The unbearable lightness of the UCL

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.

No need to hang your head, Jota. The foundation for Europe success is set.

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!

Levels of history

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.

Jota saluting the crowd after his scintillating goal to put the Hoops up 2-0.

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 . . .

A lot of history here, and rubbing the noses of the Huns in it was delicious.

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.

Mon the Hoops!

Closing the window again

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.

Jota, at right, whether on the wing or not, is without a doubt the best Celtic signing in the last several years. The key is to keep him around for awhile, and I hope the Celtic board does just that.

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.

A hill I’m willing to fight and die on: Mikey Johnston is definitely Celtic caliber who needs to get playing time he wouldn’t normally get in the current club lineup. So a loan spell to Vitoria de Guimaraes in the Portuguese league would be good for him, especially under the terms agreed to by both clubs.

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.

F*ck the Huns and Mon the Hoops!

LFC: We got 9. Celtic: Hold my beer

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 . . .

Joe Hart gets his head stapled after a collision with Steven Fletcher’s foot early in Celtic’s game against Dundee United.

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.

These two guys, Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada, scored six goals between them on Sunday against Dundee United.

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?

Anyway, onward and forward. Mon the Hoops!

Drawing conclusions

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 Postecoglou addressed the challenge of this season’s UEFA Champions League draw in his press conference yesterday.

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!

Meanwhile in the MLS . . .

There’s no doubt that Celtic fans are still basking in the afterglow of winning the league title. With a boost from Eintracht Frankfurt yesterday sending Glasgow’s other Premiership club home empty-handed from Seville, there continues to be a wealth of joy and mirth to spread around this week.

While much already has been written about the championship and while there is room for metric tons of conjecture about what is next for Celtic going forward, allow me to divert your attention for a moment to the Celtic-driven game on these shores last night between the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire — a match which had a distinct Celtic connection.

The game itself was a typical MLS barnburner — apologies to the Chicago Fire, though ironically Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had no bearing on the match — which ended in a 3-3 draw.

The unique thing about it, though, was that all three goals for New York Red Bulls were scored by ex-Celts.

California bhoy Cameron Harper is starting to make an impact with his MLS club, New York Red Bulls.

This may not be a surprise. The New York Red Bulls went on a shopping spree a while back and picked up a couple of Celtic players. A bulked-up Patryk Klimala looked primed and ready to dominate in the SPFL before being lured across the Atlantic to the Big Apple. NYRB also had the foresight to pick up American winger Cameron Harper, a star on Celtic’s B team who was about to break through to the first team.

Later, Andrew Gutman — who never got a really got a chance in Scotland thanks to various immigration snafus — joined the Big Apple club last season on loan from Atlanta United. Though solid in defense for the Red Bulls, Gutman has since returned to Atlanta.

Back in December during the off-season, Lewis Morgan — who was Inter Miami’s MVP in their inaugural season — was acquired by Red Bulls in a preseason deal that included $1.2 million in allocation money to Inter Miami. Earlier this season, Morgan scored a hat trick in the first 40 minutes of a match against Toronto FC.

Suffice to say that the New York Red Bulls have a definite eye for quality in picking former Celts.

But meanwhile, back at last night’s draw at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, here’s how Celtic’s fingerprints were all over this match.

Morgan scored on a penalty midway through the first half. Harper scored his first MLS goal near the end of first half — after a series of passes that would be at home at Celtic Park, Harper received a back heel from Klimala and took a shot so hard it went through the Chicago keeper’s hands and in. And while down 3-2 in injury time, NYRB leveled when Klimala got on the end of a cross inside the box in the waning seconds of the match.

Suffice to say, it’s great to see the reach of talent developed at Lennoxtown in the rest of the football world.

Mon the Hoops!

The envelope, please …

Remember where you heard it first: In my last blog post, I outlined the conundrum for picking this year’s Player of the Year. So what does the club go and do, in the advent of this weekend’s semifinal at Hampden against Old Firm FC? Celtic has decided to release the ballots for superlative players and performances for the year.

