The unbearable lightness of the UCL

Needless to say that I realize there are far more important things going on in the world right now. But when Jota isn’t happy, I’m not happy.

In the press after the FC Shakhtar Donetsk match in Poland yesterday in which Celtic drew 1-1, Jota said something to the effect that Celtic players always aim for a win.

He’s right. He gets it.

No need to hang your head, Jota. The foundation for Europe success is set.

Also, as an aside, I think a large part of Shakhtar’s success came as a result of neutralizing Jota for much of the game, but that’s for the experts to debate.

Yet despite a temporary setback where a flurry of shots missed their mark in a game where Celtic clearly outplayed Shakhtar only to come away with a draw, we clearly are putting down a marker in Group F in the UEFA Champions League.

Group F, incidentally, is the home of 15 European Cup/Champions League winners: Of course, 14 of those are Real Madrid and one of those is us.

Ange Postecoglou nailed it, too, when he said that Celtic is on the way to achieving European success. He told the Sun that Celtic was “excellent” on Wednesday, and they were. “Obviously the result was not reflective of that but I thought in the whole game the players gave everything and that’s all I can ask for,” he said.

I would completely agree. Needless to say, the Moan the Hoops Brigade was out in force on Wednesday, failing as always to bring a rational and realistic discourse to social media. Of course, whether having a rational discourse on social media is even possible might be another debate for another time. But I digress.

What the naysayers fail to realize is that Wednesday’s match — like last week’s match against last year’s Champions League, um, champions Real Madrid — is not the same as Celtic taking on Kilmarnock on a given Saturday at Rugby Park. It’s not even in the same universe. Celtic is playing the best of Europe, which also means they’re playing the best in the world.

And they’re holding their own, playing a high quality football — pure, beautiful, inventive football — that belongs with the best Europe has to offer.

So as anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I’m not a fan of Celtic having to play in Europe. Sure, the checks are great and, as consistent top-of-the-table finishers in Scotland, we have an obligation to represent in international competition. But at least now Celtic stands on a level of being competitive, and that makes watching it, while worrying about how injuries may affect the SPFL season, a little more bearable.

You read it here first: At the level Celtic has taken on the Champions League opponents, there is no reason they can’t advance. Those goal opportunities that Celtic missed on Wednesday? They will come back and we won’t miss next time.

One more thing

Two, actually: With all the hubbub around the passing of the Queen of England and the lack of football around the UK as a result (but cricket, rugby and horse racing goes on — go figure), I had to put aside a post I started about the ball handling and passing genius of Reo Hatate, and I still plan on finishing it and posting it. The kid’s outstanding, and like his fellow countrymen Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda, each brings a special quality to the club: Daizen with his speed and endurance, and Kyogo with his remarkable insight to be at the right place at the right time around an opponent’s goal.

Needless to say, Celtic fell out of the lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down in getting Ange, who brought this trio to the club.

Also, as many of you already know, Tom Rogic signed with West Bromich Albion. Sure, the jersey looks as out-of-place on him as the Aberdeen red did on Scott Brown, but it’s safe to say that WBA just made the steal of the century in picking up the Wizard of Oz. Good luck, Tom!

Meanwhile, we have St. Mirren away on Sunday at the crack of 4:30 a.m., California time. Mon the Hoops!

Closing the window again

If you will permit me a chance to don my Captain Obvious outfit, that was a fine piece of business this summer. And Oliver Abildgaard, if you would be so kind as to close the transfer window behind you now that you’re here, I’d be grateful.

Celtic clearly outdid themselves this time around, and for this we are truly thankful. Getting deals done early, getting players locked in and under contract instead of under loan — one might think they were dreaming.

Jota, at right, whether on the wing or not, is without a doubt the best Celtic signing in the last several years. The key is to keep him around for awhile, and I hope the Celtic board does just that.

But no. It’s a new morning at Parkhead, and apparently the board is serious about giving Ange Postecoglou the tools to win. A lot. And so we end up with Cameron Carter-Vickers signed, Jota signed, Benjamin Siegrist (a first class first-stringer who I never thought would play behind Joe Hart) signed, Daizen Maeda (previously on loan) signed, and the list goes on: Aaron Mooy, Sead Haksabanovic, Alexandro Bernabei, and Moritz Jenz on loan from FC Lorient, not to mention Abildgaard on loan from Rubin Kazan.

