of “I Just Can’t Get Enough” after Kris Ajer’s final penalty, but that’s another story for another time.
Let’s pick up this momentum Wednesday as we get back to the league games. Mon the Hoops!
When a week goes by with no Celtic games, and having to see what’s available elsewhere — the default mode is to find which clubs with former Celts are playing and watch accordingly (for example, Scott Sinclair was pretty good in the Preston North End win, though he flubbed a chance to score) — it gives one pause to collect one’s thoughts for Celtic’s upcoming game on Sunday, historic as it is, as well as to look back and ponder some might-have-beens.
Like . . .
Does Scott Brown start on Sunday?
This is the big question of the week, being batted back and forth over the journalistic net like a tennis ball at a Wimbledon final. Does Scott Brown start on Sunday, or does Neil Lennon go with what’s been working over the last couple of weeks with David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro?
This is a tough one. If it has caused me a sleepless night or two, imagine the tossing and turning Lenny must be doing over it.
In the final analysis, my guess — and my hope — is that Broony starts on Sunday. History dictates it. In large part, Scott Brown got us to where we are now. A gut feeling that Broony will shine comes into play here over the logic that his performances lately have been, to put it mildly, lackluster.
My guess, too, is that as a starter he’s on a very short leash as well, and if he looks anywhere near lackluster, he may be getting the hook early.
What’s not being talked about is this: You know who I would like to see start on Sunday against the relegated Heart of Midlothian? Mikey Johnston. He subbed against Kilmarnock in the last game, coming off a long-healing injury, and looked to be his old self, bobbing and weaving through traffic goalward.
Jozo opens up
On the day that Jozo Simunovic scored at 67 minutes in the game honoring Celtic legend Billy McNeill — number 5 scoring in honor of number 5 — I put a photo of the big Croatian pointing skyward after scoring as my wallpaper. And there it stays to this day — a reminder of probably the first historic Celtic moment this realtively new Celtic fan had seen for himself (in the company, of course, of the San Francisco CSC in Millbrae, California).
I’ve always liked Jozo a lot, and he played with enthusiasm and love for Celtic. He was one of those players that, when healthy, often anonymously steered the course of the game to our advantage. And then he punctuated his Celtic career with gems like the header above, scoring an occasional important goal like the one that put us ahead against Kilmarnock (again) late in the season to increase our lead in the standings.
And, of course, nothing beats Jozo’s launch of Kenny Miller in 2017 during a 5-1 drubbing of “The Rangers” at Ibrox.
The Celtic Star recently ran an article about Jozo recently where the former Celt opens up on his departure, it is definitely worth a read. Arguably, not offering Jozo an extension — along with letting Jonny Hayes and Mikael Lustig move on — arguably has put the club in the precarious position it finds itself today. But that’s another topic for another discussion at another time.
Look through any window
With the new year around the corner, it will be time for — fanfare, maestro — the January Transfer Window, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will undoubtedly follow.
A primary target on Celtic’s radar has been Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie, who sees his road to the EPL running through Glasgow.
“I’ve done my fair share of research (on Celtic and the Scottish Premiership) and I’ve always loved football so I’ve known about Celtic for a while,” McKenzie recently told SkySports. “You hear about Celtic and the path of Virgil Van Dijk — going from there to the Prem.”
Not the kind of loyalty you would expect to the club, but understandable in this day and age of mercenaries. If the price of a top-notch defender is that he plays outstanding football for Celtic while punching his ticket to a larger club, then maybe that’s the best we can expect.
However, in this transfer window, it would not bother me if we stood pat with this team — maybe adding McKenzie or another defender — and bring up some of the Reserves to play for the Hoops.
Cameron Harper in particular deserves the opportunity to show what he can do on the first team, since his ability to challenge and go thorugh defenders at the Reserves level shows he could do it at the top level. The same goes for Armstrong Oko-Flex and Karamoko Dembele — both reported to be on the radar of a few teams down south — who both deserve to show what they can do for the first team. Get Jonathan Afolabi back from his loan spell from Dundee.
The fact of the matter is we have all the pieces we need going forward. It’s just putting them in the right order so the club fires on all cylinders as we motor to the 10 in the 2nd half of the season.
One more thing
Those who know me well already know this, but for the rest of you following me on social media, there are a couple of clubs which have earned my following due to their actions in their communities. As mentioned in a previous post, Nairn County FC took a windfall they had when COVID-19 stopped their season and put it back into their community, as thanks for the community’s ongoing support for the club.
