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 . . . .