Not only this, we say goodbye to some players who may not have made it in the new system and have been, well, a burden on the payroll: Christopher Jullien, whose knee injury eclipsed flashes of brilliance on the pitch (Betfred Cup winner against the Huns, anyone?) — he’s now with Montpellier. Albian Ajeti may get more playing time at Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga. Vasilis Barkas seems to be settling in with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie.

And there are some departures to other clubs which you kind of hate to see: I would have liked someday to have seen Karamoko Dembele playing up front with Kyogo Furuhashi, but Dembele is off to Stade Brestois 29 in Ligue 1; a good move for him, but unfortunate for what could have been. Bohemians FC in Dublin got a steal when they picked up Jonathan Afolabi on loan — he had a lot of potential and will help the Bohs immensely. Barnsley, too, got a deal and a half with Luca Connell. And then you hate to see a young talent like Liam Scales in the red of Aberdeen, looking as out of place as Scott Brown and Jonny Hayes wearing the Dons’ kit. Speaking of Liams, Liam Shaw joins Morecambe down south after a season on loan to Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and I know he’ll contribute there.

A hill I’m willing to fight and die on: Mikey Johnston is definitely Celtic caliber who needs to get playing time he wouldn’t normally get in the current club lineup. So a loan spell to Vitoria de Guimaraes in the Portuguese league would be good for him, especially under the terms agreed to by both clubs.

But most interestingly, Mikey Johnston has a season-long loan spell with Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese league, after signing a one-year extension with Celtic. So with no sell-on clause, the good news is that after Johnston gets some time to return to his former level of play, he’ll be back in the Hoops next season.

On trophy day at the end of last season, Ange promised us we’d come back bigger and better, and it appears he’s keeping his word. And the We-Never-Stop gospel has taken root with the Hoops, to the point where essentially a second team throttled the hammerthrowing Ross County on Wednesday 4-1 to advance in the Scottish League Cup.

So close the window and get ready for a wild ride.

One more thing

The Moan the Hoops Brigade on social media are at it again: This time, the whipping boy is Alexandro Bernabei, who had what nearly every Celtic fan who watched Wednesday would describe as a good game — not great, but not bad either — against Ross County. Bernabei moves well with the ball and with a couple of defensive miscues that led to absolutely nothing for the Stags, and he got a full 90+ minutes under his proverbial belt.

But that’s not good enough for some. Seriously, people, get a fucking grip.

If Twitter had existed in 1997 when Henrik Larsson started for the Hoops, the Moan the Hoops Brigade would have ridden him out on a rail after a debut which featured an errant pass leading to a Hibernian goal, and later an own-goal in a European match. Thank God social media didn’t explode on the scene until about a decade later, and thank God, too, that none of these people are within a light-year of making decisions for the club, either then or now.

Also, a hat tip for Sead Haksabanovic, who came on at the 76-minute mark in the Ross County match and showed a lot of potential. Once he gets used to playing with his new teammates, the sky is the limit.

Meanwhile, Celtic hosts Scum of the Earth FC, a 10-year-old club whose sole purpose is to provide the world a cautionary tale about how not to run a football club, to say nothing of being a club with followers who are the dregs of society. It’s the Glasgow Derby at the god-awful crack of 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, and quite frankly destroying them would be worth waking up to.

F*ck the Huns and Mon the Hoops!

LFC: We got 9. Celtic: Hold my beer

It has become commonplace on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 4 a.m. for noon kickoffs in Scotland: Set the alarm for 3:45, shut it off quickly before apologizing to my daughter awakened in the other room of our small apartment, curse the fact I can’t sleep in to 7 for a 3 p.m. kickoff, shower, suit up in the appropriate home/road/third jersey and scarf, and then put on the Celtic match with a very low volume.

If every Celtic game was like Sunday’s outing at Tannadice, getting up at 4 would never be difficult.

