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!

Dundee United match: What a crock

At the outset, Monday night football at Tannadice against Dundee United had all the trappings of one of those legendary games that would have been talked about for generations. Except it didn’t turn out that way, as Celtic strolled to a 3-0 win despite the efforts of referee John Beaton to keep the score down.

Before we get into some of the more finite details of the match, you’ve got to hand it to Beaton. Just when you think that not even he can match his stratospheric level of incompetence, he goes onward and upward, amazing us all with a level of ever increasing world-class ineptitude, which is the gold standard of Scottish football officiating. Beaton missed at least two penalties and chalked a perfectly good goal off all by himself.

If anyone wears the SpecSavers patch on his referee’s uniform with unbridled pride, it’s Beaton.

But I digress.

That said, it shouldn’t take anything away from the match itself — except for maybe a goal or two for the Hoops — as Celtic was firing on all cylinders against a Dundee United team that came to play, as opposed to parking the bus. And a few things bear special mention, like . . .

Energizer Bunny? Pfft. Daizen Maeda runs circles around that advertising myth long after its batteries run out . . .

Perpetual motion, thy name is Daizen Maeda

Whatever Daizen Maeda is having for breakfast, let me have some of it, too. The guy does not stop, end to end. Whether threatening to score — and having one taken from him like he did at Tannadice on Monday — or defending deep in our end of the pitch, Maeda is all over the place and adds a dimension to his game, and to Celtic, that has not been seen in quite some time. Keep it up, Maeda-san.

Mo’ Karamoko

Yeah, two goals by Georgios Giakoumakis is phenomenal, but to see Karamoko Dembele slice and dice the Dundee United defense was a joy to behold. Can we get more of that please, Ange Postecoglou? Even being cheated out of a penalty late in the game — thanks again, Beaton — did not really mar the performance from the 19-year-old, who deserves a contract extension, and soon. A footnote here, too, is that Mikey Johnston also had a good match, and the Moan the Hoops Brigade on Celtic Twitter, which is normally lightning quick to slag Johnston on an off day, has been eerily silent about his good game.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

For all that was present in Monday’s 3-0 victory, one of the more telling facets of the game was what was missing. No Jota, on the wing or anywhere else for that matter. No Liel Abada. No Kyogo Furuhashi, who is nearly recovered from a long injury. No David Turnbull. With any combination of those guys in the game — or all of them, for that matter — the score would have been higher, Beaton notwithstanding. When these guys come back, Celtic will be even more unstoppable.

Regardless, it was a good win for the Bhoys in Green, despite the fact the game could have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t the constant “honest mistakes” from the SPFL officials that, time after time, make a match like this a chore to watch. Someday before I die — hopefully several decades from now — I hope to see a football match in Scotland where the officials actually call a game fairly and flawlessly. Suffice to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Nevertheless, next up for the Hoops is a match at home against Ross County on Saturday. 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.

OK, class: The sensei is in

All right, all right, class, have a seat and settle down. If you have coffee — good, because you’ll need it — drink up as this may take awhile. We have a lot to cover. As I have been assigned this task a week ago in this Twitter thread by none other than Father Antony CP on Twitter (@BrotherAntony), a priest and Celtic fan, far be it from me to go against the wishes of cleric.

My qualifications? Glad you asked. They’re not the most ideal, but I lived in Japan from 1996 to 2000, married a Japanese woman and we had a daughter; the latter who still lives with me and the former who doesn’t. I taught English, as most American gaijin (foreigners) do when they live in Japan, but I also edited an English-language lifestyle magazine and worked as a typist/proofreader at a large American law firm’s Tokyo office.

[Fun fact, and I’ve told this story before: In 1997 I went to a Yokohama Marinos game with my adult English students and saw Shunsuke Nakamura play. Like an idiot, I don’t remember seeing Nakamura, but I do remember being beguiled at the fact that I could get udon noodles at the concession stand. Yep, I’m still kicking myself for that.]

Suffice to say, I am not fluent in Japanese, but I know my way around the language. I’d also welcome some help from those who might be more conversant and knowledgeable in the language than I am, so feel free to jump in and post comments below.

All of that said — and if you’re still awake — let’s get started.

Two – no three – forms of writing

Yeah, I know some folks — especially those who, for the most part, support teams that wear blue — struggle with a mere 26 characters in what we know as our sole source of symbols, namely the alphabet. A to Z, or as you would say, A to Zed. That’s known in Japan as Romaji, but we’re going to leave that out because, hopefully, you don’t need help with that one. In Japanese, there are essentially three forms of writing: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Let’s take them one at a time.

A detailed hiragana chart, above, and a Katakana chart, below , courtesy of https://thejapanesepage.com/, which is a phenomenal resource if you’re interested in learning more.

In a nutshell, Hiragana is used for representing Japanese words phonetically in writing, as opposed to kanji, which we will talk about it a bit. The Japanese language has had a tendency to borrow a lot of words from other languages — “hot dog” for example, which we’ll show below — and to write those words, they use Katakana.

Again, without going very deep into detail — hey, I have a life, too, you know, and I do have to get back to it relatively soon — Katakana is essentially used for words imported from foreign languages. So for example, because the Japanese don’t have a word for that American delicacy known as the hot dog, it is written, in Katakana, ホットドッグ, or transliterating, “hotto doggu.”

And then there’s Kanji.

