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!
When a week goes by with no Celtic games, and having to see what’s available elsewhere — the default mode is to find which clubs with former Celts are playing and watch accordingly (for example, Scott Sinclair was pretty good in the Preston North End win, though he flubbed a chance to score) — it gives one pause to collect one’s thoughts for Celtic’s upcoming game on Sunday, historic as it is, as well as to look back and ponder some might-have-beens.
Like . . .
Does Scott Brown start on Sunday?
This is the big question of the week, being batted back and forth over the journalistic net like a tennis ball at a Wimbledon final. Does Scott Brown start on Sunday, or does Neil Lennon go with what’s been working over the last couple of weeks with David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro?
This is a tough one. If it has caused me a sleepless night or two, imagine the tossing and turning Lenny must be doing over it.
In the final analysis, my guess — and my hope — is that Broony starts on Sunday. History dictates it. In large part, Scott Brown got us to where we are now. A gut feeling that Broony will shine comes into play here over the logic that his performances lately have been, to put it mildly, lackluster.
My guess, too, is that as a starter he’s on a very short leash as well, and if he looks anywhere near lackluster, he may be getting the hook early.
What’s not being talked about is this: You know who I would like to see start on Sunday against the relegated Heart of Midlothian? Mikey Johnston. He subbed against Kilmarnock in the last game, coming off a long-healing injury, and looked to be his old self, bobbing and weaving through traffic goalward.
Jozo opens up
On the day that Jozo Simunovic scored at 67 minutes in the game honoring Celtic legend Billy McNeill — number 5 scoring in honor of number 5 — I put a photo of the big Croatian pointing skyward after scoring as my wallpaper. And there it stays to this day — a reminder of probably the first historic Celtic moment this realtively new Celtic fan had seen for himself (in the company, of course, of the San Francisco CSC in Millbrae, California).
I’ve always liked Jozo a lot, and he played with enthusiasm and love for Celtic. He was one of those players that, when healthy, often anonymously steered the course of the game to our advantage. And then he punctuated his Celtic career with gems like the header above, scoring an occasional important goal like the one that put us ahead against Kilmarnock (again) late in the season to increase our lead in the standings.
And, of course, nothing beats Jozo’s launch of Kenny Miller in 2017 during a 5-1 drubbing of “The Rangers” at Ibrox.
The Celtic Star recently ran an article about Jozo recently where the former Celt opens up on his departure, it is definitely worth a read. Arguably, not offering Jozo an extension — along with letting Jonny Hayes and Mikael Lustig move on — arguably has put the club in the precarious position it finds itself today. But that’s another topic for another discussion at another time.
Look through any window
With the new year around the corner, it will be time for — fanfare, maestro — the January Transfer Window, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will undoubtedly follow.
A primary target on Celtic’s radar has been Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie, who sees his road to the EPL running through Glasgow.
“I’ve done my fair share of research (on Celtic and the Scottish Premiership) and I’ve always loved football so I’ve known about Celtic for a while,” McKenzie recently told SkySports. “You hear about Celtic and the path of Virgil Van Dijk — going from there to the Prem.”
Not the kind of loyalty you would expect to the club, but understandable in this day and age of mercenaries. If the price of a top-notch defender is that he plays outstanding football for Celtic while punching his ticket to a larger club, then maybe that’s the best we can expect.
However, in this transfer window, it would not bother me if we stood pat with this team — maybe adding McKenzie or another defender — and bring up some of the Reserves to play for the Hoops.
Cameron Harper in particular deserves the opportunity to show what he can do on the first team, since his ability to challenge and go thorugh defenders at the Reserves level shows he could do it at the top level. The same goes for Armstrong Oko-Flex and Karamoko Dembele — both reported to be on the radar of a few teams down south — who both deserve to show what they can do for the first team. Get Jonathan Afolabi back from his loan spell from Dundee.
The fact of the matter is we have all the pieces we need going forward. It’s just putting them in the right order so the club fires on all cylinders as we motor to the 10 in the 2nd half of the season.
One more thing
Those who know me well already know this, but for the rest of you following me on social media, there are a couple of clubs which have earned my following due to their actions in their communities. As mentioned in a previous post, Nairn County FC took a windfall they had when COVID-19 stopped their season and put it back into their community, as thanks for the community’s ongoing support for the club.
More locally, just up the road in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland Roots SC deserve a shout-out in the same regard, and I am a supporter of a club that “harness(es) the magic of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good.” No one is more excited than me that Oakland Roots have partnered with FC St. Pauli in promotional efforts, and hopefully in the near future a friendly between the clubs in Oakland will be on the horizon.
