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!

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.

Down goes Fraser

Unless any of us were involved in the process, no one really knows the backroom negotiations which prevented Fraser Forster from rejoining Celtic. But if the player had the will to return, he would have made it work. Apparently he didn’t, and now instead of competing for a starting position with Southampton, he’s riding the pine — as we say here in baseball parlance — if not out-and-out another loanee to a club with, let’s just say, less historical significance than the Hoops.

Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . .

Clearly in Celtic, Fraser Forster had a worldwide fan base which adored him for his fantastic play between the posts last season. No one could have matched his play all season — the saves against Lazio, blocking the penalty against Rangers, or any other of a plethora of awe-inspiring play by The Wall. He endeared himself to Celtic followers everywhere, and most players would have jumped at the chance to continue, especially now that Celtic is on the cusp of history.

Which is why it such a sticking point for many of us. I thought for sure he’d be back, and the delay was just a matter of crossing T’s and dotting I’s in the paperwork.

After all, in public, he said he wanted to stay. We wanted him to stay. I am not a professional athlete, so I don’t know how exactly this works. However, I am a human being with free will, and I would gather that so is Fraser Forster. As such, I don’t know how hard it would have been for the big man to realize he is a hero to fans who would crawl over miles of broken glass to watch him play — and tell his agent, “I want to play for Celtic. Make the deal.”

But that didn’t happen. Ultimately, he chose Southampton.

This week, according to Southampton gaffer Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Saints are going with Alex McCarthy in goal as their number one, and either Forster or Angus Gunn will be loaned out this season. Whomever stays will be number 2, and I’d be willing to bet it’s Forster.

This decision is nothing short of tragic, both for Celtic fans and, more importantly, Forster himself. He surrendered the chance to become a part of Celtic history; he would have been spoken about years, and decades, from now with the same awe and reverence as other historic Bhoys in the Celtic pantheon as the keeper who brought us both the 9 and the 10.

So now, in Celtic circles, he’ll merely be remembered as, “Fraser Forster — yeah, he played great for us that season where we got 9 in a row. Then he went back to Southampton for the money.”

Forster traded a sure-fire legacy so he could be loaned to some backwater like Ipswich or Reading or Wrexham or wherever. Oh, he’ll play fantastically, because he’s good, but as good as it might be, it won’t be historic.

In the grand scheme of things, his next loan spell probably won’t even be remembered. But you can still deposit the checks, Fraser.

And that’s the greatest tragedy of all — football, in its essence, should be more than just a job for those blessed with the talent and skill to play professionally. And Celtic will get by, and even thrive, with Vasilis Barkas, Scott Bain, and Conor Hazard.

Let me be clear: My sincerest hope is that Fraser Forster is successful wherever he ends up this season. However, to say I am heartbroken — along with thousants of Celtic fans — that he chose poorly is a massive understatement.

But life goes on. We have Ross County on Saturday. Mon the Hoops!

Miracles on Mondays

Patryk Klimala scored two goals — one arguably stolen from Leigh Griffiths — against Hibernian in the final preseason game for Celtic at Celtic Park on Monday.

There’s a saying here that goes something like this: “There are no miracles on Mondays.” Yet to watch the Celtic-Hibernian preseason match at Paradise on Monday, the Hoops may have proved that wrong. In the second game in as many days at Celtic Park, the kids took over on the pitch and ran amok.

In a good way. In a really good way.

Patryk Klimala? Ready to go. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but in the 2nd half when Celtic went with two strikers up front — Klimala and Leigh Griffiths, sprung from the doghouse and onto the pitch — things happened. Good things. Ver good things, like two unanswered goals.

Ismaila Soro? Game ready. Not only that, he’s SPFL ready as well, passing superbly in the Hibs game while prepared to dish out punishment to the hammerthrowers that populate the Premier League, showing no mercy to both Ross County and Hibernian clods over the last two games.

Luca Connell? Let’s find this kid some playing time. Can he play right back? Center back? Connell was pretty impressive in this game and if this game is any indication, he may be up with the first team sooner moreso than later.

Even Conor Hazard did well enough for 90 minutes, making some quality saves in the game.

