International Break-ing Point

To be honest, the International Break drives me crazy. With no Celtic (or no anybody, really) to watch as the nations line up to qualify for the World Cup, the best I can do — after watching endless past games and the Broony DVD multiple times — is watch the bhoys play for their respective countries. If there is any consolation, it’s seeing things you don’t normally see when the Hoops play in the SPFL.

Like . . .

Norway. Why did it have to be Norway?

It seems that whenever I line up ESPN+ to watch whomever is playing at any particular time over the last week, Norway seems to be at the top of the list for broadcast. It could be worse, obviously, but it’s good to keep an eye on Kris Ajer and Mohammed Elyounoussi (not to mention watching the antics of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland). Overall both of the bhoys have been playing well for Norway despite the team’s lackluster results, especially Elyounoussi — I don’t have the stats in front of me, but he seems to have stepped up his game in the take-away department. Ajer, of course, has been the Viking enforcer in the back who does not fear taking the ball up the pitch when the space is available to him. We’ll have to see how it pans out for the Norwegians.

Oh no, Nir! Not again!

One reason — perhaps the main reason — I loathe the International Break is that Celtic players tend to get banged up in the process. Call it the “Tom Rogic Effect.” Once again, an injury rears its ugly head as Nir Bitton tore a groin muscle in the final training session for Israel before they started their games, and now he returns his injured self to the training table in Glasgow. To be fair, Bitton was not 100 percent when he was picked to play for Israel in the first place.

[As an aside, anyone watching the Israel-Scotland match notice how in-the-groove ex-Celt Hatem Elhamed was in defense? Pity he couldn’t stay.]

Kieran Tierney, assist king

Meanwhile, back at home — yours, not mine (over here in the States, we’re still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Men’s Team didn’t qualify for the Olympics, while waiting for some heads to roll) — the Scots under Steve Clarke seem to be holding their own in a group where they precariously hold on to second in Group F. The Scots pretty much had their way with the Faeroe Islands 11 yesterday, 4-0, thanks in large part to three assists by ex-Celt Kieran Tierney; all of which were beauties, and one of them which came from a cracking pass from Callum McGregor — pity there’s no stat for “assists-on-assists.”

It begs the question: Is there anything Tierney, the kid with the Tesco bag, can’t do?

Shocker: Edouard gets the penalty

Take notes, SFA: When you have referees who are not — how can I put this tactfully? — playing the 12th (or 13th or 14th) man on behalf of Glasgow’s other club, you get what can best be described as fair officiating. Proof of that, of course, is the call in France U21 game against Russia where Odsonne Edouard, who was clipped with the same intensity as he was in the Glasgow Derby, getting not a yellow card for simulation but a real, honest-to-God penalty kick, which he slotted away in his usual Edouard way.

Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve always said that there was much more to the SpecSavers’ sponsorship of the SPFL officials than meets the eye.

(Pun completely intended.)

One more thing . . .

Two actually: First, I caught the end of the Germany-North Macedonia game, with the Germans scrambling to draw unsuccessfully at the end of the match, which went the North Macedonian’s way 2-1. First loss at home for Germany in, like, forever, and a boost to the tiny landlocked nation just north of Greece.

Second, it looks like the MLS in the U.S. is starting to expand its scope of players loaned from European to American clubs. That is, when they are not signing them outright, as in the case of ex-Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman. News from Hamburg has FC St. Pauli midfielder Leon Flach joining Philadelphia Union, a rival to Harper’s and Gutman’s New York Red Bulls. Interesting note that Flach goes to Philly to join Stuart Findlay, who came up through the Celtic youth system and played with Kilmarnock before heading stateside.

Not the strangest MLS loan transaction, though. The winner of that one, so far, would be Sporting Kansas City’s acquiring Mexican player Dani Rojas on loan from AFC Richmond for, wait for it, a metric ton of barbeque sauce. Don’t believe me? Here’s the press release from SKC.

Wait a minute. Anyone have a calendar? Ah, that would explain it . . .

Anyway, can the break be over now? Mon the Hoops!

Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent

I know there’s probably a joke in there somewhere about Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent, as opposed to the other way around. But I can’t seem to formulate it, and to be honest, it’s probably best left unsaid anyway.

Andrew Gutman, shown here in training while playing for FC Cincinnati, is the 2nd former Celtic player to join New York Red Bulls for the upcoming MLS season.

However, the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the U.S. — after adding former Celtic Colt Cameron Harper — have bolstered their lineup with a second former Celtic prodigy in Andrew Gutman.

Gutman was added to the NYRB roster on loan from Atlanta United. After a loan spell from Celtic to FC Cincinnati through the 2020 season, Gutman was selected first in the MLS Reentry Draft by Atlanta United.

“We’re pleased to have Andrew join us,” Red Bulls New York’s Kevin Thelwell said in a club statement. “He has proven that he can play in MLS and has qualities that we think will fit well in our style of play. He is a solid defender, can contribute from wide areas going forward, and has the physical attributes to meet the demands of our system.”

The 24-year-old left back made 20 starts in 29 appearances with FC Cincinnati over a season and a half. He was an academy product of Chicago Fire FC before eventually signing with Celtic. He never made a first team appearance with the Hoops. 

Prior to turning professional, Gutman was a four-year standout at Indiana University, with 20 goals and 17 assists in 90 appearances for the Hoosiers. He helped IU to consecutive College Cup appearances in 2017 and 2018 and earned the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best college soccer player in the country.

New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber had high praise for Gutman.

“Andrew brings good experience in MLS,” Struber said. “He is strong on the ball and has good awareness and intelligence going forward, which will help us build our attack and bring good decision making in the final third.”

Gutman brings the total of former Celtic players in the MLS up to three, joining Harper and Inter Miami CF’s Lewis Morgan, who was the club’s MVP last season. Mon the Hoops!

Looking ahead to next season

While the math is still there — barely — for Celtic to pick up 10 in a row, let’s put aside the contortionistic algebra on that one for a moment and take a look at what the next season may have in store for Celtic. To be certain, the team landscape, and the leadership on the field and in the boardroom, will look much different.

John Kennedy’s first start at the helm was an inauspicious 1-0 win over Aberdeen in a hard-fought contest. Would a stellar end to the season earn him the reins of the club for the following year? Not likely, and with all the candidates being bandied about like tennis balls whizzing over the net at Wimbledon, it appears that Kennedy is keeping the seat warm, so to speak, for whomever is coming in.

New manager

I’m going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: Next season’s manager will be Steve Clarke.

In an age of COVID — get used to that phrase, because the virus and its effect on society, in general, and football, in particular, changes the entire — spending will be tight. So when watching the budget is a matter of survival, as it is now, the more flashier names on the list that come with a high price tag are out the window. And that’s OK, as Celtic doesn’t have to go far for a replacement.

The hallmark of Scotland national team coach Clarke’s tenure at Kilmarnock was consistently having Killie punching above their weight, so to speak. Evidence of that is the downward spiral toward relegation the club has suffered after his departure. Clarke’s talent for motivation probably could have been used this season, but for next season he would have the bhoys primed and ready.

Should they stay or should they go?

Ideally, everyone should stay. They won’t, of course, but there’s always that hope.

Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer should be paid a king’s ransom to stay. However, there has been a lot of interest regarding Edouard, and lately Arsenal is the latest in a long line of clubs with interest piqued for Eddy, and AC Milan keeps badgering Celtic for Ajer. Clearly, with large clubs come large offers (even in an age of COVID) which might not be resisted.

However, we do have several options on this front. As mentioned ad nauseum in the past on these pages, Celtic has an artesian depth of talent on the bench and in the reserves, so we may be in good shape without having to make expensive signings — Conor Hazard and Stephen Welsh are proof that our Reserves produce excellent players for us as well as for other clubs, in the case of Cameron Harper going to the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, and wherever Karamoko Dembele ends up next season if it isn’t Celtic.