My affinity for community-based, community-owned clubs does not stop there. As some readers know from a past post offering a few tips to former Celt Lewis Morgan in his move to Inter Miami, I spent my formative years — from 3 to 29 to be exact — living in Miami.
That said, a shout out goes to a new community-owned, community-based club in the area — Biscayne Bay SC — which will play its inaugural season in my old stomping grounds, so to speak. Not only this, they’ve adopted the quintessential Miami mascot — the Manatee! Score that as an own-goal for David Beckham in NOT adopting that mascot for Inter Miami, but Beckham’s loss is BBSC’s gain. Mon the Manatee!
Celts to bring home more silverware tomorrow — you read it here first.
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 . . .).
There’s a saying here that goes something like this: “There are no miracles on Mondays.” Yet to watch the Celtic-Hibernian preseason match at Paradise on Monday, the Hoops may have proved that wrong. In the second game in as many days at Celtic Park, the kids took over on the pitch and ran amok.
In a good way. In a really good way.
Patryk Klimala? Ready to go. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but in the 2nd half when Celtic went with two strikers up front — Klimala and Leigh Griffiths, sprung from the doghouse and onto the pitch — things happened. Good things. Ver good things, like two unanswered goals.
Ismaila Soro? Game ready. Not only that, he’s SPFL ready as well, passing superbly in the Hibs game while prepared to dish out punishment to the hammerthrowers that populate the Premier League, showing no mercy to both Ross County and Hibernian clods over the last two games.
Luca Connell? Let’s find this kid some playing time. Can he play right back? Center back? Connell was pretty impressive in this game and if this game is any indication, he may be up with the first team sooner moreso than later.
Even Conor Hazard did well enough for 90 minutes, making some quality saves in the game.
The list goes on: Karamoko Dembele, when he wasn’t being planted into the turf by Hibs thugs, shone with his first senior-side goal and a neat assist on Klimala’s goal. Ewan Henderson showed a considerable amount of range, affecting play on both ends of the pitch. Stephen Welsh and Kerr McInroy, the latter who played yesterday, also impressed on Monday.
Of the first-team regulars, Hatem Elhamed appeared to be in his same early-season form as he was last season when he arrived at Celtic. The defensive aptitude that Elhamed, coupled with his occasional play up front — he missed a header in the first half — consistently shows will be key to Celtic’s success once the season starts.
And then there was Griffiths, who seemed to be in good enough shape once he was put in and, arguably, really scored the goal that Klimala put in for the latter’s first of the game.
I don’t know what game captain Olivier Ntcham said in the pregame huddle, but whatever it was, it seemed to have worked.
With the season prepared to start, it appears that Celtic is ready. Until we play Hamilton Accies on Sunday to start the ten-in-a row season, here we go again . . . .
While it was not the result Celtic fans would have particularly liked — dropping a 2-1 decision to Lyon on Saturday — for the second time in two games there are positive takeaways from a draw and a loss in France, believe it or not.
First, to quote The Who, “The Kids are Alright.”
With Neil Lennon throwing the youngsters out onto the pitch to start the game under the watchful eye and the temporary leadership of Olivier Ntcham wearing the captain’s armband, the Hoops performed like a group which needed to play together more. But despite their Dembele — Moussa — scoring about four minutes in for Lyon, our Dembele — Karamoko — did a fairly adequate job as the “mini-Frimpong” (if that’s even possible). Patryk Kilmala again showed that there’s no place on the pitch where he can’t — or won’t — play, being just about everwhere and anywhere and constantly in the thick of things.
And then there’s the guy to watch. So far in this French series, the player who has impressed most of all is Ismaila Soro, who has suited up in both games with a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach in trying to win a place in the already crowded Celtic midfield. Soro consistently dispossessed both Nice and Lyon players of the ball in the past two games, and showed considerable defensive presence in absolutely flattening Moussa Dembele around the 38-minute mark of the game; a foul to be sure, but a statement nonetheless that Soro is not to be messed with.
When the first team got onto the field at the 60-minute mark with Celtic down 2-0, the tide turned from Lyon cruising to Lyon aiming to hold on. First-team passing was crisp and, while there was still rust to be shaken from the long layoff, timing will come. It wasn’t until 87 minutes that Moi Elyounoussi, looking like his pre-injury self from last season, put the Hoops on the board.
So it’s on to Paris for the last of the three games on Tuesday against the league winning Paris Saint-Germain. The Bhoys have their work cut out for them, of course, since PSG has beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 16-0.
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.
First things first, a thousand mea culpas for missing yesterday’s post (which, obviously, appears before you now, a day late). I had to get fingerprinted for a freelance job (go figure), and then I got sidetracked by the Bayer Leverkusen game — way to go, Bayer — before I contacted all the Celtic Supporters Clubs in North America asking them for their news to post here on these electronic pages.
