Personally, I hate to admit this, but the truth is the truth: Because I’ve only been following Celtic — and football, for that matter — for five seasons, I am hardly an expert on the beautiful game and its multiplicity of nuances. I freely admit that, and what follows here, and in all my blogs, are commentary.
But in my defense, I watch a lot of it, and not only Celtic. The learning curve is not as steep as one might think.
So when it comes to the UEFA Champions League draw on Thursday, my rudimentary knowledge of who’s good and who’s a poseur (hint: Glasgow’s other team that’s not Partick Thistle) leads me to believe that we got a good group this time around.
Not great, but surely it could have been worse.
First things first: I hate Real Madrid with the heat of a nova mostly for their history — and any Spanish team with “real” (“royal”) in their title smacks of fascism — but they’re a phenomenal club. The fact that there are 15 European Cups in our group — 14 of them for Real Madrid and one for Celtic — speaks pretty clearly to the consistent quality that the Spanish clubs puts on the pitch.
But they aren’t perfect. As historically good a coach as Carlo Ancelotti is, Real Madrid can be beat. And I think Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic squad are the only club in this group that can give them a run.
Call it a hunch. A gut feeling. Celtic’s speed matches up with anyone, even the world’s best. And while I don’t want to take anything away from any of the other clubs in the group, Real Madrid is the odds-on favorite here and Celtic have the best chance of knocking them off their proverbial pedestal.
Ange put it aptly at yesterday’s press conference: “You want our football club to be among the big ones in Europe so there was a real sense of anticipation around the draw. After it, irrespective of the teams you get, you’ve got a challenge before you and from our perspective we’re really excited for what’s ahead.”
And the rest?
Red Bull Leipzig — the “other” Red Bull team in Europe to its Group E counterpart Red Bull Salzburg (and, of course, their American MLS cousin, New York Red Bulls, home of ex-Celts Patryk Klimala, Lewis Morgan, and Cameron Harper) — shouldn’t be ignored, despite their slow start in the Bundesliga this season at no wins, two draws and a loss. But there’s nothing that stands out on that club that, at least on paper, can give Celtic problems.
Same with FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Currently sitting seventh in the league and being dinged in a friendly with AS Roma by a score of 5-0, the Ukranian club has concerns that far outweigh their Champions League standing. But they could be a wild card in this group and deserve to be watched closely.
It should be a very interesting group stage, to say the least. And there’s really no reason that Celtic can’t squeak by and take it, or at least finish a strong second.
One more thing
Champions League Group A: No one is a bigger fan of Liverpool in this grouping than I am. My sincerest wish is that they mop the floor with everyone in the group, especially the Huns. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Reds.
Meanwhile the Hoops are at Tannadice against Dundee United on Sunday, kicking off at the God-awful hour of 4 a.m. Pacific time. Mon the Hoops!
There’s no doubt that Celtic fans are still basking in the afterglow of winning the league title. With a boost from Eintracht Frankfurt yesterday sending Glasgow’s other Premiership club home empty-handed from Seville, there continues to be a wealth of joy and mirth to spread around this week.
While much already has been written about the championship and while there is room for metric tons of conjecture about what is next for Celtic going forward, allow me to divert your attention for a moment to the Celtic-driven game on these shores last night between the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire — a match which had a distinct Celtic connection.
The game itself was a typical MLS barnburner — apologies to the Chicago Fire, though ironically Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had no bearing on the match — which ended in a 3-3 draw.
The unique thing about it, though, was that all three goals for New York Red Bulls were scored by ex-Celts.
This may not be a surprise. The New York Red Bulls went on a shopping spree a while back and picked up a couple of Celtic players. A bulked-up Patryk Klimala looked primed and ready to dominate in the SPFL before being lured across the Atlantic to the Big Apple. NYRB also had the foresight to pick up American winger Cameron Harper, a star on Celtic’s B team who was about to break through to the first team.
Later, Andrew Gutman — who never got a really got a chance in Scotland thanks to various immigration snafus — joined the Big Apple club last season on loan from Atlanta United. Though solid in defense for the Red Bulls, Gutman has since returned to Atlanta.
Back in December during the off-season, Lewis Morgan — who was Inter Miami’s MVP in their inaugural season — was acquired by Red Bulls in a preseason deal that included $1.2 million in allocation money to Inter Miami. Earlier this season, Morgan scored a hat trick in the first 40 minutes of a match against Toronto FC.