There are no superlatives that would do justice to the Bhoys’ 9-0 victory yesterday. Also, not to blame the victim here, but after Joe Hart went down with a boot to the head, got stapled up, and continued to play flawlessly, Dundee United had a whipping coming to them. Don’t injure our keeper, and we’ll let you live . . .

Joe Hart gets his head stapled after a collision with Steven Fletcher’s foot early in Celtic’s game against Dundee United.

Nevertheless, this was a result that was coming when, finally, Celtic fires on all cylinders. Not only were the Bhoys firing on all cylinders on Sunday, they shifted into overdrive as well. Unfortunately, Dundee United had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of Celtic’s pure, beautiful, inventive football in a high-scoring match that the Hoops have been capable of ever since Ange Postecoglou took the helm.

One stat stands out: Thirty shots, 13 on target, makes you wonder how many of those other 17 might have gone in had they been closer.

These two guys, Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada, scored six goals between them on Sunday against Dundee United.

Not enough can be said about Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada: Kyogo at 15′ and 40′ and 45’+2, Abada at 50′ and 59′ and 77′. Already the comparisons between Kyogo and Henrik Larsson are being made on social media — prematurely, in my book. However, the Japanese bhoy has certainly made strides in that direction to validate a comparison to the King of Kings, and no one would be happier than me to see that come to fruition.

Jota, too, was his usual flawless self. On his goal right before the end of the half, a very humorous episode took place where a Dundee United defender, on the pitch between Jota and the goal albeit several yards to Jota’s right, put his hand up for offside on Jota . . . when he was in front of Jota on the pitch. The comic relief of that alone made this the goal of the game, in my book.

And it doesn’t stop there.

With the depth on this squad, Ange is orchestrating the games like a conductor leading a symphony. Thinking you may be getting a respite with a second-teamer coming in off the bench? Not a chance. There’s a good chance the replacement is better than the player coming off. It’s a great position for Celtic to be in.

It will be interesting to see if we can keep the level up in our next match, a League Cup tie at Ross County on Wednesday, to say nothing of Saturday’s match against the Huns.

One more thing

There’s this meme floating around social media recently that provided a chuckle. It said, and I’m paraphrasing here, Group F in the UEFA Champions League is the scariest because it has 15 European Cups between Real Madrid and Celtic. Of course, it doesn’t mention that 14 of those belong to Real Madrid, and who am I to mention that part?

Anyway, onward and forward. Mon the Hoops!

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!

Dundee United match: What a crock

At the outset, Monday night football at Tannadice against Dundee United had all the trappings of one of those legendary games that would have been talked about for generations. Except it didn’t turn out that way, as Celtic strolled to a 3-0 win despite the efforts of referee John Beaton to keep the score down.

Before we get into some of the more finite details of the match, you’ve got to hand it to Beaton. Just when you think that not even he can match his stratospheric level of incompetence, he goes onward and upward, amazing us all with a level of ever increasing world-class ineptitude, which is the gold standard of Scottish football officiating. Beaton missed at least two penalties and chalked a perfectly good goal off all by himself.

If anyone wears the SpecSavers patch on his referee’s uniform with unbridled pride, it’s Beaton.

But I digress.

That said, it shouldn’t take anything away from the match itself — except for maybe a goal or two for the Hoops — as Celtic was firing on all cylinders against a Dundee United team that came to play, as opposed to parking the bus. And a few things bear special mention, like . . .

Energizer Bunny? Pfft. Daizen Maeda runs circles around that advertising myth long after its batteries run out . . .

Perpetual motion, thy name is Daizen Maeda

Whatever Daizen Maeda is having for breakfast, let me have some of it, too. The guy does not stop, end to end. Whether threatening to score — and having one taken from him like he did at Tannadice on Monday — or defending deep in our end of the pitch, Maeda is all over the place and adds a dimension to his game, and to Celtic, that has not been seen in quite some time. Keep it up, Maeda-san.