Before I knew it, it was already 8 p.m., and I hadn’t gotten to this, which is really Thursday’s post.
I blame Scott Brown.
Like most of you — all of you? — going a week without the Celts borders on making me stir-crazy. To be honest, between weeks like this and regular delays like the winter break, I surely have watched all the Celtic videos on YouTube and I’ve watched the 1967 European Cup final so many times I can give the commentary.
Now, in this late-breaking development, it appears the Scottish Premiership is taking a break, and the match between Celtic and The Rangers™ — not to mention all other fixtures — is now off until further notice.
Well, it’s back to YouTube for me. And, of course, off to Celtic TV, because I just can’t get enough of the Lazio game in Rome . . .
Oh, and one more bit of news developing as I write: It has been confirmed that adidas — apparently the small “a” is correct, according to the press release — will be supplying the kits for the Bhoys for the next five years, so at least now we can expect to see a plethora of kits posted on social media regarding what adidas has planned for us.
Meanwhile, I am going to try to weather the current lack of football by just posting some humorous posts I’ve found about Celtic, mostly found on The Celtic Noise. I hope most of these will hold you over until . . . whenever.
“Take me to your Paradise, I want to see The Jungle . . .”
Tweet from Nicola McFadden: “When your da takes you to see the celtic.”
Another Twitter post . . .
And one last Tweet from yours truly . . .
[NOTE TO NORTH AMERICAN CSCs: I’ve sent most of you an email requesting information on your groups in order to publicize your activities and news on this blog for the benefit of Celtic fans worldwide. If you did not get an email from me, check your spam folder. If it’s not in your spam folder, comment below and I’ll get back to you.]
Because I still have my head buried in a tsunami of documents related to my previous post — and thank you to Auldheid for the great interview — I thought I’d take a break from my “homework” to make a few observations about the last two wins by the Hoops, and other items of perceived interest, in the world of football; like the following, for example.
Oh, the irony . . .
Putting aside the numerous missed calls on hand-ball fouls by Celtic opponents this season, is it any wonder some marketing genius who holds the SpecSavers advertising account sold that company’s executives on the nearly infinite value of sponsorship of SPFL referees? Each referee has what is essentially a “scarlet letter” of less-than-ideal vision on their sleeves, and in so many cases it is justified. One of a plethora of examples is the 78th minute of the Celtic-Ross County game where Scott Brown was clearly fouled, followed by James Forrest fouled less than 10 seconds afterward. Of course that joins a long list of referee malpractice this season that, fortunately, has only been a minor irritant to Celtic fans everywhere, rather than history-altering decisions. But we’re only halfway through the 2019/20 season. . . .
Here we go again
Once again, we are in the midst of another transfer window. And once again, the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits are bent out of shape because we haven’t signed half of FC Barcelona — the good half, hopefully — and in not doing so, we just threw away 9 in a row. Just today, on the digital cesspool known as Twitter and other online social media, Neil Lennon is being unnecessarily raked over the coals for suggesting the Celtic may be done for this window. The fact of the matter is, frankly, that if we are done for January, it’s still not a bad window, and with the success of the previous window carrying over, we are in great shape for the rest of the season, especially those who are injured — Hatem El Hamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi, Jeremie Frimpong for starters — get back onto the pitch. Also, not given enough credit has been Moritz Bauer’s efforts in filling in for the injured Frimpong against Ross County; Bauer himself is another new addition from the previous window.
Even if Ismaila Soro is the last piece of the puzzle in January, we are looking great for the rest of the season. Some people really need to get a grip.
The California Kid strikes again
The Celtic Reserves team hit the road to visit Huddersfield Town on Tuesday, and came away with a 3-1 victory in the friendly. Karamoko Dembele, Kieran McGrath and Cameron Harper scored in the game. We all know that Karamoko has already made the grade, but those watching the reserves have strong praise for Harper as well. We in the Golden State have high hopes for the Southern Californian to go on and wear the hoops for the first team in the near future.
Buy this guy a beer
Funny how The Rangers™ wanker — sorry, winger — and all-around world-class douchenozzle Ryan Kent can’t bring himself to gun down Hearts fans like he did at Parkhead last month. But this JamTarts fan has the right idea. If anyone in Edinburgh who knows this guy can buy him a beer for me, I’d be grateful. Oh, and the Hearts 2-1 victory over The Rangers™? Fantastic.
Now if you’ll excuse me, FC St. Pauli is playing today and it’s gametime. See you tomorrow at the St. Johnstone game. Mon the hoops!