Thanks, guys!

Go and vote here. Meanwhile, here’s how I voted, if you are interested.

Player of the Year: Joe Hart

First things first: Each of the nominees are easily qualified for the award, and truly there are no wrong answers on this one. It takes a special type of leadership to harness the wide range of talent at Celtic, so that’s where Callum McGregor deserves the award. Tom Rogic’s renaissance on the pitch this season has been a godsend. Jota zooming past defenders on the wing is a joy to watch, and he gets what Celtic is all about, which of course begs the question why the club hasn’t signed him yet. Kyogo Furuhashi is a phenomenal threat whenever he sets foot on the pitch. Cameron Carter-Vickers is the linchpin of the airtight Celtic defense and, like Jota, needs to be signed as soon as possible.

But I am sticking with Joe Hart. Hart’s reboot between the sticks at Celtic is, in large part, one of the primary reasons for the Hoops remarkable turnaround. Many times, goalkeepers tend to get overlooked, unless they become a goal-leaking sieve, but Hart has been a rock. A wall. All of the candidates deserve the nod, but I would give it to Hart.

Honorable mention: Given a second choice, I’d go with CCV.

Goal of the Season: Kyogo Furuhashi vs Ferencvaros

Those who know me know that I am a sucker for long-range shots. So you might think that I might go with David Turnbull’s shot against Motherwell or Reo Hatate against Hearts, but no. And while Tom Rogic navigating the Dundee United defense deserves special mention, I have to go with Kyogo Furuhashi’s goal against Ferencvaros, not only for the goal itself but for the remarkable long pass from Jota that put the ball right at the Japanese lad’s instep at mid-stride on his way to the goal. If there’s any clip of any goal that should be taught at soccer academies worldwide, it’s this one.

Honorable Mention should also go to both of Kyogo’s goals against Hibs as well.

Young Player of the Year: Liel Abada

Another category where all the candidates are deserving, even with David Turnbull out with injury for a significant portion of the season. Matt O’Riley’s play since coming to Celtic has put him in the starting blocks of becoming a Celtic favorite, and maybe someday a Celtic legend. And B-team/Academy grad Stephen Welsh shows what hard work and good training with the B team can produce for Celtic.

But Liel Abada gets the nod because, more often than not, he’s always at the right place at the right time and deserved the award this year.

Honorable mention should go to Matt O’Riley, who will definitely be on annual ballots for years to come.

Women’s Player of the Year: Charlie Wellings

In the words of the ancient Charlie perfume ad: Kinda young, kinda now, kinda free, kinda wow. Charlie Wellings has been a scoring machine for the Ghirls this season and makes her the clear choice. And though both Jacynta Galabadaarachchi and Olivia Chance are both remarkable players worthy of the award, it’s unfortunate that this category wasn’t expanded to include other candidates, like my American homeghirl Sarah Harkes.

So, how did you vote?

Mon the Hoops.

Celtic’s current looming problem

Well, after an international break that sent all of our bhoys back essentially unscathed, and after a win in a shower of glass on Sunday against a club which is known worldwide for its complete lack of class and common sense, it’s nice to bask in the afterglow of Sunday’s victory while pondering a problem approaching Celtic as the season winds down.

What problem, you ask? Simple. It’s going to be difficult — or maybe even downright impossible — to decide who gets the Player of the Year nod this season.

So who, in a multitude of more-than-qualified candidates, gets it?

Kyogo Furuhashi

Had he not been injured, Kyogo probably would have been a shoo-in for the award. The kid is phenomenal and shows a commitment to the team that belies his own well-being — scoring a brace while playing injured in the Scottish League Cup final put him out for several weeks. But now that he’s back, he’ll be a force to contend with as Celtic looks to wrap up the season atop the table.