A sign at the Japan Rail station at Shin-Okubo details Kanji and Hiragana, as well as Western letters for those who can’t read neither Hiragana nor Kanji.

Kanji are logograms representing symbols adopted from Chinese, but while most of them have different pronunciations between the symbols in the two languages, the meaning is the same. For example, the symbol 山 — “yama” or “san,” meaning mountain in Japanese — also represents “Shān” in Chinese, which of course means mountain. Essentially the symbol means the same thing in both languages, but they have different pronunciations.

Confused? In the words of Leslie Nielsen throughout the movie “Airplane” — “But that’s not important right now.”

In the photo above of the Shin-Okubo Japan Rail station, there is the Kanji for “Shin-Okubo” atop the Hiragana (because Shin-Okubo is Japanese) and then Romaji, or the Western alphabet that you can read. That pretty much covers it for everyone in the station.

Yeah, but how do I say it?

The first rule, and a fairly helpful rule, is that there is only one vowel sound in Japanese — no long “O” or short “O” at least as we know it in English (but there is a nuance here that, in the interest of time, I will skip. You’re welcome) — and each essentially corresponds to the same vowel sound as you would pronounce them in Spanish. So if you paid attention in Spanish class in school, you’re more than halfway there. A is “ah,” E is “eh,” I is “ee,” O is “oh,” and U is “oo.” For example, か, or “ka,” is pretty much pronounced that way, and す, or “su,” is pronounced “sue,” like the girl’s name. Or the boy’s name, if you’re in a Johnny Cash song.

But here are a couple of curveballs, to use a baseball metaphor, in Japanese for native English speakers. For example, the “R” sound in Japanese is a very hard “R,” in linguistic terms, and so hard in fact it’s really an “L” sound. And the Japanese essentially pronounce Ra/Ri/Ru/Re/Ro as La/Li/Lu/Le/Lo.

That said, I sheepishly confess that I possess perhaps the most difficult name for the Japanese to pronounce — Larry. While living in Japan, my English students once gave me a birthday card that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday, Rally.” True story.

Which, of course, brings us to pronouncing the names of the Japanese quartet now in the Hoops.

Reo Hatate

Let’s do this one first. Everyone gets an “A” for effort in matching up Reo’s name with the Duran Duran song — “His name is Reo and we cheer him from the stands” — but unfortunately, if you were to pronounce his first name correctly, phonetically his name is Leh-oh, but we can still cheer him from the stands. Last name is simple – Ha-ta-teh.

Daizen Maeda

Pretty straightforward here for Daizen Maeda. No chicanery in the vowel sound department, just straightfoward vowel combinations producing “Dye-zen” for his first name and “Mah-eh-dah” for the family name.

An aside: In Japan, family names take precedence over given names, and you may see this player, for example, be referred to as “Maeda Daizen” in Japanese. This is customary in Japan, and often times one might refer to a colleague — if, for example, Daizen Maeda was your office mate instead of a footballer — as “Maeda-san” as opposed to, “Hey, Daizen.” Also, this “san” is an honorific attached to the end of a name, and is not the same as 山, meaning mountain.

Again, cue Leslie Nielsen.

Yosuke Ideguchi

Thank goodness we’re just going to refer to this new bhoy as “Guchi,” pronounced “Gucci” like the Italian fashion designer. There’s a nuance to some “U” and “I” vowel sounds where the sound is virtually swallowed and is almost non-existent. Such is the case with his first name, Yosuke. It’s not “Yoh-soo-keh” but “Yoh-skeh” with the “u” in “su” essentially disappearing.

Another Celt had this situation a couple of decades ago that gave announcers at the time some fits. You may have heard of him. Shunsuke Nakamura, whose first name is pronounced, as you all know by now, as “Shoon-skeh.”

I don’t know why this is. It would take someone with a better understanding of Japanese to explain. Are you out there?

Kyogo Furuhashi

OK, everyone. Welcome to the world of the Japanese syllables that English speakers can’t pronounce to save their lives, and yet another of the aforementioned curveballs in pronunciation. That would be a series including kyo/ryo/hyo/myo, or its variants, which are really pronounced as one syllable as opposed to two.

We have heard it all season: Key-Yo-Go or Kai-Yo-Go (the latter a specialty of John Hartson’s). Fingernails across the chalkboard . . .

It’s hard. But it’s “Kyoh-goh,” only two syllables. And believe me I get it because, having once been married to a woman named Kyoko, it took a little practice to get her name right while we were dating. And to this day I constantly trip over the word “ryokan” — inn — and instead I just call it a “ホテル” or “ho-teh-roo,” or “hotel.”

One more thing

While Google Translate is probably the greatest invention ever for reading worldwide dispatches about football in languages other than your own, it still needs to come up to speed when it comes to translating words and phrases from one language to another. As far as artificial intelligence in this area has advanced, it still hasn’t reached the stage where it can ascertain whether something is idiomatic or sarcastic between languages, or both.

But for the most part, you can get your point across using it, even though you risk sounding like a complete dolt.

For example, run “Mon the Hoops” through Google Translate into Japanese and you get “フープの月” — fupu no tsuki (note: “hu” becomes “fu” in Hiragana/Katakana), so it translates into Japanese as “Hoop Moon.”

Back to the drawing board, Google. Meanwhile, Mon the Hoops, in any and every language.

Class dismissed.