Suffice to say that the New York Red Bulls have a definite eye for quality in picking former Celts.
But meanwhile, back at last night’s draw at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, here’s how Celtic’s fingerprints were all over this match.
Morgan scored on a penalty midway through the first half. Harper scored his first MLS goal near the end of first half — after a series of passes that would be at home at Celtic Park, Harper received a back heel from Klimala and took a shot so hard it went through the Chicago keeper’s hands and in. And while down 3-2 in injury time, NYRB leveled when Klimala got on the end of a cross inside the box in the waning seconds of the match.
Suffice to say, it’s great to see the reach of talent developed at Lennoxtown in the rest of the football world.
While the exit door at Parkhead seems to be jamming a bit lately, the latest departure rumour has Odsonne Edouard, according to pundits’ recent reports, joining Leicester City (much to the dismay of fuming Arsenal fans) for an encore performance with Brendan Rodgers.
And with this news, of course, follows the tsunami of petulant, spoiled naysayers among the Celtic support disparaging Edouard’s phenomenal contribution to the Quadruple-Treble, whether on the wider social media front or even here in this thread in the Celtic Noise forum, with a raft of nonsense discounting his endeavours in the Hoops by focusing solely on this past season.
You know, the 2020/21 season. The season where Edouard was asked to play up front alone most of the time, despite being more successful — as nearly all strikers are — with a second striker to play off of. But let’s not quibble about that, oh spoiled petulant ones, when you can dump on a phenomenal player who can arguably be credited for most of the club’s high points over the last four seasons, right?
The “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” crowd, in their typical myopic and moronic manner, just want him gone. “He lost interest.” “Couldn’t be bothered.”
You know what? I wanna be Edouard. I still wanna be Edouard. And when he goes to play at Leicester City or wherever he ends up, I will continue to watch him, just as I do former Celts I miss playing in the Hoops, including Kieran Tierney at Arsenal, Moussa Dembele at Athletico Madrid, Scott Sinclair at Preston North End, Mikael Lustig at AIK, and closer to home, the Celts in America: Patryk Klimala, Cameron Harper, and Andrew Gutman at New York Red Bulls, and Lewis Morgan at Inter Miami.
With the exception of Mo Johnston and perhaps Boli Bolingoli — the player who sadly lit the match that ignited last season’s dumpster fire — if you wear the Hoops and play Celtic football, you’ll always be a Celt wherever you go.
Normally, I’d have “One More Thing” to add here, but today I’m going to have to pass. It’s a beautiful day here on the Central California coast and, with nothing burning (so far) and nothing football-wise to watch, I plan to take full advantage of it.
I know there’s probably a joke in there somewhere about Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent, as opposed to the other way around. But I can’t seem to formulate it, and to be honest, it’s probably best left unsaid anyway.
However, the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the U.S. — after adding former Celtic Colt Cameron Harper — have bolstered their lineup with a second former Celtic prodigy in Andrew Gutman.
Gutman was added to the NYRB roster on loan from Atlanta United. After a loan spell from Celtic to FC Cincinnati through the 2020 season, Gutman was selected first in the MLS Reentry Draft by Atlanta United.
“We’re pleased to have Andrew join us,” Red Bulls New York’s Kevin Thelwell said in a club statement. “He has proven that he can play in MLS and has qualities that we think will fit well in our style of play. He is a solid defender, can contribute from wide areas going forward, and has the physical attributes to meet the demands of our system.”
The 24-year-old left back made 20 starts in 29 appearances with FC Cincinnati over a season and a half. He was an academy product of Chicago Fire FC before eventually signing with Celtic. He never made a first team appearance with the Hoops.
Prior to turning professional, Gutman was a four-year standout at Indiana University, with 20 goals and 17 assists in 90 appearances for the Hoosiers. He helped IU to consecutive College Cup appearances in 2017 and 2018 and earned the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best college soccer player in the country.
New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber had high praise for Gutman.
“Andrew brings good experience in MLS,” Struber said. “He is strong on the ball and has good awareness and intelligence going forward, which will help us build our attack and bring good decision making in the final third.”
Gutman brings the total of former Celtic players in the MLS up to three, joining Harper and Inter Miami CF’s Lewis Morgan, who was the club’s MVP last season. Mon the Hoops!
For as long as I live, there are three things I will never understand: First, there’s how gravity works, and then there’s the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The third is how some people who claim to be Celtic fans still — still — to this day dish out vitriolic rubbish about Kieran Tierney leaving Celtic to play at Arsenal.