More locally, just up the road in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland Roots SC deserve a shout-out in the same regard, and I am a supporter of a club that “harness(es) the magic of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good.” No one is more excited than me that Oakland Roots have partnered with FC St. Pauli in promotional efforts, and hopefully in the near future a friendly between the clubs in Oakland will be on the horizon.
My affinity for community-based, community-owned clubs does not stop there. As some readers know from a past post offering a few tips to former Celt Lewis Morgan in his move to Inter Miami, I spent my formative years — from 3 to 29 to be exact — living in Miami.
That said, a shout out goes to a new community-owned, community-based club in the area — Biscayne Bay SC — which will play its inaugural season in my old stomping grounds, so to speak. Not only this, they’ve adopted the quintessential Miami mascot — the Manatee! Score that as an own-goal for David Beckham in NOT adopting that mascot for Inter Miami, but Beckham’s loss is BBSC’s gain. Mon the Manatee!
Celts to bring home more silverware tomorrow — you read it here first.
The original plan was to concurrently post my interview with Auldheid at the advent of the AGM here on the pages of this blog. But then I thought, why reinvent the wheel? So I decided instead to urge you to look at The Celtic Star version linked above, rather than reprinting it verbatim here on these pages.
Make sure you have a look at the story linked above. The palace intrigue inside the walls of the Celtic boardroom is definitely worthy of a BBC miniseries, at the very least.
And thank you, Auldheid, for taking the time once again this year to do the interview. I would imagine it is a painstaking task to explain the situation to this fan — 5,000 miles away — on a level that can be understood by a five-year-old or a golden retriever. More importantly, thank you for all you do to keep Celtic on the right track and on the level.
My heart was broken . . .
With a hat-tip to both The Proclaimers and Hibernian, one of the more humorous memes to come out of the more than excellent play of Ismaila Soro yesterday against Lille is that an artist will take four pictures of Soro and match them up with the first couple of lines from “Sunshine on Leith.”
Laughter aside, there were a plethora of positives to come out of the Lille game, and Soro’s play was one of them. While they’re worth their room on this earth, Ewan Henderson and Conor Hazard both showed what Celtic can harvest in the care and feeding of the Reserves team, and it will not be long before both are up with the First Team.
Unfortunately, Cameron Harper didn’t get a chance to join the party on the pitch yesterday, but his time will come. All these youngsters — as well as players like Stephen Welsh, Armstrong Oko-Flex, Karamoko Dembele, and Jonathan Afolabi — have bright futures as first-teamers.
And then there’s David Turnbull, who had what can only be described as a breakout game for the Hoops against Lille. We saw what he could do with Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and now it looks like he’s earned a spot as a starter. It prompted one Celtic fan on Twitter to post a lyric change to a Christmas favourite: “This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to David Turnbull.”
George Michael couldn’t have said it better.
Saving Private Frimpong
It’s pretty clear that the hammerthrowers — and there are many — who populate the ranks of the Scottish Premiership’s also-rans seem to have a laser-like focus on harming Jeremie Frimpong. As unfortunate as it might be, that seems to be all we can expect from some of the halfwits who have reached the apex of their football careers as goons for all-but-forgettable clubs.
That said, yesterday’s mugging of Frimpong — who ironically was celebrating his 20th birthday yesterday — seemed to be the final straw.
Seriously, officials, what the hell? All season (and last season, too) this had me seeing red. What I would like to see from SPFL referees — you know, the guys on the pitch less-than-ironically sponsored by Specsavers — is more red, as in red cards on players willfully out to harm the bhoy, and others on the pitch for that matter.
Is that too much to ask?
One more thing
It bears mentioning that while Soro, Turnbull, Henderson, Hazard, et al., all had a great game yesterday, Diego Laxalt has been pretty consistent in the “good” department in his level of play over the last several games. With a Ryan Christie-like depth of nonstop energy, the Uruguayan has fit in perfectly with the Celts so far.
When he first came to the club, I was a little annoyed by fans who made fun of his hair and glasses. I said that if he works out and becomes a mainstay for the club, I would get cornrows — as much as I could on a balding pate — to go with the glasses I have worn pretty much all my life. Now, Diego’s play has me asking my barber how to go about doing this (Step one: Let what hair I have left grow out . . .).