Mo’ Karamoko

Yeah, two goals by Georgios Giakoumakis is phenomenal, but to see Karamoko Dembele slice and dice the Dundee United defense was a joy to behold. Can we get more of that please, Ange Postecoglou? Even being cheated out of a penalty late in the game — thanks again, Beaton — did not really mar the performance from the 19-year-old, who deserves a contract extension, and soon. A footnote here, too, is that Mikey Johnston also had a good match, and the Moan the Hoops Brigade on Celtic Twitter, which is normally lightning quick to slag Johnston on an off day, has been eerily silent about his good game.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

For all that was present in Monday’s 3-0 victory, one of the more telling facets of the game was what was missing. No Jota, on the wing or anywhere else for that matter. No Liel Abada. No Kyogo Furuhashi, who is nearly recovered from a long injury. No David Turnbull. With any combination of those guys in the game — or all of them, for that matter — the score would have been higher, Beaton notwithstanding. When these guys come back, Celtic will be even more unstoppable.

Regardless, it was a good win for the Bhoys in Green, despite the fact the game could have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t the constant “honest mistakes” from the SPFL officials that, time after time, make a match like this a chore to watch. Someday before I die — hopefully several decades from now — I hope to see a football match in Scotland where the officials actually call a game fairly and flawlessly. Suffice to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Nevertheless, next up for the Hoops is a match at home against Ross County on Saturday. Mon the Hoops!

OK, class: The sensei is in

All right, all right, class, have a seat and settle down. If you have coffee — good, because you’ll need it — drink up as this may take awhile. We have a lot to cover. As I have been assigned this task a week ago in this Twitter thread by none other than Father Antony CP on Twitter (@BrotherAntony), a priest and Celtic fan, far be it from me to go against the wishes of cleric.

My qualifications? Glad you asked. They’re not the most ideal, but I lived in Japan from 1996 to 2000, married a Japanese woman and we had a daughter; the latter who still lives with me and the former who doesn’t. I taught English, as most American gaijin (foreigners) do when they live in Japan, but I also edited an English-language lifestyle magazine and worked as a typist/proofreader at a large American law firm’s Tokyo office.

[Fun fact, and I’ve told this story before: In 1997 I went to a Yokohama Marinos game with my adult English students and saw Shunsuke Nakamura play. Like an idiot, I don’t remember seeing Nakamura, but I do remember being beguiled at the fact that I could get udon noodles at the concession stand. Yep, I’m still kicking myself for that.]

Suffice to say, I am not fluent in Japanese, but I know my way around the language. I’d also welcome some help from those who might be more conversant and knowledgeable in the language than I am, so feel free to jump in and post comments below.

All of that said — and if you’re still awake — let’s get started.

Two – no three – forms of writing

Yeah, I know some folks — especially those who, for the most part, support teams that wear blue — struggle with a mere 26 characters in what we know as our sole source of symbols, namely the alphabet. A to Z, or as you would say, A to Zed. That’s known in Japan as Romaji, but we’re going to leave that out because, hopefully, you don’t need help with that one. In Japanese, there are essentially three forms of writing: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Let’s take them one at a time.

A detailed hiragana chart, above, and a Katakana chart, below , courtesy of https://thejapanesepage.com/, which is a phenomenal resource if you’re interested in learning more.

In a nutshell, Hiragana is used for representing Japanese words phonetically in writing, as opposed to kanji, which we will talk about it a bit. The Japanese language has had a tendency to borrow a lot of words from other languages — “hot dog” for example, which we’ll show below — and to write those words, they use Katakana.

Again, without going very deep into detail — hey, I have a life, too, you know, and I do have to get back to it relatively soon — Katakana is essentially used for words imported from foreign languages. So for example, because the Japanese don’t have a word for that American delicacy known as the hot dog, it is written, in Katakana, ホットドッグ, or transliterating, “hotto doggu.”

And then there’s Kanji.

A sign at the Japan Rail station at Shin-Okubo details Kanji and Hiragana, as well as Western letters for those who can’t read neither Hiragana nor Kanji.

Kanji are logograms representing symbols adopted from Chinese, but while most of them have different pronunciations between the symbols in the two languages, the meaning is the same. For example, the symbol 山 — “yama” or “san,” meaning mountain in Japanese — also represents “Shān” in Chinese, which of course means mountain. Essentially the symbol means the same thing in both languages, but they have different pronunciations.

Confused? In the words of Leslie Nielsen throughout the movie “Airplane” — “But that’s not important right now.”