It wouldn’t be an issue, but over the weekend, someone on Twitter posted a picture of Tierney’s shin guards that the player posted on Instagram — one a Celtic guard with his Celtic number and the other an Arsenal guard with his current number. This renewed the debate of is he/isn’t he a Celt even though he plays elsewhere.
Let’s end this debate once and for all: Kieran Tierney was, is now, and always will be a Celt.
To even question this is ridiculous. Tierney literally spent two-thirds of his life in the Hoops, signing when he was seven and coming up through the youth program. To see the player he has become is a testament to the Celtic system, as well as a testament to the courage and will of a young player who took all the hammerthrowing SPFL opponents had to offer and played for Celtic while nursing serious, potentially career-ending, injury.
I look in on Arsenal from time to time to see how Tierney is doing. To be honest, Arsenal has always been interesting to me as a casual observer. In addition, I will always think it’s one of life’s great anomalies that both Jeremy Corbyn and Piers Morgan both support the Gunners. There are other things, too, I think are quirky about the North London club, like the “marble” away jersey — who’s idea was that? — or the fact that there’s a news blog related to all things Arsenal called . . . wait for it . . . Arseblog (which, of course has a linked podcast called, ahem, Arsecast).
In fact, this passing interest in Arsenal recently went as far as a visit to the Arsenal store on-line to price a Tierney jersey. To be honest, it was a little above my budget. OK, it was waaaaaaaaaaaay over my budget, and with what I would have spent there, I could have gotten two Hoops jerseys, at least pre-postage overseas.
But I digress.
The fact of the matter remains that when you leave Celtic, Celtic rarely ever leaves you. It’s sort of like Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And it shows with some of the former players.
Lyon’s Moussa Dembele — incidentally, I don’t seem to remember him getting anywhere near the flak that Tierney got for leaving Celtic — is another player I like to look in on; on social media he is always looking in on the Hoops and praising the Bhoys in Green.
Scott Sinclair at Preston North End? Got him covered, and it looks like he’s settling in with the Lillywhites.
Mikael Lustig — one of my all time favorite Celts who we could really use wearing the Green and White right now — last year had me following KAA Gent until he moved home to Sweden to play for AIK. Anyone who follows me on social media knows how much I miss Constable Lustig, the mad Viking.
The list goes on. Regular readers of this blog know I have been following the MLS exploits of former Celtic winger Lewis Morgan, who was Inter Miami CF’s MVP in their inaugural season. Marian Shved, out on loan to Mechelen, still gets a look-in from time to time, and it was great to see him a few days ago get the winner late in the game. Jozo Simunovic — pointing every skyward after scoring at 67 minutes in the Billy McNeill game — still remains on my phone wallpaper while we wait to see where he ends up.
So the moral of the story is simple: Bhoys will always be bhoys.
Morgan has been named Inter Miami CF’s MVP in their first season, the club announced today; a season in which they did not do half bad for an expansion team, making the playoffs before a quick exit at the hands of Nashville SC.
An example of the former Celtic winger’s quality of play for the fledgling Herons was when scored twice in the span of 10 minutes — at the 28- and 38-minute marks — in a game against Atlanta United earlier in the season. Obviously, this earned Morgan the man of the match. On set piece and free-kick duties for the club, Morgan also excelled as well.
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.
Watching Lewis Morgan so far this season with Inter Miami CF in Major League Soccer in the U.S., I’ve noticed that he’s been sweating a lot. Literally. And that comes with the environment — not so much being a linchpin in an expansion franchise that is off to a typical expansion-franchise slow start, but playing in hot, humid weather; the weather I warned him about when he made the move.
So it comes as no surprise that once the former Celt got into a groove, he would put in a performance as he did yesterday. Morgan has been playing fairly well for Inter Miami, but he and teammates finally look like they are in sync.
Morgan scored twice in the span of 10 minutes — at the 28- and 38-minute marks — while Atlanta squeezed in a goal in the 33rd. Obviously, this earned Morgan the man of the match, though props should be giving to Inter Miami keeper Luis Robles for stopping a crucial penalty and overall having a good game between the sticks.
Meanwhile in the SPFL, now that the International Break is over and the bhoys playing for their respective countries have returned virtually unscathed (thank God), our attention can now turn back to the business at hand at Ross County this weekend. Mon the Hoops!
