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!

Back in the saddle

Despite all the advances of modern medicine to date, there are few cures for a lengthy illness — and non-COVID, thankfully — that are more effective and healing than Celtic starting the season like they have so far with three convincing wins. Now that I’m well enough to stop laying in bed and studying the ceiling, not to mention that the timing is right now that the new season is already in gear, it’s time to get back on the blogging horse.

Every Celtic fan on the planet last Sunday was Jota after Carl Starfelt scored his first-ever goal for the Hoops against Kilmarnock.

Expecting the unexpected

There are things over the past several weeks that were inevitable: Sure, Jota was always going to sign — you don’t travel the world wearing the Hoops if you’re going to stay at Benfica or go elsewhere. Nailing down Cameron Carter-Vickers was another feather in the backroom staff’s cap. Adding Benjamin Siegrist was also a coup — to be honest, I never thought he’d agree to play behind Joe Hart, but here we are — and the additions of Alexandro Bernabei, Aaron Mooy, and Moritz Jenz round out the business end of things, despite rumors of one final move for Rubin Kazan’s Sead Haksabanovic.

The transfer window has had the usual suspects come and go, and most importantly and immediately on the table here is where Mikey Johnston will end up on loan. Ange Postecoglou knows there’s still a player there, who just needs some consistent playing time to get back to form, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies Johnston’s play on social media.

But on the whole, business got done early for a change, planned and methodical this time, as opposed to the fire drills in the past, and all indications point to success.

Expectations are high. But Carl Starfelt’s goal against Kilmarnock? No one could have expected that, but yet here we are with the Swede getting his first on the SPFL’s worst rug at Rugby Park.

Then there’s the emergence of Greg Taylor. Taylor has always been a solid player, a dependable defender thrust into a winger’s assignment which, to be fair, may have been a steep learning curve for him. But for those of us who believed in him from the start, we get our “I told you so” moment to the PlayStation pundits and the armchair gaffers who would have just as soon dumped him.

The Japanese bhoys are picking up where they left off last season, which is sugoi. Georgios Giakoumakis, a new father with a new purpose, who could easily start but has come off the bench with amazing results. Jota? Worth every penny and more with the consistently phenomenal play we expect from the Portuguese wunderkind. Even Moritz Jenz, on loan from Lorient, may want to keep his bags unpacked and stay in Scotland for awhile.

Add to this the cast of last year’s regulars who add to the successful mix: Stephen Welsh and Anthony Ralston at the back, Liel Abada on the wing, and David Turnbull showing the solid midfield play that brought him to Glasgow from Motherhell . . . sorry, Motherwell. To say nothing of Matt O’Riley being the biggest steal in the last transfer window, flying under the radar of just about everyone except our staff.

So expect the expected, like another successful season under Postecoglou. But also expect the unexpected as well, like goals from the back like Welsh’s against Aberdeen and, yes, even from Starfelt.

With a combined score of 10-1 in our first three games, giving the Hoops a +9 goal differential, we now turn our attention to the diet Huns, Heart of Midlothian, on Sunday at Celtic Park. Thank God for the 3 p.m. kickoff — that means I can sleep in until 7 a.m. on Sunday morning — and, of course, Mon the Hoops!

One more thing (well, two actually)

I always like to add just one more thought before signing off. In some instances, there are more than one “last thought” that compete for the pixels, and in this case both warrant an appearance here.

First, it appears that the club is doing the right thing in letting the investigation run its due course on the incident involving Alexandro Bernabei, which seems to involve drunk driving and which, of course, is never acceptable or unpunished behavior. However, in typical Scottish media fashion, public details on the incident are both conflicting and nebulous, but the club is doing the right thing by letting the investigations, internal for the club and external in the law enforcement realm, draw their conclusions. Meanwhile, he trains and is available, if necessary, for games. At worst, the kid fucked up and will pay some sort of penalty. Equating this with some other transgressions of the recent past (*cough* Boli Bolingoli *cough*) and seeking Bernabei’s exit for this transgression, especially before all the facts are in, is completely ludicrous. Get a grip.