Patryk Klimala should get a good run for the rest of the season to see how he will fare up front, and my sense is that there’s a solid striker there. A tandem of Klimala and either Leigh Griffiths or Albian Ajeti clearly would not be the same as having Odsonne Edouard up front, but it might be adequate while we have goal scorers behind them in the midfield, like Mohammed Elyounoussi.

Bringing back Jonathan Afolabi and Maryan Shved from their loans would be a sensible option, especially since the latter has had his butt kicked by the Mechelin coach which has inspired Shved’s interest in playing again. His performance in Belgium has been fairly remarkable as of late and he may finally be reaching his potential.

The nucleus of a great team is here already, and it’s a tragedy that due to injury or poor game choices, this season has ended up the way it did. But there have been bright spots in the dark season as well: Jonjoe Kenny’s loan spell has been fairly remarkable, as has the play of Ismaila Soro. David Turnbull has proven he is a player to bulid a team around for the future. Add to the mix a fully healthy Mikey Johnston and James Forrest, not to mention a fully healed Christopher Jullien, and the future looks a lot better than it does now.

We won’t have the luxury of seeing everyone on today’s team in the Hoops next season. However, the potential is phenomenally high for next year’s team to put aside the dumpster fire this season has become and return to the top of the table, wire-to-wire.

Meanwhile, on to Tannadice for Sunday’s match against Dundee United. Mon the Hoops!

Start spreading the news

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 . . . .

Cameron Harper heads stateside to play for New York Red Bulls as well as the U.S. U-20s.

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.

Oh My (Woeful) Days!

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.

Jeremie Frimpong may have fewer days like this in the Bundesliga playing for Bayer Leverkusen.

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.

Karamoko Dembele

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.

Cameron Harper: A New York Red Bull next season?

Cameron Harper

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.

Armstrong Okoflex

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.

Jonathan Afolabi has made an impact for Dundee FC while on loan to the club from Celtic. Hopefully he can bring that back when rejoining the Hoops.

Jonathan Afolabi

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.

Meanwhile, it’s Hamilton tomorrow at Paradise.

The Kids Are All Right

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.

History: Celtic win the quadruple treble at Hampden on Sunday.

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!

Some bits, more bobs

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 . . .

Bet that Greg Taylor, the Kilmarnock defender in the photo of Scott Brown winning the league at Rugby Park, is glad he’s now a Celt . . . .

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.

The tackle that launched a legend: Jozo Simunovic sends Kenny Miller into orbit in an April 2017 match against Celtic’s crosstown rivals, which the Hoops won 5-1.

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.

The Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie could very well join the Hoops during the January transfer window.

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.

Over 40 million Californians agree: This bhoy Cameron Harper, a native son of the Golden State, should be on Celtic’s first team.

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.

Mon the Hoops!

Celtic AGM Special, and more

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.

You’re welcome.

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.”

Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .

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.

About 11 minutes into the match against Lille yesterday, Jeremie Frimpong was sent crashing over the touchline and into the ad boards. As usual, there was no call on the play.

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 . . .).

We’ll see how this pans out. Film at 11.

Back again, in more ways than one

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.

Wakanda Forever: Christopher Jullien pays homage to the recently departed “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman after scoring a goal against Motherwell on Sunday.

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.

On hiatus: I just can’t get enough

So, I don’t know how you all are weathering the Coronavirus situation — first and foremost, I hope you’re all well and safe — but being without football has been driving me into an advanced state of insanity masked by cabin fever.

The only way I have figured out how to cope with this is by watching, and re-watching, and re-re-watching this season’s Celtic games, thanks to Celtic TV.

On this note, Celtic TV has been the best $28 per month I have ever spent. I can watch (and re-watch) all the games I want this season, and there are a lot of feature shows that they also throw in (like this interview with fellow Californian Cameron Harper here). So again, they don’t pay me to pitch it, but I am Celtic TV’s biggest fan.

In watching the season again so far, where we’re 13 points up in first place and 25 or so ahead in the goal difference, and while ignoring the tsunami of statements from Glasgow’s other club as the sun sets on them, I have a few observations about this season that bear mentioning. Like . . .

