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!

Looking ahead to next season

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

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

New manager

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

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

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

Should they stay or should they go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Firing on all cylinders

Despite the fact that there are still PlayStation pundits and armchair gaffers in social media who insist on having some problem or another with Celtic’s performance in the club’s 2-0 win over Ross County on Wednesday, the reality is that the Hoops played a remarkably solid game for 90+ minutes to earn a convincing win.

To be certain, it wasn’t a perfect game. Arguably the score should have been higher, had Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie been more on target with their shots. But I’m willing to give Eddy a break — Edouard was not the same after getting clocked by the referee with a well-placed elbow in the first half; a clear indication that quite possibly Operation Stop-The-10 is alive and well at the lodge.

Regardless, the fact remains that Celtic controlled all aspects of Wednesday’s game, and we came away with the win and the three points.

They dynamic duo in Wednesday’s match: David Turnbull and Leigh Griffiths celebrate Turnbull’s goal in the first half. Griffiths scored a header in the second half to make the score 2-0.

David Turnbull, who scored one of the goals, and Ismaila Soro both continue to impress. Soro in particular is showing what a great acquisition he is, with his pinpoint ball distribution and defensive prowess. Playing two forwards up front — finally — proved its worth today with Leigh Griffiths picking up the slack for an uncharacteristically lackluster (and probably groggy) Edouard.

Sunday hero Kris Ajer was taking liberties with the wide berth Ross County was giving him, which is always good to see. Am I the only one who think he looks like a gazelle, striding forward with the ball deep into the opponent’s half when he finds an opening — and even when he doesn’t have one — and creating more havoc than a defender should?

Jeremie Frimpong was outstanding, and while he showed he can leave defenders in the dust, he needs to do it more often instead of being gunshy with his moves. He showed a textbook Oh-My-Days move in whipping around a Ross County defender to deliver a ball to Turnbull’s feet for the first score of the game.

Most heartening in the entire game on Wednesday was when Mikey Johnston came in and showed why he has been missed for quite some time. Though he did not score, he did shake some of the cobwebs off and we saw some of the bobbing and weaving in traffic that we know him for. When he gets back up to speed and James Forrest finally gets back . . . .

We’ve reached a point in the season where we have to be “on” — where there are no more missteps, no more fumbles, no more gaffes — if we are to win the coveted 10-in-a-row . With performances like Wednesday’s, we are in good shape going forward.

Now go and enjoy your holidays. Merry Krismas!

Some bits, more bobs

When a week goes by with no Celtic games, and having to see what’s available elsewhere — the default mode is to find which clubs with former Celts are playing and watch accordingly (for example, Scott Sinclair was pretty good in the Preston North End win, though he flubbed a chance to score) — it gives one pause to collect one’s thoughts for Celtic’s upcoming game on Sunday, historic as it is, as well as to look back and ponder some might-have-beens.

Like . . .

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

Does Scott Brown start on Sunday?

This is the big question of the week, being batted back and forth over the journalistic net like a tennis ball at a Wimbledon final. Does Scott Brown start on Sunday, or does Neil Lennon go with what’s been working over the last couple of weeks with David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro?

This is a tough one. If it has caused me a sleepless night or two, imagine the tossing and turning Lenny must be doing over it.

In the final analysis, my guess — and my hope — is that Broony starts on Sunday. History dictates it. In large part, Scott Brown got us to where we are now. A gut feeling that Broony will shine comes into play here over the logic that his performances lately have been, to put it mildly, lackluster.

My guess, too, is that as a starter he’s on a very short leash as well, and if he looks anywhere near lackluster, he may be getting the hook early.

What’s not being talked about is this: You know who I would like to see start on Sunday against the relegated Heart of Midlothian? Mikey Johnston. He subbed against Kilmarnock in the last game, coming off a long-healing injury, and looked to be his old self, bobbing and weaving through traffic goalward.

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

Jozo opens up

On the day that Jozo Simunovic scored at 67 minutes in the game honoring Celtic legend Billy McNeill — number 5 scoring in honor of number 5 — I put a photo of the big Croatian pointing skyward after scoring as my wallpaper. And there it stays to this day — a reminder of probably the first historic Celtic moment this realtively new Celtic fan had seen for himself (in the company, of course, of the San Francisco CSC in Millbrae, California).

I’ve always liked Jozo a lot, and he played with enthusiasm and love for Celtic. He was one of those players that, when healthy, often anonymously steered the course of the game to our advantage. And then he punctuated his Celtic career with gems like the header above, scoring an occasional important goal like the one that put us ahead against Kilmarnock (again) late in the season to increase our lead in the standings.

