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!

Looking for the ‘New Firm’

Forgive me for stating the obvious: Celtic fans all over the world know there is no “Old Firm” anymore, despite concerted efforts of pundits, the skewed Scottish sports media, and even those in the Celtic board room trying desperately to capitalize on this myth that was put to rest in 2012.

Follow me here. A club formed in the late 1880s playing a club formed in 2012 cannot have the word “old” rightfully placed anywhere in a description of their matchup. Call it the Glasgow Derby — a noble a name as there can be, to be frank — or the Last Great Battle of Good Versus Evil, or whatever. But “Old Firm” clearly has run its course.

Rational people know this.

And while there’s much delirious celebration still going on after Celtic’s win on Wednesday — going to the top and leading by 55 points in the table, if you count like they do at Ibrox — I’m willing to wait for the glee to die down before deciding on what to do about this.

After all, remove the gravity of the inter-city derby between these two, and Celtic playing Sevco is just another match. Josip Juranovic even alluded to this in a pregame press conference, and he was absolutely right.

So if there’s a real hunger and a real deep-down need for a “firm,” then why not make another one?

How about with Hibernian? After all, if history serves, Hibs was Celtic before Celtic was Celtic — that is, Hibs put down Irish roots in East Scotland about 10 years prior to Brother Walfrid doing the same in Glasgow a decade later. Despite any fallout between the clubs since — and I understand that there is a lot of animosity since then — wouldn’t that, at least, be grounds for a new “Old Firm” anyway?

Or what about Aberdeen? They’ve now got one of our iconic captains at their helm, and along with Scott Brown they’ve also got Jonny Hayes. Wouldn’t that be worthy of at least starting the ball rolling on heating up this rivalry?

The possibilities abound and, if there is a life-and-death need for a “firm” match, they can be explored. So I think I’ll take a seat, like Borna Barasic watching a Celtic goal on Wednesday, and ponder this a little longer.

Mon the Hoops.

Why Ange Postecoglou matters

If you are a Celtic fan — and if you’re not, why are you here in the first place? — the afterglow of the Insert-Sponsor-Here Scottish League Cup final victory on Sunday was still fresh on Monday when this video appeared on social media.

Give it a watch. I’ll wait.

The video takes shots of the postgame celebration at Hampden and puts the images atop audio of Ange Postecoglou in a speech he made to the Socceroos — the Australian national team — when he was coaching them. After doing a little digging, I found the clip on YouTube of the original video, which is here.

Go ahead and give it a watch. Again, I’ll wait.

Tom Rogic and Josip Juranovic congratulate Celtic gaffer Ange Postecoglou at the end of the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden on Sunday, providing a simple reminder that we’ve been one club since, well, you can figure it out.

There is literally a world of difference between the Scottish coal pits south of Glasgow — where the likes of Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly removed themselves to lead football clubs — and the sunny shores of Melbourne where Postecoglou, an immigrant lad whose family had fled Greece in the wake of a political coup, grew up and learned to be a footballer and then a coach.

But despite the difference in distance and time, it’s not a stretch to say Postecoglou is cut from the same coaching and leadership cloth as our own Jock Stein. Compare the football played this season to last season — this season is definitely a lot closer to “pure, beautiful, inventive football” the way Stein had his team play it when he was in charge.

Just to be clear, I am not equating Postecoglou with Stein. Postecoglou has a long way to go to reach the rare air of Stein’s lofty status as a football manager. However, with a foundation marked by his successes in the past coupled with the recent turnaround of this current team, he is well on the way.

But more to the point: Postecoglou is clearly Celtic grade. Pure and simple.

It has gone beyond the trivial “foreign coach brings new ways to a new land” subtext, because despite the club’s recent successes, Celtic has returned to winning silverware again. That speaks volumes to Postecoglou’s skills as a manager.

So to say we’re fortunate to have him is a profound understatement. And whether it’s bringing his brand of football to the Hoops or putting the self-important and self-aggrandizing Scottish sports press in its place, Postecoglou has made his mark on the Scottish game in the time he has been at Celtic’s helm.

We can only hope he continues on the same successful course with the club, and if the past several months are any indication, he will clearly earn a place in Celtic history.

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!

The numbers game

As a relatively new Celtic fan — only four seasons still makes me a neophyte in the grand scheme of Hoops history — one of the things that, at least to me, has always ranged from a mild mystery to a downright conundrum is the club’s assigning of player numbers.

This observation first occurred to me while I was still grieving the departure of Mikael Lustig, who had sadly moved on from Celtic to KAA Gent, before ending up now at AIK in Stockholm. His number 23 went immediately to a new acquisition at the time, Boli Bolingoli. I thought it was odd that the number of a beloved Celt would be transferred so quickly, but I guess it is par for the course in the football world.

You move on, and your number is up for grabs, apparently. It’s as simple as that.

Or is it? Is there more to it than meets the eye, a certain metaphysical reason behind a player ending up wearing the number of a legend?

This number 8, Kyogo Furuhashi, has the monumental task of filling the legacy of the previous number 8, Scott Brown. History is on his side, because Brown admirably filled the legacy of a previous number 8, Paul McStay. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

We have a new number 8 who replaces a recently departed number 8 — departed in a football sense, that is. Little has been said about Kyogo Furuhashi inheriting Scott Brown’s number. On the surface there may seem to be few similarities between the two, but if you look back the Hoops legend from Dunfermline and the new kid from Nara may be more alike than meets the eye, primarily and most importantly, both are quick and good with the ball. Also, it can be argued that Brown inherited the number from another Celtic legend, Paul McStay, and Brown admirably filled the legacy of that Hoops great.

We could go on and on about this, because examples here are plentiful: Liel Abada’s number 11 runs through the scenic route of the retraced steps of Scott Sinclair back to Bobby Lennox, while the number 5 has a magical and mystical significance insofar as the last player to wear it, Jozo Simunovic, scored after 67 minutes in a game honouring the greatest number 5 to play in green-and-white, Billy McNeill.

Then there’s the iconic number 7: Last worn with historical significance by the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson, but with a lineage that goes back to the greatest of all Celts, Jimmy Johnstone.

Josip Juranovic or Gary Hooper? Time will tell . . . Photo credit: The Celtic Star

Today, photos of new Celtic acquisition Josip Juranovic have the new player wearing number 88, that of a Celtic historic goal-scoring magician, Gary Hooper. During his time with Celtic, Hooper — who is still playing in Australia — was an exciting player to watch, and it remains to be seen whether the magic of the number rubs off on the Croatian defender joining Celtic from Legia Warsaw.

This magic sometimes transfers — Brown to Furuhashi seems, at least so far, to be proof of that.

But sometimes it doesn’t — Lustig to Bolingoli being Exhibit A here, to say nothing of Albian Ajeti’s number 10, with a pedigree that spans the timeline through Moussa Dembele, Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, John Hartson, Tommy Burns, and Bertie Auld.

You can say it’s only a number, but fate, superstition and the football gods may have other intentions. No one knows for sure.

Nevertheless, on Thursday we have the second leg against Alkmaar Zaanstreek — AZ to the cool kids — away in the Netherlands, bringing with us a 2-o advantage from last week’s Europa League match at Parkhead.

Mon the Hoops!