In the photo above of the Shin-Okubo Japan Rail station, there is the Kanji for “Shin-Okubo” atop the Hiragana (because Shin-Okubo is Japanese) and then Romaji, or the Western alphabet that you can read. That pretty much covers it for everyone in the station.

Yeah, but how do I say it?

The first rule, and a fairly helpful rule, is that there is only one vowel sound in Japanese — no long “O” or short “O” at least as we know it in English (but there is a nuance here that, in the interest of time, I will skip. You’re welcome) — and each essentially corresponds to the same vowel sound as you would pronounce them in Spanish. So if you paid attention in Spanish class in school, you’re more than halfway there. A is “ah,” E is “eh,” I is “ee,” O is “oh,” and U is “oo.” For example, か, or “ka,” is pretty much pronounced that way, and す, or “su,” is pronounced “sue,” like the girl’s name. Or the boy’s name, if you’re in a Johnny Cash song.

But here are a couple of curveballs, to use a baseball metaphor, in Japanese for native English speakers. For example, the “R” sound in Japanese is a very hard “R,” in linguistic terms, and so hard in fact it’s really an “L” sound. And the Japanese essentially pronounce Ra/Ri/Ru/Re/Ro as La/Li/Lu/Le/Lo.

That said, I sheepishly confess that I possess perhaps the most difficult name for the Japanese to pronounce — Larry. While living in Japan, my English students once gave me a birthday card that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday, Rally.” True story.

Which, of course, brings us to pronouncing the names of the Japanese quartet now in the Hoops.

Reo Hatate

Let’s do this one first. Everyone gets an “A” for effort in matching up Reo’s name with the Duran Duran song — “His name is Reo and we cheer him from the stands” — but unfortunately, if you were to pronounce his first name correctly, phonetically his name is Leh-oh, but we can still cheer him from the stands. Last name is simple – Ha-ta-teh.

Daizen Maeda

Pretty straightforward here for Daizen Maeda. No chicanery in the vowel sound department, just straightfoward vowel combinations producing “Dye-zen” for his first name and “Mah-eh-dah” for the family name.

An aside: In Japan, family names take precedence over given names, and you may see this player, for example, be referred to as “Maeda Daizen” in Japanese. This is customary in Japan, and often times one might refer to a colleague — if, for example, Daizen Maeda was your office mate instead of a footballer — as “Maeda-san” as opposed to, “Hey, Daizen.” Also, this “san” is an honorific attached to the end of a name, and is not the same as 山, meaning mountain.

Again, cue Leslie Nielsen.

Yosuke Ideguchi

Thank goodness we’re just going to refer to this new bhoy as “Guchi,” pronounced “Gucci” like the Italian fashion designer. There’s a nuance to some “U” and “I” vowel sounds where the sound is virtually swallowed and is almost non-existent. Such is the case with his first name, Yosuke. It’s not “Yoh-soo-keh” but “Yoh-skeh” with the “u” in “su” essentially disappearing.

Another Celt had this situation a couple of decades ago that gave announcers at the time some fits. You may have heard of him. Shunsuke Nakamura, whose first name is pronounced, as you all know by now, as “Shoon-skeh.”

I don’t know why this is. It would take someone with a better understanding of Japanese to explain. Are you out there?

Kyogo Furuhashi

OK, everyone. Welcome to the world of the Japanese syllables that English speakers can’t pronounce to save their lives, and yet another of the aforementioned curveballs in pronunciation. That would be a series including kyo/ryo/hyo/myo, or its variants, which are really pronounced as one syllable as opposed to two.

We have heard it all season: Key-Yo-Go or Kai-Yo-Go (the latter a specialty of John Hartson’s). Fingernails across the chalkboard . . .

It’s hard. But it’s “Kyoh-goh,” only two syllables. And believe me I get it because, having once been married to a woman named Kyoko, it took a little practice to get her name right while we were dating. And to this day I constantly trip over the word “ryokan” — inn — and instead I just call it a “ホテル” or “ho-teh-roo,” or “hotel.”

One more thing

While Google Translate is probably the greatest invention ever for reading worldwide dispatches about football in languages other than your own, it still needs to come up to speed when it comes to translating words and phrases from one language to another. As far as artificial intelligence in this area has advanced, it still hasn’t reached the stage where it can ascertain whether something is idiomatic or sarcastic between languages, or both.