Also, it’s normally expected for the Scottish sports media to say ridiculous things about Celtic. As someone who has followed the Hoops since 2016/17 — still a neophyte, I know — I have gotten used to airheaded pundits like Kris Boyd spouting moronic nonsense like Jota’s not the best player in the league. The best response to those is just shaking one’s head, rolling one’s eyes, and moving on. But then, very unfortunately, we have some in our own ranks who spout absolute nonsense as well. Not to give the offending blog any more oxygen than it deserves, but recently a Celtic blogger sent up the trial balloon of, “Hey, maybe we should sell Giakoumakis in this transfer window.” No chance, sport, and maybe you should take up another avocation.

A tale of two goalkeepers

Now that the summer is here, and rumors — sorry, rumours — abound with who’s going where and why, a couple of goalkeepers have popped up on Celtic’s radar, according to the press, pundits and various rumour mills.

With the departure of Vasilis Barkas to FC Utrecht on a season-long loan (and we all know what that means . . .), the best way to describe it is that there’s a vacancy on the Celtic bench for a backup goalkeeper to Joe Hart, who is a god among men between the sticks.

Putting aside the fact that the forgotten Scott Bain is a more-than-adequate backup to the Sacred Hart, the two top goalkeeper candidates possibly destined for Hoopdom next season, if you believe the reports and the pundits, are FC St. Pauli’s Nikola Vasilj and Dundee United’s Benjamin Siegrist.

For completely selfish reasons as a FC St. Pauli fan, my hope is that Nikola Vasilj will stay at FC St. Pauli next season.

As many of you already know, I am not only a Celtic fan but I am also a FC St. Pauli fan. Whenever “Hell’s Bells” comes on the radio while in the car, I blast it regardless of where I am or who is with me (often making my daughter say, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaad.”) But I digress. The point is that I spent last season watching both Celtic and St. Pauli games, pretty much in equal amounts. And Vasilj, in large part, is one of the reasons the Boys in Brown from Hamburg nearly got promoted to the Bundesliga.

But — and this is a big “but,” and I cannot lie — frankly, I’d much rather see Vasilj stay at St. Pauli for the simple reason that he’d be starting there, he’d be excelling between the sticks if last season is any indication, and he and others on the squad would hopefully prove that St. Pauli’s flirtation with promotion last season wasn’t just a hoax.

Which leaves us with Siegrist.

I’ll bet anything Benjamin Siegrist would love to play and not have to face a variety of Hoops-wearing players bearing down on him with the ball. But that’s just me.

To relate how Siegrist would be an asset to Celtic would require me to tell you a tale from these shores, from another sport no less. In the ’90s, the San Francisco Giants just missed the playoffs after winning 102 games — Atlanta had won 103 that year — and during the 162-game season, a pitcher named Mark Portugal of the Houston Astros had the Giants’ number, beating them six times over the course of the season. The Giants, in the offseason, acquired Portugal from the Astros and ended up winning the division the following season.

Siegrist — like Zander Clark of St. Johnstone (the final game of the season notwithstanding) — always seems to give Celtic fits when he’s playing in goal for Dundee United. He’s solid between the posts and while some have mentioned a questionable degree of talent with the ball at his feet, any shortcomings can be easily fixed by Stevie Woods, the universe’s greatest goalkeeping coach.

So if you’re following along, Siegrist joining Celtic would erase any annoying top-rate performances against us next season because, well, he’s on our team now.

But . . . Siegrist is an A-level player both in the SPFL and internationally, and whether he’d want to just sit on the Celtic bench and watch Hart is something that may not be to his liking.

Nevertheless, all of this is conjecture at this point — talk that can only fuel pub discussions and set off Twitter wars. But it remains to be seen what the Hoops do in the off-season to bolster their already talented squad.

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!

Tidings of comfort and joy

My holiday season could best be summed up by the line in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas: “No one could have had a noisier Christmas Eve.” Hence the late post, scheduled for it’s usual Tuesday slot, for which I offer apologies.

First, I hope everyone had a good and safe holiday season. And to the supporters of the Glasgow club that plays at Ibrox, we should let Chris Sutton drive here, wishing them a happy holiday season.

