Now the work starts

Welcome to Celtic, mate!

So, finally, after a-hundred-and-whatever days, Celtic has a new manager, Ange Postecoglou. Celtic had this piece on their website this morning, and the video interview accompanying it is also worth a watch.

Also, now that much of the Celtic faithful have gotten a chance to know him a little better, apparently he’s being cut some slack for not having the European pedigree that so many have been seeking.

Which brings up an interesting point: In a worldwide sport like football, there are hundreds of well-qualified managers out there. Only the most myopic of football fans only gauge success within the borders of Europe. With a wide world of talent — both on the pitch and on the sidelines — it would clearly be in the best interest of clubs, and their fans, to recognize that the metric of “success in Europe” equals some sort of superiority over the rest of the world is a false one.

As a Celtic supporter from outside Scotland — outside Europe, for that matter — I especially want Postecoglou to succeed. Not only because I want the best for Celtic when getting this ship righted as we sail forward in 2021/22, but to show that coaching styles that are not native to Europe can succeed in the beautiful game.

In his interview in the link above, Postecoglou tends to hit all the bases and sounds entirely competent on all levels of the game. With a wealth of talent at his disposal — adding returning loanees to the mix of young talent in the reserves and the current first team — the Australian has nearly all the tools he needs. A couple of additions and Celtic should be set to take back their rightful place atop the standings.

A trivia tidbit: Dr. Jozef Venglos, who like Postecoglou also coached Celtic and the Australian national team, signed Lubo Moravcik. If that’s not a good sign, despite arguably being consequential, I don’t know what is.

Welcome to Celtic, Ange!

Goodbye and lykke til, Kris

Kris Ajer has been a rock for Celtic during their recent successes and defeats. He will be missed.

To be honest, I’ve purposely been avoiding the “someday-we-will-all-laugh-about-this” saga of bringing in new manager Ange Postecoglou because, well, I am protecting what little sanity I may have left. But also being honest here, I have to admit it’s unfortunate that we’re releasing Kris Ajer into the wild, where he can flourish in a league beyond Scotland.

You can’t fault him for wanting to go. Accoring to various news reports, he committed to stay on for the 10 — despite a former agent who said otherwise — and played his heart out for the Hoops in a disastrous season. He even spent most (if not all) of his Celtic career playing out of his natural position, a midfielder playing center-back for Celtic. Not only this, he played out of position without complaint, and sharpened his defensive skills in the process.

So while I wish he’d stay — just as I wish those who are also slated to leave this summer would stay — I completely understand why he would go. The thing is, I hope he ends up with a club that can utilize his wide range of talents best.

It’s not like he hasn’t drawn attention already. All season we’ve read reports about AC Milan being interested in Ajer, and lately he’s been tied to Norwich City and Newcastle in the EPL, and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.

Kris, if you’re reading this, go ahead and join Jeremie Frimpong at Bayer Leverkusen. Rather than join a couple of EPL backmarkers, Bayer Leverkusen has a fair amount of potential for success.

As with other Celts who have punched their tickets in Glasgow and have moved on, I wish Kris Ajer all the best and will be looking in on him from time to time. Naturally, I will miss the big Norwegian’s gazelle-like stride when taking the ball up the field further than a defender should, resulting in the occasional goal, but I know it’s for the best. Lykke til, Kris!

One more thing

Speaking of former Celts, it’s worth mentioning that Manny Perez, a Celtic who never made it to the big club, is now playing for the expansion team Austin FC in America’s Major League Soccer. Perez also took the time to help Garner (North Carolina) High School’s soccer team with new kits for next season. Perez is not a star with Austin, but he doesn’t forget his roots and the purchase of the kits for the high school’s varsity and junior varsity teams is a grand gesture. Way to go, Manny!

Also, before we part, if you’re a Celtic fan and you’re not following @lfmunro on Twitter, you should. This profoundly deaf Celtic fan has a series of videos instructing people on sign language — some football-related and some not — and they’re well worth a watch to learn. Fantastic work, Lou, and keep it up!

Now to add “Postecoglou” to my spell-check list so it doesn’t keep popping up as an error . . .

Hail hail, all!

Welcome to New York, Patryk

Well, at least it’s now official: Polish Paddy becomes Broadway Paddy as the New York Red Bulls of the U.S. Major League Soccer signs Patryk Klimala to a multi-year deal, the third Celtic player to join the Big Apple club this season.

Patryk Klimala, who never really got to show his talent at Celtic, scored three goals and one assist for the Hoops during his tenure with the Bhoys.