But for the most part, you can get your point across using it, even though you risk sounding like a complete dolt.

For example, run “Mon the Hoops” through Google Translate into Japanese and you get “フープの月” — fupu no tsuki (note: “hu” becomes “fu” in Hiragana/Katakana), so it translates into Japanese as “Hoop Moon.”

Back to the drawing board, Google. Meanwhile, Mon the Hoops, in any and every language.

Class dismissed.

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.

By the dawn’s early light

It’s 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, and I’m already awake — fallout from the 8- to 9-hour time difference between here and Europe when dragging myself out of bed to watch Celtic and St. Pauli matches live — and because the Winter Solstice is tomorrow, the sun is just making its way on the horizon behind the hills to the east.

But I confess, after a sleepless night — in a good way — I am still buzzing about yesterday’s win. My daughter, who was born in Kodaira-shi in the Tokyo Metropolitan District to her Japanese mom and me, now has an adopted older brother named Kyogo Furuhashi, who becomes a part of the family by virtue of his Larsson-esque play this season.

This is a Monday I don’t mind facing. In fact, I’m planning to break my mask protocol and wear my Celtic mask for two days in a row when I go into work later. Even in America, the reach of Celtic has a profound effect on its followers, and I know I’m not the only one. Across four time zones, there’s an excellent chance Yanks who bleed green-and-white are still buzzing about the results at Hampden.

Thank God Eddie Howe balked at joining Celtic and is now toiling — to be diplomatic — at Newcastle. Howe would have never — never — accomplished the same 180-degree turn with the Hoops as Ange Postecoglou has in the last several months.

As an aside, I don’t know where Dom McKay might be these days, but he’s owed a huge debt of gratitude for bringing in Postecoglou and the wave of players in during the last transfer window, many of whom made the difference yesterday with long-time Celtic veterans like Tom Rogic, Nir Bitton and Callum McGregor.

Put aside the fact that Postecoglou won, in a matter of months, the same number of trophies that Steven Gerrard took years to finally accomplish at Sevco before taking the first train out of Glasgow for Aston Villa. Ange is no stranger to silverware, and for those of you keeping score at home you can count Hampden as his ninth — three with South Melbourne, three with Brisbane, one with the Socceroos, one with Yokohama Marinos, and now one with Celtic.

But they said Postecoglou was not built for the SPFL. They said he’d be gone by Christmas.

In what has sadly become a hallmark of the Scottish mainstream sports media, they thought wrong.

And this team Postecoglou has put together, what more can you say? It’s a team that is once again geared to win trophies. Against most odds. Against the resistance of a Celtic board that balks at expense.

And what about this kid?

Every Celtic fan on the planet Earth would gladly trade places with Anthony Ralston yesterday at Hampden to greet Kyogo Furuhashi after his second goal to put the Hoops up 2-1.

Kyogo was not 100 percent yesterday, coming off a hamstring injury. But he was ready to play regardless. Postecoglou said on Sunday that no one was keeping him off the pitch, and for this we are truly thankful. The kid delivered.

It wasn’t just Kyogo. It was everyone, a team effort. Even Carl Starfelt — who Michael Stewart couldn’t slam hard enough on the game broadcast, early and often — had an OK game with a couple of miscues that resulted, arguably at most, with Hibernian’s only goal. But the point here is that everyone stepped up, because that’s the Celtic way.

My Celtic Star colleague Niall J points this out in more depth in his article here. It’s worth a read, outlining the contributions the team has made. But it bears repeating. Rogic? Awesome. Bitton, coming in for the dinged-up David Turnbull? Phenomenal. McGregor, the captain? No doubt the man we want in charge. Cameron Carter-Vickers? His solid defense clearly earns him the nickname “The Rock,” in deference to actor Dwayne Johnson.

[Cameron “The Rock” Carter-Vickers. Hmmm. That has a nice ring to it.]

The only thing missing, sadly, on Sunday was the absence of Jota, who is out with an injury. If anyone has contributed to the success of the club this season, it is clearly Jota. And for him to be absent in the victory on Sunday was definitely heartbreaking.

