Without anything else to divert my attention — thanks, International Break — I have been mulling the departure of Scott Brown, the only captain I’ve known at Celtic as a fan, while both navigating the five stages of grief and speculating about what this move might mean for Broony, as well as Celtic, in the future.
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t have any tinfoil hats that fit me well, but after processing the whole departure of the heart and soul of Celtic, I get the sense that Brown will be back: This player-coach stint at Aberdeen is just a warm-up and a “learning the ropes” for a future managerial stint at Parkhead.
It’s just a hunch, but there are precedents at play here.
The great Jock Stein ended his playing days at Celtic and later went on to manage Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian before returning to Celtic and making history. The same for Tommy Burns, who left Celtic for Kilmarnock late in his playing career — serving as a player-coach (sound familiar?) for Killie — before returning to manage the Hoops.
So while I am brokenhearted at the prospect of next season without Brown, as well as sad at the prospect that he will not get a proper send-off thanks to COVID-19, I do think we have not seen the last of this Celtic legend playing a role for the Bhoys.
And who takes the armband from next season? One popular debate is that it is up for grabs between Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer. Both would excel at the role of captain, but I would give the nod to CalMac — not to take anything away from Ajer, but McGregor has done it numerous times in Brown’s absence and he has a long history as a catalyst to the club’s recent successes; a history I hope continues until he hangs up his boots years from now.
In the meantime, there are bhoys playing for their national teams today — Ajer and Norway are hosting Turkey, and Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell and the Irish are hosting Luxembourg. Mon the Hoops on International Duty!
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.
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!
Originally, I had planned another topic today, but then I got the news with my coffee this morning that Jeremie Frimpong is now off to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, a league where he doesn’t have to deal with hammerthrowing nobodies like Hibernian’s Alex Gogic and Kilmarnock’s Alan Power.
And while an £11.5 million payday is nothing to sniff at — much of that maybe ending up with Man City — Frimpong’s departure is yet another sad note to a woeful season for the Bhoys. However, while I will miss Frimpong’s positive attitude and speed down the line, it permits me to wrap this into the intended topic of today, which is how youth is not being served at Celtic.
Every transfer window, the clubs and fans alike go window shopping for high-pricetag players when, for all intents and purposes, most — if not all — of the solutions to our needs are ready and able to go from the Reserves. The Colts are stacked with talent that can serve the first team well — Conor Hazard is already Exhibit A here, and Stephen Welsh has already made his mark on the first team and should play more going forward — and why we don’t utilize them is a mystery.
It’s more than a mystery, though. It’s a tragedy.
And herein lies what I was going to write about before the 20-year-old Frimpong’s departure proved the point I had planned to make. Yesterday, the ’67 Hail Hail podcast nailed it on their broadcast dealing with why Celtic youth may be on the road and not returning home.
So let’s take a look at some of those Reserves that should be up on the first team and who sadly may not be because they’ll be off playing somewhere else.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably not.
One of the more frustrating aspects of this is that Karamoko Dembele can make an impact for Celtic given the chance. The thing is, he hasn’t been given that chance. Those handful of times he has played for the Hoops, he has shone. Now it looks like after his contract is up around summertime, reports have him off to France, either to Lille or Nantes. Now that Frimpong is gone, Dembele would be a great addition to replace the departing Dutchman’s speed on the wing, but it looks like we may not get a chance to see that.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully, but maybe not.
As a Californian, this one is personal for me. Cameron Harper’s artesian depth of talent, forged in the Southern California football hotbed of Costa Mesa’s Pateadores Soccer Club and refined and sharpened in the Celtic Reserves, is custom-made for Celtic success. While some thought he had a lackluster game against Hibernian a few weeks ago — I didn’t, since he was playing out of position — Harper has all the tools to be a success on the pitch for whichever club he plays for. That, of course, should be Celtic. But interestingly, rumors say the New York Red Bulls of the MLS also think so, and these same rumors have him returning stateside. This would be a two-edged sword for me: The upside is that I would get to see him play in person when the Red Bulls come West, but the downside is that he’d lose the chance to excel as a Celt, showing Glasgow and the world that Americans can play with the best.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully.
Like Harper, Armstrong Okoflex has an abundance of talent that has not gone unnoticed elsewhere. Why he wasn’t put on a loan like Jonathan Afolabi — who we’ll get to in a minute — is a head-scratcher, because with regular playing time, Okoflex can be a high-quality player for Celtic. But we may never know because he has already caught the eye, according to reports, of two Serie A clubs in Italy, Torino and Bologna. Understandably, if Okoflex can get regular playing time elsewhere, he’d be foolish not to take it. But it would be detrimental to Celtic to invest all the coaching and training for Okoflex, and the players mentioned above, and not get a quality player in the Hoops for it.
Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably.
I always thought that Jonathan Afolabi was a good signing for Celtic, and I thought it was a good idea to get him playing time on loan elsewhere to hone his skills. He has done exactly that on loans first to Dunfermline Athetic early in 2020 and to Dundee FC more recently. Hopefully when he returns to the mother club he will be the quality player we all thought he’d be. For the moment, there is no one actively on the radar pursuing his services, so that’s a good sign he’ll probably stay in the Hoops once he returns.