And, of course, nothing beats Jozo’s launch of Kenny Miller in 2017 during a 5-1 drubbing of “The Rangers” at Ibrox.

The Celtic Star recently ran an article about Jozo recently where the former Celt opens up on his departure, it is definitely worth a read. Arguably, not offering Jozo an extension — along with letting Jonny Hayes and Mikael Lustig move on — arguably has put the club in the precarious position it finds itself today. But that’s another topic for another discussion at another time.

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

Look through any window

With the new year around the corner, it will be time for — fanfare, maestro — the January Transfer Window, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will undoubtedly follow.

A primary target on Celtic’s radar has been Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie, who sees his road to the EPL running through Glasgow.

“I’ve done my fair share of research (on Celtic and the Scottish Premiership) and I’ve always loved football so I’ve known about Celtic for a while,” McKenzie recently told SkySports. “You hear about Celtic and the path of Virgil Van Dijk — going from there to the Prem.”

Not the kind of loyalty you would expect to the club, but understandable in this day and age of mercenaries. If the price of a top-notch defender is that he plays outstanding football for Celtic while punching his ticket to a larger club, then maybe that’s the best we can expect.

However, in this transfer window, it would not bother me if we stood pat with this team — maybe adding McKenzie or another defender — and bring up some of the Reserves to play for the Hoops.

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

Cameron Harper in particular deserves the opportunity to show what he can do on the first team, since his ability to challenge and go thorugh defenders at the Reserves level shows he could do it at the top level. The same goes for Armstrong Oko-Flex and Karamoko Dembele — both reported to be on the radar of a few teams down south — who both deserve to show what they can do for the first team. Get Jonathan Afolabi back from his loan spell from Dundee.

The fact of the matter is we have all the pieces we need going forward. It’s just putting them in the right order so the club fires on all cylinders as we motor to the 10 in the 2nd half of the season.

One more thing

Those who know me well already know this, but for the rest of you following me on social media, there are a couple of clubs which have earned my following due to their actions in their communities. As mentioned in a previous post, Nairn County FC took a windfall they had when COVID-19 stopped their season and put it back into their community, as thanks for the community’s ongoing support for the club.

More locally, just up the road in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland Roots SC deserve a shout-out in the same regard, and I am a supporter of a club that “harness(es) the magic of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good.” No one is more excited than me that Oakland Roots have partnered with FC St. Pauli in promotional efforts, and hopefully in the near future a friendly between the clubs in Oakland will be on the horizon.

My affinity for community-based, community-owned clubs does not stop there. As some readers know from a past post offering a few tips to former Celt Lewis Morgan in his move to Inter Miami, I spent my formative years — from 3 to 29 to be exact — living in Miami.

That said, a shout out goes to a new community-owned, community-based club in the area — Biscayne Bay SC — which will play its inaugural season in my old stomping grounds, so to speak. Not only this, they’ve adopted the quintessential Miami mascot — the Manatee! Score that as an own-goal for David Beckham in NOT adopting that mascot for Inter Miami, but Beckham’s loss is BBSC’s gain. Mon the Manatee!

Celts to bring home more silverware tomorrow — you read it here first.

Mon the Hoops!

Celtic AGM Special, and more

The original plan was to concurrently post my interview with Auldheid at the advent of the AGM here on the pages of this blog. But then I thought, why reinvent the wheel? So I decided instead to urge you to look at The Celtic Star version linked above, rather than reprinting it verbatim here on these pages.

You’re welcome.

Make sure you have a look at the story linked above. The palace intrigue inside the walls of the Celtic boardroom is definitely worthy of a BBC miniseries, at the very least.

And thank you, Auldheid, for taking the time once again this year to do the interview. I would imagine it is a painstaking task to explain the situation to this fan — 5,000 miles away — on a level that can be understood by a five-year-old or a golden retriever. More importantly, thank you for all you do to keep Celtic on the right track and on the level.

My heart was broken . . .

With a hat-tip to both The Proclaimers and Hibernian, one of the more humorous memes to come out of the more than excellent play of Ismaila Soro yesterday against Lille is that an artist will take four pictures of Soro and match them up with the first couple of lines from “Sunshine on Leith.”

Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .

Laughter aside, there were a plethora of positives to come out of the Lille game, and Soro’s play was one of them. While they’re worth their room on this earth, Ewan Henderson and Conor Hazard both showed what Celtic can harvest in the care and feeding of the Reserves team, and it will not be long before both are up with the First Team.