Despite a draw at St. Mirren which brought out the Naysayer Brigade once again earlier last week, the Bhoys ended with a crisp 3-1 win at McDiaramid Park last weekend on a pitch that might quite possibly had been used the previous day for a tractor pull or some other monster truck event. The Scottish Football Association clearly needs to step up their standards on playing fields, and these guys deserve to play on much better fields offered by St. Johnstone.

But I digress.

In this holiday season, Celtic fans have a lot to be thankful for. This guy, for starters.

Not Eddie Howe. And for this we are truly thankful.

There is no one — no one on God’s now less-than-green earth — that could have pulled off the herculean task that Ange Postecoglou has done.

He leaves his family in Australia, and comes in to a club in turmoil without his own staff and inherits the backroom staff that arguably brought us to this point. He works briefly with a CEO he’s in tune with and suddenly, mysteriously, the CEO resigns under questionable circumstances. Now with a new club captain, he’s fighting off player injuries and nebulous and oft-changing COVID restrictions. And then there’s dealing with a Scottish sports press corps which, collectively, seem to both be sharing a collective IQ point while rewriting the record book in number of moronic questions asked of a Celtic manager.

All of that, and then there’s the officiating. Between the “honest mistakes” and downright chicanery in other games, the fact that SpecSavers sponsors the SPFL referees is an irony lost on no one.

Yet the turnaround many expected to take most of the season, at the earliest — and many were expecting longer — was nearly instantaneous. We are now 2nd in the league, easily within striking distance. Some may argue that 2nd is nothing to be thankful for, and there may be a case to be made for that. However, it could be phenomenally worse.

As it stands right now, Eddie Howe’s Newcastle is in the relegation zone. Are you really going to argue the point that we should trade places with Newcastle?

I didn’t think so.

Then there are these two guys.

Anthony Ralston and Kyogo Furuhashi

Some of the more vocal and somewhat, um, “opinionated” supporters on social media wrote off Anthony Ralston long ago, as they do with anyone who has one or two bad games (Remember Jack Hendry, now excelling in Belgium?). If we can be thankful on this holiday season for anything, it is these wannabe swamis are light-years removed from any decision-making authority in Celtic’s player personnel. The amount of crow eaten by these Playstation Pundits can be measured in tonnage seeing the player that Anthony Ralston has become. But give Ralston credit — he worked hard to make the jersey fit, and his improvements on the pitch have helped in the club’s recent success.

And Kyogo Furuhashi? すばらしい — suburashii, meaning “wonderful” in Japanese. Not only does this kid light it up on the field and is a joy to watch playing the beautiful game, he’s also living rent-free in the tiny heads of his detractors, who claim he cheats because they have no other reasonable way to explain how, even at 5-foot-7, he’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league.

And speaking of head and shoulders . . . (you knew that was coming).

Joe Hart’s career has been given new life at Celtic.

Charles Joseph John Hart. Joe Hart, to those of us who know and love him between the sticks for Celtic. The reputation of a big-time player past his prime was clearly unwarranted as he stepped up with both his commanding play and a commanding leadership presence on the pitch.

There are more contributing to the good tidings as well: Cameron Carter-Vickers’ rock-solid defense picks up when others falter, and he should stay with Celtic; there’s talk of that being bandied about during the break. Jota should definitely be signed as soon as possible — he seems to be at home at Celtic and his presence has proven to be a good fit for the club. And what can you say about Tom Rogic? The Wizard of Oz has found the magic so many had thought he had lost.

Leading up to the holidays, the results — though not perfect — were good enough to lead into a happy and satisfying Yuletide. There’s no reason that this won’t continue into the second half of the season.

Happy New Year, Celtic fans. You’ll never walk alone.

You gotta have Hart

One topic of debate or discourse among Celtic fans as of late has to be this: Of all the great pickups over the summer, which of the last transfer window’s acquisitions has been the best for the Hoops?

It’s a tough question to answer, thanks to the tsunami of talent that came our way.

Of all the acquisitions during the summer transfer window, Joe Hart may be the best of the class. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

Of course, Joe Hart stands head and shoulders above the rest. Pun completely intended.