But of all the deliriously joyous events and happenings at Hampden, this one was probably the best.

Somewhere in the ethereal realm of the afterlife, Bertie Auld was looking down and watching yesterday’s game at Hampden. But his cutout was present yesterday, wearing the Hoops scarf.

Some cardboard cutouts are destined for the trash bin. And some are present at the final at Hampden. If you listened closely enough after the game, you could hear Bertie Auld say, “That’s entertainment.”

Coffee’s ready, finally. We’re away to St. Mirren on Wednesday — here we go again, we’re on the road again. Mon the Hoops!

3-0 at Tannadice is nice, but . . .

First things first: Celtic played a phenomenal game at Tannadice on Sunday against fourth-place Dundee United, winning 3-0 easily with phenomenal play from Tom Rogic, ballet-like moves by David Turnbull and new kid Liam Scales slotting one in to seal the deal.

What could have been potentially a nailbiter with key players missing — the absence of Anthony Ralston, Jota, and Stephen Welsh casting a shadow over the game — ended up being a classic show of Angeball.

The Bhoys in Green made fairly easy work of a club that — unlike, say, Livingston and their 10-0-0 formation — actually went out of their way to challenge Celtic on the pitch with a pressing style of play. While it’s hard after a 3-0 defeat to heap glowing praise on Dundee United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist, he did play well to keep the score from being significantly higher; to say nothing of feeling completely awful for ex-Celt Charlie Mulgrew, now sadly toiling in obscurity for the Tangerines, who got beat so handily by Rogic on the first goal of the game.

Who taught this bhoy how to dance? David Turnbull pirouettes around Benjamin Siegrist to score at the 40-minute mark to make the score 2-0 Celtic. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

But . . .

You would think that the officiating would be its cutting edge sharpest in a match where all eyes were on the Men in Black, especially after the razor-thin margin of an offside goal for Celtic on Thursday had caused such a huge scandal in Scottish football.

Sadly, any semblance of objectivity or sharpness on the part of the officiating crew at Tannadice, or anywhere else throughout the league for that matter, was virtually non-existent.

On Sunday, three offside calls that weren’t really offside — I guess that will show us. Countless fouls matching the non-calls on fouls.

And then there’s the aptly named Callum Butcher. Butcher: Is there an any more appropriate name for a hammerthrowing nobody who immediately should have been red-carded for his spikes-up marking of David Turnbull?

No doubt the Scottish Football Association’s Crawford Allen will have a busy week going round all the media outlets telling us why Butcher didn’t get a red card and why his linesmen had countless incorrect decisions against Celtic on Sunday, just like he did this past week after Kyogo Furuhashi’s goal against Heart of Maddenlothian . . . sorry, Heart of Midlothian.

Wait. Who am I trying to fool?

So, while I’m pleased with the results against Dundee United on Sunday, pleased with how Ange Postecoglou and the coaching staff arranged the limited personnel, and reassured by the uptempo style of play which makes us the team to beat in the Scottish Premiership, I don’t want to get complacent with our treatment by the officials, which is nothing short of abhorrent and, as the rest of the world outside Scotland sees it, hypocritical.

As such, it’s easy to take our foot off the gas — rhetorically speaking — when it comes to the malfeasance on the part of the officiating crew. This is where I think we should keep on it. Keep pointing out the errors, keep pointing out the injustices. Some might say, “Well, it has always been this way,” and that may be. But it doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Call it out. Early and often. Every time it happens.

One more thing

Two, actually.

First: Ghirls will be ghirls.

The Ghirls in Green won their first piece of silverware in a decade — the Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup on Sunday, dragging out a 1-0 victory over perennial women’s power Glasgow City. Fran Alonso has really gotten the women’s team to fire on all cylinders this season, and it’s good to see that he’s getting results. Congrats, ghirls!

Second thing: Why isn’t Tom Rogic ever in any of the Celtic Christmas videos?

Anyway, we have the fascists from Real Betis visiting Celtic Park in a Europa League match on Thursday. It might be a good time to give some of the bhoys a rest and let the kids take the stage, so to speak.

Anyway, Mon the Hoops!