Unfortunately, Cameron Harper didn’t get a chance to join the party on the pitch yesterday, but his time will come. All these youngsters — as well as players like Stephen Welsh, Armstrong Oko-Flex, Karamoko Dembele, and Jonathan Afolabi — have bright futures as first-teamers.

And then there’s David Turnbull, who had what can only be described as a breakout game for the Hoops against Lille. We saw what he could do with Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and now it looks like he’s earned a spot as a starter. It prompted one Celtic fan on Twitter to post a lyric change to a Christmas favourite: “This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to David Turnbull.”

George Michael couldn’t have said it better.

Saving Private Frimpong

It’s pretty clear that the hammerthrowers — and there are many — who populate the ranks of the Scottish Premiership’s also-rans seem to have a laser-like focus on harming Jeremie Frimpong. As unfortunate as it might be, that seems to be all we can expect from some of the halfwits who have reached the apex of their football careers as goons for all-but-forgettable clubs.

That said, yesterday’s mugging of Frimpong — who ironically was celebrating his 20th birthday yesterday — seemed to be the final straw.

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

Seriously, officials, what the hell? All season (and last season, too) this had me seeing red. What I would like to see from SPFL referees — you know, the guys on the pitch less-than-ironically sponsored by Specsavers — is more red, as in red cards on players willfully out to harm the bhoy, and others on the pitch for that matter.

Is that too much to ask?

One more thing

It bears mentioning that while Soro, Turnbull, Henderson, Hazard, et al., all had a great game yesterday, Diego Laxalt has been pretty consistent in the “good” department in his level of play over the last several games. With a Ryan Christie-like depth of nonstop energy, the Uruguayan has fit in perfectly with the Celts so far.

When he first came to the club, I was a little annoyed by fans who made fun of his hair and glasses. I said that if he works out and becomes a mainstay for the club, I would get cornrows — as much as I could on a balding pate — to go with the glasses I have worn pretty much all my life. Now, Diego’s play has me asking my barber how to go about doing this (Step one: Let what hair I have left grow out . . .).

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

So Nir, yet so far

Celtic’s performance on Sunday against Hibernian in the club’s 3-0 win was outstanding across the board; so much so that the silence from the doomsday brigade populating Celtic Twitter has been deafening. Let’s take a quick look at the match, and single out those who deserve special mention in a game which displayed why Celtic is the club in command this year.

Scott Brown? The armchair Steins on Twitter said he needed a rest, but he came out roaring on Sunday to have a great game, and in some folks’ opinions, he should have had Man of the Match honours. Greg Taylor? Improving on the wing with every game, and more importantly on Sunday, showed his defensive prowess by shutting down Martin Boyle, Hibs’ go-to guy, for the entire game.

I suspect there’s a bingo game going on with all the talentless hammerthrowers in the SPFL to see which one of the bastards can be the first to cripple Sunday’s Man-of-the-Match Jeremie Frimpong. Hibernian’s candidates gave it their best shot on Sunday, but still the Oh-My-Days Kid came up sprinting and doing what he does best: Speeding past hapless defenders.

David Turnbull looked sharp and his play on the pitch overall was remarkable. As an aside, my only concern on Sunday — a minuscule one at best, and one that’s easily rectified — is that nearly every corner he took was a line-drive with little altitude for the skyscrapers like Shane Duffy, Kris Ajer, and even Odsonne Edouard, in the box.

But truly, the man who deserves the highest praise on Sunday, and high praise every day that he’s a Celt, is Nir Bitton.

Nir Bitton took the game to Hibs on Sunday and proves how important he is to the club.

For seven years, Bitton has simply played the game — and played the game well — for Celtic. No fanfare. No drama. No should-I-stay-or-should-I-go chapters. Just a player who is proud to wear the hoops and plays where he’s asked. And though not perfect, he plays wherever asked to as near a perfection as a player can.

Listed as a midfielder, Bitton is blessed with the ability to play in the back like a world-class violinist plays a Stradivarius, as was evident in the Hibernian game. Though some criticize his pace as “slow” — I prefer to use the term “methodical” — yesterday his ball distribution from the back, mostly to Frimpong, and advancing up the field with the ball like, well, a midfielder, were sights to behold.

It’s players like Bitton who make the game enjoyable. To say he’s a throwback to another era where players played for the jersey is maybe a little over-the-top, but Bitton — who has found his niche and who seems to appreciate his place in Celtic’s history — “gets it.”

In short, he understands what it means to be Celtic.

And Jock Stein would probably agree: His jersey fits.

In the meantime, let’s hope Albian Ajeti heals quickly. Mon the Hoops!