Any skepticism about whether the 34-year-old goalkeeper may be on the decline was vanquished quickly with a string of phenomenal performances once the season started. Nine clean sheets for the Hoops after being picked up for free over the summer from Tottenham Hotspur, Hart signed a three-year contract with Celtic and rose to the number one goalkeeper.

Not to take away anything from Scott Bain, Vasilis Barkas, or Conor Hazard — all of whom are adequate between the sticks — but Hart, above the rest, has been a godsend.

As mentioned in a previous post, Hart joins a class of transfers over the summer which has supercharged the side, and he has risen to the occasion.

Not only this, Hart “gets it” — he understands what it means to put on the goalkeeper’s jersey for Celtic; the only player on the pitch with the Celtic crest on his jersey not wearing the Hoops. Not only did he praise the fans visiting Easter Road yesterday for their support in Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hibernian, he also gave credit where credit was due to the fans who came to the Tuesday afternoon UEFA Europa League match at mid-month against Ferencvaros, thanking the 50,000-plus who attended the 2-0 victory.

Hart’s dedication to the fans and humility in postgame interviews proves that he’s custom-made for Celtic, despite a pedigree which has taken him to the best of the EPL and European teams (to say nothing, of course, for playing for his country).

And he said it best in a recent article in The Celtic Star: “I play for the club, I play for the badge and I play for the manager. I feel good in the shirt at the moment and I want to continue.”

We want you to continue, too, Joe.

One more thing

As mentioned in previous posts, I lived in Japan in the late 1990s and, as an aside, I have a history of seeing Shunsuke Nakamura play at Yokohama. Of course, I was teaching English in suburban Tokyo at the time and my adult students took me to a Marinos game, however in typical Yankee fashion I was more interested in the fact that I could get ramen in the stands than in anything that was happening on the pitch.

Yeah, I’m still kicking myself for that.

Anyway, the long reach of Celtic has established a beachhead in Japan once again, thanks to Kyogo Furuhashi. In Tokyo Station — one of the largest anywhere — Kyodo Sports News put up posters of the day’s sports news, with this one announcing Furuhashi scoring his 10th goal for Celtic against Hibernian (if my rusty Japanese is correct).

I picked this up on Twitter and credit goes to @sean_1am, a Glaswegian now in Japan. Thanks, Sean!

So we have Livingston visiting Celtic Park — Livi gets to play on a decent pitch for a change — at 3 p.m. on Saturday (7 a.m. in the wild and wooly West here).

Mon the Hoops.

Sometimes it makes you think…

California and the West Coast of North America has just weathered a monsoon-like storm over the last two days, keeping most of us indoors and, speaking personally, keeping me staring out the window at the rain pelting the tree-crested ridge that separates me from the Pacific Ocean a few miles away.

Yet I didn’t come here to wax poetic. The point is that with nothing to watch thanks to intermittent power outages until the skies cleared this morning, and with the Bohemians battling Waterford — literally battling, as in they may exchange gunfire before 90 minutes are up — in the background because, well, that happens to be on at the moment, I started to think about a conversation I had recently with one of my football-following colleagues at work over the weekend.

The basic premise of the conversation went something like this: It’s really odd — but remarkably fortunate, too — how well Celtic ended up right now in the face of earlier uncertainty, with some of the personnel that graces this season’s Celtic squad, both on the field and on the sidelines.

This is not Eddie Howe. And thank God for that. Ange Postecoglou has gotten the Hoops on the right track since taking the reins at Celtic.

Remember back when we were all wringing our hands about whether Eddie Howe was going to grace us with his presence on the Celtic sidelines, and the disappointment by most in the heel-dragging days that preceded Howe’s ultimate rejection? Well, that was a phenomenal blessing in disguise, because had Howe accepted the post, we would not have had Ange Postecoglou come to lead the club.

And the odyssey of Dom McKay? In his 40-day cameo appearance as club CEO — and prior to his departure for reasons we may never know — McKay ushered in not only the Postecoglou era, but the club had a phenomenal transfer window which essentially reinvigorated the lethargic and demoralized club.

The calculus is very simple: No McKay and Postecoglou, no Kyogo Furuhashi. No Joe Hart. No Liel Abada. No George Michael . . . I mean, no Jota. No Josip Juranovic. The list goes on and, sure, not every transfer is an instant success, but we are seeing improvement in the likes of new players like Carl Starfelt and Giorgios Giakoumakis.