The list goes on: Karamoko Dembele, when he wasn’t being planted into the turf by Hibs thugs, shone with his first senior-side goal and a neat assist on Klimala’s goal. Ewan Henderson showed a considerable amount of range, affecting play on both ends of the pitch. Stephen Welsh and Kerr McInroy, the latter who played yesterday, also impressed on Monday.

Of the first-team regulars, Hatem Elhamed appeared to be in his same early-season form as he was last season when he arrived at Celtic. The defensive aptitude that Elhamed, coupled with his occasional play up front — he missed a header in the first half — consistently shows will be key to Celtic’s success once the season starts.

And then there was Griffiths, who seemed to be in good enough shape once he was put in and, arguably, really scored the goal that Klimala put in for the latter’s first of the game.

I don’t know what game captain Olivier Ntcham said in the pregame huddle, but whatever it was, it seemed to have worked.

With the season prepared to start, it appears that Celtic is ready. Until we play Hamilton Accies on Sunday to start the ten-in-a row season, here we go again . . . .

Now let’s get to work

Customarily, I watch Celtic games twice before writing about them. It’s a luxury afforded to me by being an overseas Celtic TV subscriber. After seething for a couple of hours watching the Paris Saint-Germain game live, permit me to bear down on my masochistic side and go through this ordeal once again and pick out the upsides for Celtic of this game — and, yes, there are some.

Putting aside the fact that we’ll forget about this whole French trip soon enough — as we do with all preseason matches as we roll into the new season — here are some takeaways from the game.

Taylor and Frimpong impressed: Both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong moved the ball well against one of the world’s top teams, which bodes well for the upcoming season. If you’ll permit me a “Captain Obvious” moment, Celtic won’t be facing anyone with PSG’s defensive talents in the Premiership, so it stands to reasons that with the kind of performance the wingers put in in Paris, we can run all over any club in Scotland.

As did Christie, Elyounoussi, Ntcham and others: Ryan Christie did his best Energizer Bunny impersonation by going and going and going, even after being mugged without call several times during the course of the game. Olivier Ntcham was a one-man wrecking crew in the midfield, dishing it out and taking it while on the pitch — Ntcham’s flattening Mitchel Bakker around the 36-minute mark was a gem. Moi Elyounoussi was pretty stellar, too, amid a few muggings he suffered himself. Subs did pretty well, too, on the whole: James Forrest and Tom Rogic looked ready for the upcoming season in the limited time they played.

Yes, we could use a goalkeeper, but . . . : When Scott Bain went down to a PSG knee to his head early in the second half, you could feel the collective breath-holding by Celtic fans worldwide. As much as I like Conor Hazard, he’s clearly a light-year or two from being Number 1 material, so perhaps this is a wake-up call to those responsible for signing players to fix the goalkeeper situation as soon as possible. That said, though, Bain only really borked the third PSG goal — the other three would have gone past pretty much any other goalkeeper. Possibly even Fraser Forster. And a little perspective here: There’s a really good chance that Forster would not have come away from this game with a clean sheet. With a couple of gaffes notwithstanding, Bain did a pretty good job against a world football power.

Demoralizing? No, not really: One of the common post-game themes among the keyboard gaffers on social media is that this defeat was somehow demoralizing for Celtic. Not quite. Sure, normally when you lose 4-0, it’s demoralizing — if you lose 4-0 to Partick Thistle then, yeah, banishment to a deserted island forever would be a viable option. That’s demoralizing. But losing 4-0 to Paris Saint-Germain? Well, if could have been worse, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t.

Celtic played a much better game than the score indicated, and since it is a preseason friendly — Neymar excluded — then it doesn’t really matter. The bhoys got their minutes in and we came away without injuries.

One more warmup against Derry City FC on Saturday and then we go to work. Until then, with your culture and your faith wear the green-and-white.

Thank you, Socceroos

The Bhoys in Green playing for their respective countries during the International Break.

International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.

Maybe I’ll sign up for Netflix.

In the past, the International Break has involved watching a lot of YouTube videos of Celtic, like the ’67 European Cup Finals or Henrik Larsson’s Greatest Celtic Hits or All the Celtic Goals by Shunsuke Nakamura (and I never, never get tired of watching his first goal against Rangers where he made Allan McGregor look like an idiot). Now that I have Celtic TV, maybe I can dig around there for some uncovered gems.

Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.

But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.

Tom Rogic, the Wizard of Oz.

I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.

Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]