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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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).
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.
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 . . .
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
Forgive me for going off-script and weighing in on Celtic while we’re still outside the parameters of the regular SPFL season — a self-imposed rule I have set on myself and this blog. However, this weekend warrants a few comments and points which could be marginalized, or even forgotten, by the time we pick up the regular season again on Sunday.
Like . . .
Damn, can we tifo!
Recently I was explaining tifo to a friend who follows sports marginally, and if anything only sports in the U.S. He couldn’t understand why fans would make so much of an effort, and I just threw up my hands and changed the subject.
Anyway, despite the fact I am not a big fan of pyro, the pregame and 67th minute tributes to Bertie Auld on Saturday were both phenomenal. The Green Brigade gets high marks for bringing high quality to the stands, each and every time, regardless of whether it gets the club in trouble or not. It was phenomenal, and regretfully I could not find a still from the 2nd half demonstration by the Green Brigade.
You’ll have to settle for videos gleaned from social media, like this one here.
Of course, Sunday’s Wile E. Coyote tifo — whatever the Ibrox crew was doing on at Hampden the day after, which seemed to be purchased at ACME– paled in comparison. As it always does, and as they always do.
A yellow for Furuhashi
An incident in the St. Johnston game which caused some ripples was when that paragon of class officiating Nick Walsh — yeah, that’s the epitome of sarcasm right there, as Walsh should be nowhere near a grade-school match, let alone a Cup semifinal — gave Kyogo Furuhashi a yellow card. But the fact of the matters is that it was completely warranted.
Furuhashi was floored by some mouthbreathing, hammerthrowing nobody on St. Johnstone — playing their Livingstonian 10-0-0 formation all game — and Kyogo got up and was clearly justified in pushing him. A small tete-a-tete which amounted to nothing, except to Walsh, who made it a serious offense thanks to the fact that it was a Celt involved.
Daijobu desu, Furuhashi-san — That’s OK, Kyogo. It’s good to see that Kyogo has probably had his fill of the rogue’s gallery of talentless thugs that populate the SPFL and is now standing up for himself.
Welcome back, Jamesy
Oh, man. Have I been waiting for this, and it’s a plot line straight out of Hollywood. Who better to honor a legend like Bertie Auld than a potential legend-in-waiting like James Forrest?
Forrest scored in the 74th minute from a cross that pinballed off St. Johnstone goalkeeper Zander Clark and others, and slotted home the 1-0 winner on Saturday. If there was ever a fitting “welcome back” after recovery from a long injury, it was this for Jamesy.
Love seeing that kind of play from a homegrown hero like Forrest.
One more thing
My friend Matt Corr’s latest book — “Harry Hood: Twice as Good” — has officially been released into the wild, and it’s an ideal holiday gift for that Celtic fan on your list. You can pick up the book at the Celtic Star Bookstore, and you can marvel at how great Harry looked in the San Antonio Thunder jersey late in his career . . . not to mention all the tales of glory from his Celtic days as well.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. We travel to Bayer Lederhosen — sorry, Leverkusen — this week before taking up the regular season tasks against Aberdeen on Sunday. Mon the Hoops!
João Pedro Neves Filipe — better known in these circles as Jota, our midfielder — mentioned what could have been a throwaway line in a postgame interview on BT Sport after Celtic’s 3-2 victory against Ferencvaros in Budapest. However, it bears resurrecting because it says a lot about Celtic’s resurgence.
“We are just starting to get to know each other,” Jota said of playing with his new teammates, “and month after month I think we are getting stronger and start to be like a real family, so . . . yeah, I think things are doing well . . .”
That’s an important observation from a player for whom Celtic should be writing a check to Benfica to acquire him, and personally deliver it to the Portuguese club immediately. Celtic needs to seal this deal as soon as possible, as in right this very moment, as I write this and as you read this.
This kid “gets” Celtic.