Kyogo Furuhashi, with a new hat to go along with two goals in the Scottish League Cup final.

Callum McGregor

The Phantom of the Up the Ra: Callum McGregor may get stick for having to wear a mask after getting his face smashed earlier this season by a forgettable hammerthrower — seriously, I forgot who it was who assaulted him, but truth be told this nobody will someday run out free drinks at his local pub and die alone and friendless. But if anything, CalMac has taken the torch of leadership from Scott Brown and handled it admirably as Celtic’s captain. Not only this, with his constant solid play in the midfield which rarely garners attention but is the linchpin of Celtic’s success, he certainly deserves the accolade this year.

Celtic captain Callum McGregor states his case to a man who unironically has SpecSavers on his sleeve . . . (tapping earpiece) . . . just a moment, I am being told that is the referee . . .

Cameron Carter-Vickers

Cameron “The Refrigerator” Carter-Vickers . . . what can you say? The guy’s an absolute beast to anything that comes his way, opponent-wise, and is key to Celtic’s top-of-the-league defense. Not only this, CCV has an immense ball-handling talent that regularly gets Celtic out of the back quickly and off to the races, so to speak, when it comes to the attack. Celtic definitely needs to sign him, and soon, and he deserves a shot at POTY.

CCV = POTY? Could be . . .

Tom Rogic

It still makes me literally shiver to think that he may have been off to some far-flung club in Saudi Arabia (I think that’s where he was said to be possibly going . . . ), but cooler heads prevailed and the Wizard of Oz stayed. And here he is, a whiz of a Wiz, if ever a Wiz there was! Rogic, uninjured for the better part of the season for the first time in quite awhile, has returned to his old form and is playing at a level that makes him a candidate for POTY.

. . . because, because, because, because, becauuuuuuuuse, because of the wonderful things he does. The Wizard of Oz, Tom Rogic, has been in great form all injury-free season.

Jota

Whether he’s on the wing — or anywhere else, for that matter — Jota is always a threat wherever he is on the pitch. One of Celtic’s best loan acquisitions in, like, the 134-year history of the club, every effort should be made to sign him. If he is POTY and they send him back to Benfica, it would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Jota, right, should have been signed months ago. What’s the deal, Celtic Board . . . ?

Josip Juranovic

Perhaps he is a dark horse for the award, but it bears mentioning that Josip Juranovic has been solid in defense, as well as spectacular on the wing, for Celtic all season. Also, there’s the penalties as well. On a club which isn’t as stocked in talent as Celtic is, Juranovic would definitely be a front-runner for POTY. But his phenomenal play is often overshadowed by others on the pitch — not a knock on Juranovic by any matter of means, but just a reality.

Josip Juranovic: Jozo Simunovic 2.0, but without the height and the knee problems . . .

And the rest . . .

You can’t leave Daizen Maeda off this list. The guy covers the pitch like Sherwin-Williams covers the world, and does not stop for 90+ minutes. If Georgios Giakoumakis continues his ever-improving form, it would be hard to keep him off the list as well. Matt O’Riley and Anthony Ralston also deserve a look as well, as both are having good seasons with the club.

But my choice of Player of the Year, right now, would have to be . . .

Joe Hart

Thank you, Nuno Espirito Santo. Espirito Santo, at the time the manager at Tottenham Hotspur, told Joe Hart, and this is a quote, “I would not feel comfortable with you playing one minute for me. The ball’s too quick for you, you’re too old, you’re not moving, you’ve got no strength in your body.” Fast forward to November of last year: Espirito Santo is fired after 17 games at the helm of a lackluster Spurs team, and Joe Hart — too old, not moving, no strength in his body — has been a godsend between the sticks for Celtic. At the rate he’s going, Hart could very well be on his way to joining the pantheon of Celtic’s iconic goalkeepers, like Fraser Forster, Artur Boruc, Packie Bonner, or even Ronnie Simpson. While a case can be made that Hart is playing behind a solid defense, the fact remains that someone has to stop whatever shots get through, and Hart has done so almost flawlessly. He’d be my choice for Player of the Year, hands down, and head and shoulders, over the rest (you knew that was coming).