Without Postecoglou’s guidance, there’s an excellent chance we don’t have a resurgent Anthony Ralston and Tom Rogic. Because of Postecoglou, we have call-ups like Adam Montgomery flourishing under a new system; an attacking style of football that was profoundly lacking — and profoundly responsible for a lackluster performance — last season.

Out of what could have been a disaster — a mad scramble for a manager and a patchwork transfer window that could have been a disaster — at the advent of this season, the end result with McKay and Postecoglou calling the shots may have been just the thing Celtic needed to get things back to normal.

Speculation is a funny thing, and while I would prefer not to think of where we might be under Eddie Howe’s leadership had he taken the Celtic post, I would be willing to bet we would not be as far along in Celtic’s recovery as we are right now under Postecoglou.

Well, the Bohs dropped one to Waterford 2-1 and we have Hibernian on Wednesday at Easter Road. Mon the Hoops!

Remember Scott Bain?

We all know what speculation brings, regardless of what an army of “inside sources” may claim. But until Fraser Forster and some Southampton bigwig sit down for a press conference announcing The Wall is returning to the Saints — something that hasn’t happened at least while this was written on Thursday afternoon — it’s fair to assume a deal is still possible and Forster may very well return to Celtic.

Yet even in the tragic event that Forster doesn’t return, we still have a capable goalkeeper to start for the Hoops; a goalkeeper who had a hand — injured or otherwise — in the club’s success prior to the arrival of La Gran Muralla.

Good enough then, good enough now: Scott Bain lifts the Scottish Cup after Celtic won the final in May 2019.

Cast your minds back, Celtic fans. His name is Scott Bain, and until Forster came along, Bain was adequately handling the goalkeeping duties for the Hoops.

Of course, there’s no denying that Forster was an integral part in our most recent championship, and there’s no Hoops supporter in their right mind who would not want Forster to return to his station between the sticks for Celtic.

But that’s not the point here. This is: Lacking the services of Fraser Forster this season, the Celts go into 10-in-a-row already equipped with a game-tested and game-proven goalkeeping talent in Bain. If anything, any newly acquired goalkeeper — whether it’s Joe Hart, who is no longer head-and-shoulders above other goalkeepers, or Camp Nou hero David Marshall — should be sought for backup purposes.

It’s why this latest “crisis” is a manufactured one. It’s a mystery why Bain isn’t in the forefront of any discussion around acquiring a goalkeeper in the event that Forster doesn’t return, other than perhaps to create drama where actually there is none.

The Hoops already have a Number 1 in Bain; in fact, essentially Celtic had two Number 1s in Bain and Craig Gordon, but the latter has set his sights on starting for Championship League contender Heart of Midlothian and has acted on it accordingly.

Despite the current distraction, this team is easily ready to take the 10. With a healthy squad ready for an encore performance from last season’s championship, and with a crop of young players waiting in the wings augmented by a few previous transfer window acquisitions who have yet to show their talents, Celtic is unquestionably poised for 10-in-a-row.

Fraser Forster should be a part of that, and essentially his presence would guarantee it. But should he choose not be a part of it, the sticks are in capable hands with Scott Bain.

One more thing

I don’t know about the wider Celtic supporter base worldwide, but personally I’m getting a little tired of Hoops fans slagging former defender Kieran Tierney. Waking up to a Celtic fan’s tweet this morning where, paraphrasing here, he (or she) doesn’t care whether Arsenal fans like KT or not, he (or she) doesn’t pay attention to him anymore.

And that’s fine.

However, bear in mind that every time the former Celt takes the field at Highbury, he brings about 14 years of the Celtic system on to it as well. That alone reflects remarkably well on our club’s training system when KT is doing well for Arsenal; to say nothing of the fact that despite however well he is doing for Arsenal, the Gunners were still fleeced in spending as much as they did on him.

Perhaps someone someday can explain to me why we speak fondly of some former Celts — like Moussa Dembele, for example — and a lifelong bhoy with years of history with the club gets unceremoniously dragged.

Until next time, graffiti on the walls says we’re magic . . . .