When Jota hits on the family aspect of Celtic, he is not far off. Families are not perfect, obviously, and from time to time there is friction. And not all decisions made on a group level are met with the same degree of fanfare and joy, but the fact remains that whatever ups and downs there might be, we are in this together.
Faithful through and through.
We had a positive week this week with the signing of Anthony Ralston and then a Europa League victory in Budapest, wrapping up the week today when the club announced the signing of Greg Taylor to a new contract.
The Moan Brigade was out in full force on social media on that last one, which is unfortunate but sadly all-but-expected. Taylor is what we call here in the States a “lunchpail player” — a non-flashy, just-get-the-job-done, bringing his lunch from home type of player. No accolades, no fanfare. He clocks in, does his job dutifully, and clocks out until the next day.
A lot like Jonny Hayes. Remember him?
And here’s what the PlayStation pundits and armchair gaffers get wrong about giving Taylor grief: We let Hayes slip away a while back, and now he’s teamed up with Scott Brown at Aberdeen. Keeping Taylor in the fold, whether or not he’s a starter going forward from here on in, was a good move in keeping an experienced player who has the option of fighting for a starting spot.
Let’s be honest: The club signing Jota would have been a much bigger deal. That’s a given. And again, signing Jota should be done as soon as possible; there’s no way to stress this enough. But the fact that we’re shoring up the club with veterans like Taylor shouldn’t be discounted either.
Because perfect or not — and we all know there have been moves Celtic either balked on or shouldn’t have made, or moves we made and we’ve regretted — we’re still family.
Sunday we’re at Dundee against the Dark Blues at the bewitching hour of 4 a.m. kickoff on the U.S. Pacific Coast. Mon the Hoops!
The Celtic Star posted an article on Tuesday regarding some undue criticism that Celtic forward Kyogo Furuhashi received from a typical source — Clyde 1 pundit-for-some-unexplained-reason and significantly-below-average former footballer Alex Rae.
It piqued my curiosity to compare the two, putting side-by-side Celtic’s talented striker recently acquired from Vissel Kobe with the oft-whining “football mastermind” so often sought out, for some unexplained reason, for his “analytic wisdom.”
After a quick visit to the modern technological miracle known as tranfermrkt.com, the results are interesting.
Rae, a midfielder of clearly anonymous and forgettable talent, scored a grand total of 30 goals in a career spanning 18,218 minutes. This translates into roughly one goal every 607 minutes, or one every seven games. The breakdown, for those of you keeping score at home, is 19 for Wolverhampton, eight for Sunderland, three for Dundee FC, and a grand total of zero for old Rangers FC, a club which was liquidated in 2012.
Furuhashi, a striker of considerably more talent in a toenail clipping than Rae has in his entire DNA, has scored 76 goals in 15,906 minutes, in a career that is ongoing. Calculator, please . . . that’s a career total, so far, of roughly one goal every 209 minutes; 10 of those — one-third of Rae’s total career output — in games this season alone for the Hoops.
So, Furuhashi scores at a rate of approximately three times that of Rae. Is he three times the player that Rae was? No, because three times zero is still zero. But still, Furuhashi contributes much more to the game, on the whole, than Rae ever did as a player. The only contribution Rae clearly makes to football these days is putting the “anal” in analysis.
And yeah, I get it. Rae’s not a striker and would have scored less. But contributing so much less, statistically speaking? That’s a serious gap. You can go ahead and dig deeper into the numbers for Rae and the numbers for Furuhashi for a more detailed analysis, if you’re so inclined. But rest assured they don’t get any better for the pundit.
Yet the fact remains: When your career highlight is kicking the head of a downed opponent, as Rae did in 2004 in his European debut against CSKA Moscow, and when your stats suggest you might be better suited to another line of work — in Rae’s case, a gargoyle on a tall Glasgow building — you may want sit this one out and talk about something else.
In any case, Europa League action (ugh) continues on Thursday as the Bhoys in Green travel to that hotbed of racism, namely Hungary, to play Ferencvárosi TC away. Mon the Hoops!