“We’re delighted to complete this deal and welcome Patryk to our club,” said Red Bulls’ head of sport Kevin Thelwell in a press release. “Patryk is a talented young forward who has proven that he can score goals and create in a variety of ways. We believe he has the ability to impact games in MLS now, and the potential to continue to grow and succeed in years to come. We look forward to welcoming him to New York and getting him acclimated to our club.”

Klimala, who had limited playing time at Celtic, scored three goals and had one assist for the Hoops, and he joins former Celtic players Andrew Gutman and Cameron Harper in New York.

New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber welcomed Klimala to the club with high praise.

“I’m very happy with Patryk’s decision to join us,” Struber said. “At both the club and youth international level he has shown that he has high potential. He demonstrates a strong work ethic against the ball, which is very important to our style of play, and has very good instincts around the goal. His movement and ability in the final third give the team another weapon.”

Klimala signed a four-year MLS contract with a club option, the New York Red Bulls announced Thursday, filling a Young Designated Player and international spot on club’s roster.

A club statement from Celtic stated, “Everyone at Celtic thanks Patryk for his contribution to the club and wishes him every success in the future.”

The Hoops are reported to be recouping the 3.5 million pounds they paid for the Poland U21 international, who came to Celtic in January 2020 from the Polish club Jagiellonia.

On a personal note . . .

Like Cameron Harper, Patryk Klimala should have been part of Celtic’s plans going forward. He was one of the several members of the first team ready to come off the bench and make his mark, only to be pigeonholed and given only limited playing time. He showed a commitment to the club by working hard in the COVID “offseason” with his noticeable efforts in strengthening and conditioning, and he always showed huge potential in those chances he had to play. My hope is that he thrives with his former Celtic teammates in New York, and there’s every indication that he will.

Mon the Hoops!

Polish Paddy to Broadway Paddy?

Patryk Klimala could join former Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman at New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the United States.

You have to hand it to the scouts at the MLS club New York Red Bulls: The backroom staff there certainly knows talent when they see it, and it comes as no surprise that they’re focus is on Lennoxtown and Celtic for quality players.

It’s my hope, with fingers crossed, that if Patryk Klimala — now being wooed by the Red Bulls — does go to New York, he goes as a loan and not as a full-fledged signing. But we will have to see.

Despite scoring only four goals since signing in January 2020, Klimala has a good future for whomever he plays for. Klimala has shown a commitment to Celtic, and I believe he can be an integral part of the club’s offseason rebuild.

But more importantly, is this merely a large U.S. club purloining Celtic players or could it be the advent of a potential partnership between New York Red Bulls and Celtic?

There are precedents that apply here when it comes to partnerships between MLS and European clubs. The most notable of these is Dallas FC’s partnership with Bayern Munich and the San Jose Earthquakes’ partnership with Tottenham Hotspur. So it begs the question: In light of the Red Bulls’ recent “interest” in Celtic players, would a partnership be a viable next-step?

It would be something for the board to look into.

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!

Getting back up, dusting off

So now that there is no mathematical path to the top of the table for Celtic — thanks to Sunday’s rendition at Tannadice of “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight” — it appears that the season’s best for the Bhoys in Green would be second place in the Premiership table.

In the first COVID season, in a season without our 12th man in the stands for the most part, in a season fraught with injury and with a management style that, to put it diplomatically, was lacking, this is what brought us where we are today. And despite the chance for John Kennedy to stamp his authority on the team, he produced business-as-usual, like late, and arguably odd, substitutions (it’s way past time David Turnbull gets to stay in for a full game).

And today, we end up here: second in the table. And while Glasgow’s other club finally wins its first league title since its founding in 2012, their fans seem to have forgotten — if they even heeded them in the first place — each and every COVID protocol and have taken to the streets to celebrate both yesterday’s win against St. Mirren and today’s clincher in Dundee, undeterred by the authorities in Scotland who seem to prefer police escorts to reminding those outside they’re under lockdown.

Celtic FC won a quadruple treble, something that probably will never be repeated again.

Celtic has had a magnificent run over the past nine years, one that will not be repeated ever. Glasgow’s other club, only nine years in existence, can only dream about the accomplishments Celtic has had in the last couple of decades, or even the last nine years for that matter. As for the future, changes are on the horizon to be sure for Celtic, but the results next year surely will be the same as they have been in years past: success on the pitch going forward starting next season.

So they’ve won a trophy. Good for them, and congratulations. But bear in mind that it’s only one since 2012 to Celtic’s 18. Let me repeat that: Celtic has won 18 trophies, which includes four trebles in a row between 2016-17 and 2019-20, since their club’s inception.