Celtic’s Mr. Indispensable

I know what you’re thinking: Mr. Indispensable? Got to be Broony. No, maybe it’s Odsonne Edouard. Wait, it’s Fraser Forster, definitely.

Nope, though all of those players are vital parts that make the Celtic machine hum in all gears. But the player we really can’t do without is Callum McGregor. While The Celtic Noise’s Sandman, in his game ratings, has likened him to a metronome (and I assume he means that in a good way), CalMac has been nothing short of perfect in the midfield this season, providing an outlet to those who have been shut down on the wing, and distributing the ball with aplomb. He also is not shy about taking a shot when he sees fit.

This epiphany regarding CalMac came at the end of the Lazio game in Rome. If you watch the replay of Olivier Ntcham’s Rome-conquering goal, BT Sports (sorry, Celtic TV) shows a wide-angle view of the field after Edouard intercepted the errant pass and started downfield. You can see in the background both Scott Brown and Callum McGregor advancing, but who is sprinting forward, essentially catching up to Odsonne before he passes to Ntcham? Sprinting after 94 minutes of game time?

Callum McGregor, head still in the game, still ready to contribute.

It’s that kind of never-say-die play that makes CalMac indispensable, game after game, season after season. If anything, it boosts his chances on being Player of the Year again this year, if the votes go his way.

Odsonne Edouard says, “calm down,” and vote for the Celtic Player of the Year.

Speaking of the POTY vote . . .

You still have a chance to vote for the Triple Crown of Celtic greatness in the Player of the Year Awards, which is broken down into three categories: Player of the Year, Goal of the Year, and Young Player of the Year.

How did I vote? Glad you asked.

Player of the Year: Despite singing Callum McGregor’s praises a few paragraphs ago, I opted for Odsonne Edouard for Player of the Year. French Eddy rises head and shoulders above all other strikers in Scotland, not to mention many in Europe as his exploits in the U21 for France has shown. Hands down, Player of the Year for the Hoops. Also completely worthy of your vote: McGregor, Ryan Christie, Fraser Forster, Leigh Griffiths.

Goal of the Year: There are a lot of options here, and with a team as great as Celtic, there are a lot of fantastic goals to choose from. But you have to go with Olivier Ntcham’s goal at Nazio — sorry, Lazio — to win the game in Rome. For historical value, this goal is light-years ahead of the rest. But if you must vote for another, Griffith’s goal against St. Mirren, Edouard’s goal against Rangers, or Ntcham’s goal against Partick Thistle from about 10 miles out — OK, it was “only” about 35 yards — are also worthy. Actually ALL of the nominated goals are worthy, so it’s your choice.

Young Player of the Year: Oh my days! There’s no other choice here but to vote for Jeremie Frimpong. Funny thing: Tom Boyd was talking in a post-game show in October — it was either after the St. Mirren or the Aberdeen game — where he made comparisons between Frimpong and Jimmy Johnstone, and I thought, “Hmm, where have I heard that before?” I honestly hope the lad recovers from the mugging against Kilmarnock and enjoys a successful career, mostly with Celtic.

Dear Simon Donnelly . . .

Twice during the season at the outset of Celtic TV broadcasts of games with noon start times, Simon Donnelly (I think, though it could have been Paul Cuddihy, too) gave a shout-out to the Los Angeles CSC for waking up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning to watch Celtic.

While that’s fine and it’s great that we West Coasters get recognized for making the herculean effort of dragging out butts out of bed at around 3:30 a.m. to watch a noon kickoff in Scotland at 4 a.m. Pacific Time — and to be honest, it’s the least we can do to watch a club like no other — fair play dictates that the bhoys and ghirls at the San Francisco CSC (of which I am one) deserve a shout-out as well, all of us watching on the big screen TV at an Irish pub called Fiddler’s Green in suburban Millbrae, California.

So how about it, Celtic TV in the booth? When this all gets sorted out and we’re back on track, the folks gathering for every Celtic game at Fiddler’s Green could use a hat tip.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to watch the Celtic-Livi game from November 23rd.