You gotta have Hart, miles and miles and miles of Hart . . .

One more thing

Two, actually: First, it might seem like I am making light of our visit to Ibrox on Sunday in the first paragraph. Let me be clear: What happened in the Bigotdome on Sunday was completely deplorable. When the home club claims not to be able to ensure the safety of pundits in the press box while their idiot fan base rains down bottles on opposing players on the pitch, you have what is the epitome of hypocrisy. But that nothing new for Sevco, as it’s their stock in trade. Celtic should be more vocal in calling this out, asking for sanctions from both the SPFL and UEFA, as well as never — let me repeat, never — allow Sevco fans into Celtic Park ever again. If it means no Celtic fans at the cesspool Sevco calls a home stadium, then so be it.

What’s worse, we’re watching. The Scottish press can gloss over it all day and night, but the rest of the world is watching. And those outside Scotland who aren’t derisively laughing at the SPFL are shaking their heads in disbelief to think that a league with a storied history has become such a joke, and a bad one at that.

Also . . . some think he’s no longer a Celt — he’ll always be a bhoy in my eyes — but Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney is going under the knife for season-ending knee surgery. Good luck, KT, and recover soon.

Mon the Hoops!

Moan the Hoops redux

Forgive me for repeating this theme from a past blog post from a while ago, but once again it has come up in the most annoying manner. A perfect example of this was during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Celtic Park against St. Mirren, when you had the usual Greek chorus of whiners and moaners acting as if they were climbing to the highest building in Glasgow, ready to throw themselves off.

Let me be clear: Not everyone who follows Celtic falls into the category of the Moan the Hoops Brigade.

Thank God.

But you know who you are, and Witchy speaks for me here:

Yeah, sit doon . . .

Before I start, let me interject a personal social-media aside: If you were to do a pie chart of the people I have blocked on Twitter, you’d have more than half a pie’s worth of Celtic “fans” who constantly bitch and moan, regardless of the outcome, and/or who say stupid things about either players or the club. I’m not your babysitter, and I’m not the nimrod whisperer.

To me, blocking people who claim to support the same club is sad. A club like Celtic should always be held to a higher standard, and I don’t think it’s too much to expect Celtic fans posting on social media to not act like privileged, spoiled children who expect flawless performances and 5-0 victories every time the Bhoys take the pitch.

And I get it. That’s way too much to ask of people on social media, I know, despite the fact that such infantile behavior should be reserved for supporters of lesser clubs. Like, oh I don’t know, Sevco comes immediately to mind.

But still, it begs the following question to these Celtic “fans.”

“Faithful through and through” are not just four words. They are a way of life. So if you insist on moaning and greeting halfway through a game in which Celtic ultimately prevails, what the actual fuck is wrong with you?

Earlier in the season, people were slagging Greg Taylor. Well, Taylor’s doing pretty well as of late — not that he wasn’t before. Was he stellar? No. Is he now? Not really. But has he gotten — and does he now get — the job done? Absolutely.

Then the boo-birds focused on Carl Starfelt. Admittedly, Starfelt took a little more time than usual to get his footing in the hammerthrowing realm of the SPFL, but he has since grown into the role he’s been given in the Celtic defense. But now every time Starfelt makes a mistake, there’s a phenomenal hue and cry about him being a “bombscare.”

These folks have short memories. We won a treble with Jeremy Toljan starting for a good part of that season in defense.

Jeremy Toljan. So when you’re complaining about Celtic’s defense, which statistically one of the best in the SPFL this season, you might want to keep that in mind.