Which of course means, this: No, I still don’t see them coming, and I probably won’t until they win a few more.

One more thing

It came as a DM on Twitter the other day, but it bears mentioning. It seems that I’m not the only Celtic fan blogging from California, since SentinelCelts also originates from the Golden State. Sonora, way east of here in an beautiful part of the state near Yosemite National Park, to be exact. Give the blog a read, and tell ’em Larry sent you . . . .

Mon the Hoops!

Wrapped in Clover (Films)

The Celtic segment of the documentary series “The Fans Who Make Football, ” broadcast on Al Jazeera, pulls you in immediately, right from the start: “Celtic’s home ground is in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded by Irish immigrants. So our story begins in . . . Albania.”

After that lead-in, how could you not want to watch?

Clover Films has done a remarkable job in this documentary series, with each episode appearing a few times a week on Al Jazeera (it is probably available on cable, but I don’t have it, so I watch on aljazeera.com), before becoming available on the documentary section of the Al Jazeera site.

The Celtic story begins in Albania thanks to the current Albanian president, Ilir Meta, being a Celtic fan and how he became one. It then pivots to the worldwide range of support Celtic has garnered over time. Without giving away spoilers, it deals with sectarianism and the symbiosis of football and politics that makes Celtic, well, Celtic.

Two items of special note are Lisbon Lion John Fallon, who recounts probably my all-time favorite Celtic story: Bertie Auld breaking into “The Celtic Song” — with the rest of the team joining in — in the tunnel before the 1967 European Cup match while their Inter Milan counterparts looked on curiously. And the segments in the film about Jay Beatty, whose childhood and adolescence seem intertwined with Celtic, are also very detailed and moving.

Clover Films has done a few documentaries in this series that are worth watching, as in “put down what you’re doing right now and watch this.”

The segment on FC St. Pauli is another gem, outlining the club’s history from one of the Nazi’s darlings in the ’30s to the paragon of antifascism it is today. Like Celtic, it paints a picture of a club with a worldwide reach due to their principles.

In addition, there are several Celtic “Easter eggs” in the FC St. Pauli documentary: Early on, there is a crowd shot where the fans are singing something to the tune of ” ’67 in the Heat of Lisbon,” the head of security in one shot is wearing a St. Pauli CSC cap, there is a group of Scots at the FC St. Pauli game talking about the club’s politics and how it aligns with theirs (and one of them is wearing a Celtic/FCSP scarf), and in the shot of the New York bar of St. Pauli supporters watching the Hamburg Derby where the group is singing “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”

There is one segment about Liverpool FC which shows how the club — and the city — overcame adversity over the years to rise to excellence, going in great detail about both the Thatcher administration’s hostility toward the city as well as the Hillsborough incident which took the lives of 96 fans.

Of special note is the documentary on Indonesia’s PSS Sleman. As Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, it is remarkable that women are in the forefront of the Sleman ultras, not to mention some of the demands they have made to the club to make it more fan-friendly to the point of holding boycotts.

Again, put down what you’re doing right now and watch each of these. You can thank me later.

And thank you, Clover Films, for a remarkable series.

One more thing

There’s been a tsunami of commentary about Neil Lennon’s departure, and rather than contribute a thimble of water in this giant wave, I would only like to add that the most tragic thing about the whole oredeal — yes, even more tragic than losing the 10 — is that Lennon’s career with Celtic might be defined by the dumpster fire this season has become, rather than being defined by his playing career and his successes in getting Celtic a hefty amount of silverware as a manager. I’d like to be wrong about this, and I would thank Lenny for his overall remarkable service to the club.

And personally I’d like to see Steve Clarke get the job once the season ends. Kilmarnock and the Scottish National Team have punched above their weight under his leadership, and it’s something we might need to get the club righted.

Saturday with the Sheep again. Mon the Hoops!

If ever a Wiz there was . . .

Tom Rogic, shown here on the training ground last winter, scored his first goal for Celtic in 11 months against St. Mirren on Wednesday.

As is my custom, I like to watch games twice — win, lose, or draw — before writing about them. I do this to get a better understanding of the immediate game in front of me, as well as to pick out tactics and strategies on both sides to see what worked and what didn’t.

Wednesday’s Celtic game against St. Mirren was a joy to watch twice. In fact, I may watch it a third time.

Not for the three goals in five minutes, punctuated in this SPFL highlight reel of the game at around 4:08 with someone yelling, “f*cking sh*t” when David Turnbull scores to make the score 0-4 to the visitors. Not for Odsonne Edouard’s penalty kick that started the tsunami of scoring in the 2nd half.