Reading the reports from this morning — this morning, Pacific Standard Time, that is — it appears that the fledgling Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, David Beckham’s new entry into Major League Soccer this year more commonly known as Inter Miami, has obtained the services of one Lewis Morgan, an as-of-today former Celtic winger.
That Beckham. He sure knows how to pick ’em.
Let’s put the football aside for a moment, because it’s my feeling that despite the fact I thought Morgan had a future with the Celts, I think he will excel in the MLS and become one of its stars. And I’m glad he’s at Inter Miami, because I have family and friends there, some of whom I know will enjoy watching him play.
But as someone who was raised in Miami, I feel it’s my duty to jump in and help Lewis out with his new environs, and give him five helpful pointers to make his somewhat smooth transition from Scottish footballer to South Florida dude.
1. If the heat doesn’t get you, the humidity will
Lewis, you were signed in the dead of winter in Miami, where it’s probably around 60 Fahrenheit, and the nylon sweaters have been broken out for the annual cold snap that accompanies the area each January. It lasts about three weeks, and the rest of the time the temperatures are in the 80s and the humidity is about the same, percentage-wise. Meaning, of course, that you can break into a sweat by merely walking from your front door to your car, never mind the sauna that awaits you when you hop in. It’s one of Florida’s unique traits.
Chances are that you’ll be playing under the lights in the new Lockhart Stadium, which replaces the old Lockhart Stadium, harboring the ghosts of the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Night games are a good thing: Evenings are a lot more balmy and tropical, rather than hot and humid. So here’s hoping that Inter Miami takes a page from the Strikers’ playbook and plays most of their games in the evening.
2. Hanging out in South Florida
With Inter Miami being based in Fort Lauderdale, about 20 miles north of Miami, you may never make it down to the club’s namesake city. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Fort Lauderdale has as much, if not more, than Miami in the way of night life and distractions. And while there are parts of Miami you’ll want to avoid completely, there are some parts of Miami — South Beach, where I used to live, pre-gentrification, before it was “cool” — that you’ll probably find entertaining and enjoyable. The Cuban food in Little Havana just west of downtown Miami, as well as the Haitian food in Little Haiti just north of downtown, are both to die for.
Or you can just go to the Publix, a large supermarket chain in Florida, and grab a Publix sub sandwich, more commonly known in the area as a Pub Sub. Great stuff, and you’ll be eating like a native.
3. Two things about summer
OK, Lewis, you’re going to want to write this down. First, it rains most of the summer. But it’s a fairly warm rain which you don’t mind getting stuck in, let alone playing in when it happens. The flip side of that is this: Yes, it rains, but it will only rain for about 15-20 minutes, and the weather returns to normal — as normal as it can be for South Florida — immediately afterward.
Don’t ask me why. It just is.
Of course, that’s only when there’s no hurricane bearing down on South Florida. You’re bound to get a few of those in the summertime — hurricane season is June to December — and of course just do what everyone else does: find shelter if you want to stick around, or leave until it passes.
4. Not a normal place
Do you like alligators? Depending on where you live — like western Miami-Dade or Broward counties — you could find them as neighbors. Roaches? Big enough to saddle up. Mosquitoes fly in formation before alighting on their prey, which will sooner or later be you. To be honest, Lewis,it was the heat and humidity that forced me to leave Miami for the cooler climes of the Central California coast, and you will find that while playing the States in the summer, the South can be hot, literally and figuratively.
But you have great beaches in the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale area, with warm water. And there are things I miss about South Florida that I can’t find here in California, like . . . .
5. Three words: Key Lime pie
Key limes — named after the Florida Keys (worth a visit if you have some time) — grow natively in South Florida, and one delicacy is Key Lime pie. You can find it anywhere in South Florida, but the best places to find it is one of the many delicatessens in the area — the plethora of Jewish delis in the area will offer you a wide variety of great food, but get that Key Lime pie.
Meanwhile, back at the original point of this blog: Lewis Morgan will do fine in South Florida, and he has the opportunity to join the pantheon of South Florida sports heroes. And it’s my sincere hope that we haven’t seen the last of him in the Hoops.
But this deal is a good one for all parties: Morgan gets regular playing time and gets to show off those Scottish football skills in the U.S., my friends and family in the area get to see quality football at Inter Miami, and Celtic gets paid handsomely by Beckham and Company for Morgan’s services.
So everyone’s happy.
Except me, because now I want a Pub Sub and some Key Lime pie.