Then after even more blocks on Twitter, it seems that the Moan the Hoops Brigade has now started to focus on Daizen Maeda. To be honest, I haven’t seen this, but I have seen replies to posts I can’t see (since the original poster is blocked) defending Maeda from what can best be described as faulty analysis.

Daijobu desu, Daizen-san: You didn’t have a good day on Wednesday, but you’ll bounce back. No matter what the Moan the Hoops Brigade says . . .

Common sense dictates that you can’t score if you don’t get the ball, and with the exception of one pass against St. Mirren on Wednesday, Maeda’s not really getting good opportunities to score like he did earlier in the season. Chances are this situation will correct itself with time, but you’d never know it listening to some offering their misguided opinions.

Celtic already faces standard issue and unjust hurdles in its everyday existence. There’s an unobjective sports media in Scotland — mere stenographers masquerading as journalists — that consistently paints the club in a false light, regardless of the club’s performance. There’s a corps of SPFL referees, unironically sponsored by SpecSavers, who consistently make “honest mistakes” that hamstring the club’s performance; the same referees who give their cross-town rival every advantage imaginable.

As if that isn’t enough, do you really want to add to the mix the nonsense from the Moan the Hoops Brigade?

Despite having to play an entire league of clubs who would just as soon “park the bus” and play, like Livingston, some variation of a 10-0-0 formation where opposing players essentially put out lawn chairs in their half of the pitch, Celtic still leads the league by three points.

Apparently, that’s not good enough for some.

It’s a classic dichotomy: I’m more than proud to be a Celtic fan, but at the same time I’m also more than ashamed by some of the shitbaggery proffered by some who claim to love the club.

One more thing

How good ideas go south, and quickly: Apparently, it seems that the Australians are setting up for a train wreck by having Celtic and Sevco play this November in a tournament in Sydney, in what’s being billed as the Sydney Super Cup.

We know how Sevco fans travel and acts at road games. History is pretty clear there, and in fact they’re called Huns for exactly their past behavior. So why they’re being included in this tournament when they could have easily included another club — and choices could have been Ange Postecoglou’s former club, Yokohama F Marinos in Japan, or maybe even the best of Australia’s lower division — is a complete mystery.

Let’s hope the Sydney riot squad is on top of their game when the scum of the earth visit later this year.

Mon (not Moan) the Hoops.

Waltzing our Matildas Down Under

So, apparently the big news of the day is that Celtic gaffer Ange Postecoglou gets to go home for the first time in three years when Celtic take a tour of Australia later this year during the World Cup break.

Pack your bags, Ange Postecoglou . . . you’re going to visit Australia for the first time in three years.

This is a good idea. It would be nice to have Celtic, not only a club with an international stature but also an international brand, play Australian teams in what would best be described as friendlies that, under the best circumstances, would keep Celtic players fresh and promote goodwill in the Land Down Under™.

Want to screw up this perfect plan?

Simple. Ask Celtic’s ugly neighbors from Ibrox along for the ride.

Nothing yet has been etched in stone, but rumors immediately floating around the announcement have Sevco joining us on this jaunt halfway around the world.

My colleague Niall J from The Celtic Star outlines the situation here with a healthy dose of clarity. I would urge you to read his take on the situation.

He nails it when he says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the last thing we need is to have marauding Huns defiling Sydney in the same way they’ve descrated St. George’s Square in Glasgow after winning the COVID Cup. Or when they rioted in Manchester during a UEFA Cup final in 2008. Or when . . . well, I could continue, as there is a significant list here, but I think you get the point.

The Celtic Board would be well advised to think this one through. Clearly, masses of Australian football fans will come to see Celtic play clubs native to their land.

In fact, a matchup between Celtic and clubs Postecoglou managed in Australia, like Brisbane Roar or Melbourne Victory, would have the potential for becoming iconic.

And the special nature of this tour would be hampered significantly by dragging another Scottish club — an embarrassing and undeserving one at that — along for the ride.

Think this one through and read the room, Celtic Board.

Mon the Hoops.