It was an absolute joy to watch because of Tom Rogic, “the Wizard of Oz,” who I honestly thought was going to get a full 90+ minutes, but he was pulled at 85 minutes for Leigh Griffiths.

An absolute joy “because of the wonderful things he does,” as the song in the movie goes.

Rogic’s goal at the 16-minute mark, his first since March of last year, was a stunner, to be sure; coming across the front of the goal and shooting with a couple of St. Mirren players in tow. I watched it a couple of times in the replay because it came so fast. Pure Rogic.

His ball-handling through traffic during the course of the game was also pure Rogic, skipping in and out of challenges from one or more defenders. And his pass to Ryan Christie on the third goal of the game was textbook.

Rogic has always been one of my favourite Celts, but his recovery time from injury has been lengthy, to say nothing of the fact that breaking into a Celtic midfield already stocked with enormous talent is nearly impossible. My hope is that he is part of the club’s rebuilding plan for next year — I think he’s got a couple of years left in the tank, assuming he’s not being run into the ground by the Socceroos (which I think is responsible for his long-term injuries).

While that remains to be seen, if today’s 85 minutes is any indication, Rogic is back.

On to St. Johnstone on Sunday. Mon the Hoops.

The real reason Frimpong left?

To me, Jeremie Frimpong in the Bayer Leverkusen red looks out of place. He’ll always be the kid in the hoops.

A recent article in The Athletic (subscription needed) outlines in great detail the reasons that Jeremie Frimpong has jumped ship from the cozy confines of playing for the Hoops at Celtic Park in Glasgow to donning the black-and-red and playing in the antiseptic Bay Arena in Westphalia.

The article is full of high-road plaudits and reasons for his departure. There’s no doubt that Frimpong wants to play in a more prestigious league — he certainly has the talent to do so — and at his age, 20 at his last birthday, his entire football career is in front of him. Neil Lennon described him in a press conference as “ambitious.”

Said Frimpong in the article, “It was the right time to leave Celtic because it was about a big club like Leverkusen coming, rather than about Celtic. And obviously the Bundesliga was really attractive. So when they came, I was like, ‘I could play in the Bundesliga!’, and that was it really.”

Frimpong highlights that he wanted to play in the Bundesliga, which he calls correctly “one of the top three leagues in the world,” and who can blame him?

But I think there’s an unspoken reason for Frimpong leaving Celtic and saying goodbye to playing in the SPFL, and my guess is that most of it has to do with the latter.

Let’s set the stage: In a league like the SPFL which has questionable officiating — where the referees’ SpecSavers sponsorship has gone way beyond irony when multiple clear red-card fouls go uncalled — and in a league like the SPFL where hammerthrowing is the rule moreso than the exception, why would a player with a potential for greatness want to play in a leauge like the SPFL where a career-ending injury might be just one late tackle away?

My guess is that what is not being said as Frimpong takes the high road in interviews is that he had enough of the likes of Kilmarnock’s Alan Power or Hibernian’s Alex Gogic — two examples of several players in the league who serve no real purpose on the pitch other than to create mayhem and injure opponents. And frankly, Frimpong was right to go. I would have helped him pack his bags, too, because I would rather see him play for years, or decades, elsewhere rather than see his career cut short by a mouth-breathing neanderthal nobody in a Killie jersey.

For the same reason, Kieran Tierney — a kid who spent 2/3rds of his life in the Celtic organization — was absolutely and completely justified in taking the money Arsenal offered him to play at Emirates. It physically hurts to say that, but that is the truth. Tierney will always be a Celt, but why should he sacrifice his football career on the altar of poor officiating and unpenalized rough play that is part and parcel of the Scottish Premiership? Tierney himself had career-threatening injuries playing for Celtic — he didn’t get them slipping and falling in his apartment — and he overcame them to both excel at Celtic toward the end of his career in Glasgow and to shine in North London, where he is showing the EPL the quality of the Celtic system.

And when Celtic has a poor transfer window because players are hesitant to come ply their trade in the SPFL? Are you really surprised quality players pass on us in an effort to avoid what has degenerated into a style of play in this league more resembling ice hockey than football?

Until the SFA gets a grip on more consistent officiating — consistent insofar as actually making calls instead of blowing them off, mostly for the benefit of one club (and it isn’t Celtic) — and until the quality of play in the SPFL starts more resembling other respectable leagues around the world, quality players in the Hoops will always have an eye on playing elsewhere.

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.