The moral of the story . . .
It’s pretty clear that Celtic have an overabundance of talent in the Reserves. Why they aren’t being utilized better is a concern, but it’s something that can be corrected going forward. If this season is officially a dumpster-fire throwaway — and I don’t think it is, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is — then perhaps it’s time to give the Colts a run on the first team to get them the playing time they need to flourish.
So I’m up early on a Sunday morning to watch another Scottish Premiership game — Aberdeen, of course, because Celtic’s now-precarious road to 10-in-a-row now runs through the help of our friends (and enemies) — and with a week of interesting Celtic news behind us, it’s about time to process some of that.
Like . . .
Get back to where you once belonged
Now that the Damien Duff era is over in Dublin, after stepping down as an assistant coach for the Republic of Ireland team last week, there can only be one destination for him now.
A return to his place on the bench at Celtic.
This really is a no-brainer. Move Gavin Strachan to another position in the club and let Duff take his place back on the sidelines. Clearly his coaching abilities are part and parcel of Celtic’s success in recent seasons, and it could be one of the necessary steps to rescue what up until now has been a supbar season.
[And apologies to anyone who gets a Beatles earworm for that headline . . .]
Give racism the red card
It’s sad that I even have to waste pixels writing that headline, but apparently some haven’t read the memo. Celtic loanee Jonathan Afolabi was the target of racial abuse in the aftermath of Dundee FC’s 3-2 victory over Bonnyrigg Rose in their Scottish Cup Second Round match, where Afolabi scored a late equalizer for The Dee before they went on to victory in overtime.
My Celtic Star colleage Lubo98 outlines the story clearly in this post on the Star. In addition, Dundee FC produced a strong statement opposing the treatment of Afolabi, and points to another incident after Dundee played Hearts after a previous match.
This shouldn’t have to be mentioned, yet it bears repeating: There’s no place for racism in football. Full stop.
Signs of the times
One of the more interesting aspects of the social media cesspool known as Twitter is that it can be used for good; and if not for good, at least for educational purposes. Witness one Celtic fan on Twitter who goes by the handle LouMun 67, who is deaf and has taken the time to post short videos on Twitter of different sign-language signs for words and phrases that would be helpful to Celtic fans.
For example, COYBIG. Or Celtic. Or even Glasgow’s other club (which I would have thought was this, at least in American Sign Language, but OK).
Give a follow to this young Celtic fan, and thank you, LouMun 67, for posting the signs. We need to know more. Keep up the great work!
Dear Celtic TV . . .
Long-time readers of this blog — hi, Mom! — know that I often sing the praises of Celtic TV, many times in tw0-part harmony with overdubs. For all its quirks (Exhibit A: Tom Boyd — and I mean that as a compliment), Celtic TV provides a great service to Celtic fans worldwide. Because I really enjoy the game coverage and the commentary, I don’t mind ponying up around $30 a month to support their broadcasts and, in turn, Celtic itself.
But for some of us in the States, their payment system — WorldPay — is problematic, in the least, and impossible at best. It’s compounded by the fact that any autopay is, from time to time, “stopped at the border” in my case. Checking with my bank, it’s not them, and the process to “fix” this is to start a new Celtic TV account. You might say, “Well, Lar, why don’t you just bite the bullet and pay the annual fee?” A good question, and the answer is simple: It’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of my limited budget for a one-shot payment in that amount.
So three Celtic TV accounts later, it appears that I have reached the end of the line, because all attempts at WorldPay have failed. The alternative is a subscription to ESPN+, which provides a plethora of matches (as well as other sports) for around $6 a month. Despite the price — and I know ESPN can do this cheaply because of their broad subscription base coupled by whatever deal they make with broadcasters (SkySports: You get what you pay for . . . sheesh!) — I would still prefer going with Celtic TV, if for no other reason than to support the club.
So, Celtic TV, I would gladly come back if PayPal were an option, or any other system that would make monthly payments easier. If it’s an issue of PayPal’s cost, I’d gladly pay an increase in the monthly fee factored in to compensate for your trouble in using this U.S.-friendly service.
Your call, folks. Oh, and you need to put Kelly Clark back on the commentary team . . . .
One more thing
Two actually: A special mention should go out to The Celtic Star article by the editor’s cousin regarding two heroic figures — both of them heroic to me as well — Brother Walfrid and Paul Robeson. Many Celtic fans know by heart the story of the former, but the article outlines some interesting facts about the latter. It’s worth a read.
Then, of course, it’s Hibs tomorrow, and a must win for us, as they all are from here on in. While I will make one last vainglorious attempt to get back on Celtic TV — and by the way, going up to Millbrae to watch the game with the San Francisco CSC cannot return to its regularly scheduled meeting soon enough — I have to say clearly and emphatically, Mon the Hoops.
I woke up early on Sunday morning because a couple of hours before the historic Celtic match at Hampden, FC St. Pauli played Fortuna Dusseldorf — we won’t go there at this time, except to say it was not pretty — and my mood going into the game with Hearts was not exactly chipper.
Then the starting lineups came out on social media. I expected Scott Brown to start in place of Ismaila Soro, but I kept tripping over the goal choice. Conor Hazard. You want the kid to be between the sticks in what is possibly the most historic game of the 21st century?
Clearly we do. And this is why they pay Neil Lennon, and not me (who would have gone with Scott Bain), the big bucks. Hazard did remarkably well in goal for the Celts, as he has since he has been brought up to the first team.
There is a lot to be said for the accomplishment of a quadruple treble, and that will be written by writers and pundits with a lot more experience than me. But something about today’s game spoke volumes to what could be a changing of the guard at Paradise; the historic Celtic game where not only do we acknowledge the tremendous gravity of winning four trebles in a row, but also it was a game where we look back and say that youth was served.
It speaks to an issue that I hope will be explored further in the upcoming weeks as we head into the 2nd half of the season: Bringing up some of the other Celtic Reserves to play on the first team. We all saw today that the dues Hazard paid toiling in the Reserves is now paying dividends for the first team.
Hazard is not alone in that department, and the list of worthy Reserves is long: Armstrong Oko-Flex, Cameron Harper, Karamoko Dembele, Jonathan Afolabi, Scott Robertson, Kerr McInroy, and on and on. Along with Hazard, one other Colt who has made a mark on the first team this season in Stephen Welsh, and each of these aforementioned players listed arguably are in the starting blocks of a successful career for the Hoops.
They’ve all shown what they can do in the Reserves and in loan spells with other clubs. It’s time to put them to work for the Hoops.
Hazard has punched his ticket on the Celtic history express, and hopefully he will translate this huge accomplishment into a successful Celtic career in goal. Seeing his performance in the last several games, no doubt he will. But the quality of his play Hazard has shown he has set the table for others in the Reserves to follow suit.
If you’re like me, you’re still basking in the glow of this monumental feat: the quadruple treble. So while I process this, I may have more to say about this amazing feat itself in an upcoming post.
Unlike me, though, you’re probably not still apologizing to your neighbors for waking them up so early on a Sunday morning — remember, I’m 8 hours behind Glasgow here — with a rousing chorus of “I Just Can’t Get Enough” after Kris Ajer’s final penalty, but that’s another story for another time.
Let’s pick up this momentum Wednesday as we get back to the league games. Mon the Hoops!
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.
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.”
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.
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 . . .).
Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, attention has now been directed at the now-open summer transfer window, where speculation abounds regarding who Celtic should acquire to assure the 10.
Allow me a radical approach to this window in these special times: Close the window and don’t seek anyone new.
Sure, make the deal with Southampton and sign Fraser Forster; that’s a must. Sign Mohammed Elyounoussi, too, while you’re at it. But Celtic has the nucleus of a great team already in place, and some of the recent additions have yet to see adequate playing time on the pitch to show why they were signed in previous transfer windows.
Don’t forget, too, that we have a reserve team full of talent, some of whom have shown they are first-team ready, like Karamoko Dembele and Jonathan Afolabi.
The hiatus forced upon us thanks to Covid-19 has given those on the club with injuries a chance to heal, so we’re starting the next season with a clean slate where everyone is healthy. So the outlook for the club as we go for 10-in-a-row is remarkably good.
Up front, we’re set with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Celtic front line — and behind them we still have yet to see an unleashed Patryk Klimala or Vakoun Bayo, indicating that maybe — and this is a very big maybe — only if the right striker comes along at the right price, the club might take a punt. But even if that does not happen, Celtic is in good shape up front.
One can make the compelling argument that the current midfield is one of the best in Celtic history. Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham — any club anywhere would want some or all of these players patrolling the center of the pitch. But we also have yet to see Maryan Shved playing to his potential, and we’ve yet to see Ismael Soro at all so far. Don’t forget Tom Rogic was starting to get into a good rhythm until the season was unceremoniously curtailed. And, of course, there’s Mikey Johnston. Yet despite the unfortunate departure of Jonny Hayes, the club is still set in this department.
Meanwhile at the back, many make the argument that we could use a defender or two. Or more, with the main — and in my opinion, misguided — complaint that the tandem of Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are not adequate at right back. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first let’s look who’s still here: Hatem Elhamed, who was awesome early in the season last year, along with Chris and Kris — Jullien and Ajer, respectively. Jeremie Frimpong’s impersonation of Jimmy Johnstone has been stellar this season, until his mugging at Rugby Park by serial hammerthrower Alan Powers. Having Moritz Bauer on the bench does not hurt, either, and Nir Bitton, listed as a midfielder, has been known to play a pretty good defence himself.
Most football clubs would be wise to stand down in the transfer market while the revenue streams in the near future remain, to put it diplomatically, profoundly unsure. Until things return to “normal” — if they ever do — this is the new reality. Prudence dictates that Celtic should be no exception, and to its credit, the Celtic board has put the club in a very sound financial position heading into uncertain times.
International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.
Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.
But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.
I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.
Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.
[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]