Waving to the panic bandwagon

There’s a fairly annoying — and borderline propagandistic — narrative taking place around Celtic recently as we await the start of the new season, cloaked in the panic of some people’s perception of disarray in the club.

And while this narrative seems to be based in a loathing of the Celtic board, as far as I can tell — a loathing, of course, which is both completely well-deserved and completely warranted for a group of people who should be doing something else for a living, and the sooner the better — the fact of the matter is that Celtic is not as “unready” as the hair-on-fire brigade would like you to believe.

For those of you who have jumped on this bandwagon and are mercilessly annoying everyone within an earshot, an eyeshot, or a Tweetshot with this prognostication, let’s just make a list here to counter your argument.

A new manager and CEO. All the personnel healthy for the start of the season, including sorely missed players whose absence affected the outcomes of several important games, specifically Christopher Jullien, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston. A myriad of Celtic players out on loan returning to the club, like Jonathan Afolabi and Luca Connell — and even Maryan Shved, if he returns — coupled with the wealth of talent Celtic has on its Reserves squad.

Many Celtic fans this past season pointed a finger and said ‘j’accuse’ to Odsonne Edouard for being disinterested. To be honest, I don’t care how much ennui the striker has as long as he scores 20+ goals again.

Then there’s the probability now that Odsonne Edouard will be staying. Complain about his “lack of interest” all you want, but in my opinion he can be as disinterested as he damn well pleases as long as he keeps scoring 20+ goals per season.

So there is no shortage of talent available to the club.

Of course, we could use a couple of quality players in key positions if they’re available, and even this morning there have been reports that Celtic made a bid on Sporting Lisbon’s right back Valentin Rosier. It’s hard to tell whether Rosier will be the next Kieran Tierney or Boli Bolingoli, but that would remain to be seen; as it would be for any player Celtic signs. And Rosier is not the only one that Celtic has been eyeing as they go fishing again for talent, with rumors flying about talent following Ange Postecoglou from Japan.

Postecoglou has a blank canvas upon which to paint a coaching masterpiece at Celtic. Rather than that be a cause for concern, I find it to be a good sign, one that provides optimism. His past experience halfway around the world would indicate that he has all the qualities necessary in a manager to succeed at Celtic.

Couple that, once again, with a squad that is healthy and ready — which they will be despite a late start — and the club will be back on track.

Count on it.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer to panic. In that case, be my guest.

One more thing

It’s a pity Patryk Klimala didn’t get more playing time at Celtic. Here’s why: Having started a couple of games for MLS’s New York Red Bulls so far, Broadway Paddy has already become an integral part of the Red Bulls’ offense, and his assist over the weekend on a goal by Fabio — the footballer from Brazil, not the male model — was a gem. Every great play he makes in New York (OK, in reality, in New Jersey) is a great play he could have made at Celtic Park had he played more. Just sayin’ . . .

Mon the Hoops!

Looking back … or maybe not

Now that the horrendous dumpster fire of a season is behind us — and the further behind us in the proverbial rearview mirror, the better — and while we ponder who will be taking the reins for next season, it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the facets of the disaster that are not often talked about but should never be repeated.

A few quick observations about what wasn’t talked about nearly enough would have to include the following.

There’s nothing wrong with finishing second, it’s staying second that’s wrong . . .

Second is, well, second

After a perfect storm of mismanagement on the pitch and in the boardroom assisted by some remarkably questionable outside circumstances and decisions by both league and government officials, you would think that Celtic had finished sixth in the Premiership this past season.

Yet despite the symphony of disaster the club navigated in 2020/21, Celtic finished a comfortable second in the table. You want to say, “Yeah, well, second is the first loser”? Go ahead, but it would be my duty to inform you that this is a remarkably shallow and moronic take. In this case, second is ahead of 10 other teams in the league. True, it’s not what we want — not what we demand — as Celtic fans, but that’s the reality. I understand we’ve had worse finishes than this in the past.

Departures and injuries

Not enough was made of injuries to some key players, specifically James Forrest, Mikey Johnston, and Christopher Jullien. The absence of those three alone had a profound effect on the performance of the club, to the point that whatever lack of magic or improvisation from the technical area — and it can be successfully argued that there was a complete lack of that this season — showed in the lackluster and uneven play on the pitch by the Hoops.

Another aspect that was mostly discounted during the season was the lack of fans in the seats. Celtic’s 12th man was clearly missing, and it is something that contributed to the uninspired season. In this first season of COVID football, it wasn’t only Celtic which felt the effect: Liverpool, whose fans carry their club in the same manner Celtic’s fans do with the Hoops, stumbled this season as well.

Can’t exactly tell what Jeremie Frimpong was thinking after being assaulted by Kilmarnock’s Alan Power, but I bet one thought that crossed his mind was, ‘I bet that’s a red in the Bundesliga.’

It wasn’t just injuries that sent players off the pitch. Hatem Elhamed had family issues borne of selectively restrictive immigration policies — the same restrictive immigration policies that kept Americans Andrew Gutman and Manny Perez stateside and, as a result, now playing for other clubs in the MLS — and Elhamed chose to return to Israel rather than stay in Scotland. I suspect Jeremie Frimpong had enough of being slammed by hammerthrowing nobodies like Kilmarnock’s Alan Power and Hibernian’s Alex Gogic and jumped with both feet at the chance to play in the Bundesliga, a slightly more prestigious league than the officiating-challenged SPFL.

[An aside: The SFA has a monumental problem on its hands in its officiating corps, which this past season set the gold standard for awful, overall, and could easily be seen as biased toward one club. Not only does the quality of Scottish football suffer immensely because of it, it makes the Premiership a laughingstock in the eyes of the rest of the world.]

Who’s on the horizon?

Although his legacy is will be firmly cemened as the gaffer who blew the 10, Neil Lennon still holds an overall positive place in Celtic lore. And while much is made of the lengthy Eddie Howe courtship — if he even accepts the proposal from the club — it is more important to take a look at the shape the club is in.

Here’s a minority viewpoint: The club is in good shape going in to the next season, and here’s why: With the fresh slate of an injury-free squad coupled with a significant bumper crop of young talent, most of whom are coming off successful loan spells to return to the club, next season looks promising even without having to acquire outside talent. In a post-COVID football world, clubs that are most prudent with their spending will be the strongest, and Celtic has only a couple of gaps to fill.

A partial list of returnees: Vakoun Bayo, Jack Hendry, Maryan Shved (if he chooses to return), Luca Connell, Jonathan Afolabi — all players who have made an impression with their loan clubs.

So despite a season that is best left in the bin of bad dreams, the ship will be righted by next season and Celtic will return to its winning ways.

Count on it.

One more thing

With the relegation of Hamilton Academical and Kilmarnock, it looks like two plastic pitches have been removed from the purview of the Premiership, leaving only Livingston’s pitch as the only artificial surface to be played on. Two out of three ain’t bad. So can we bring back Jozo Simunovic?

Also, speaking of Kilmarnock, it’s amazing how Killie took a monumental nosedive in the wake of Steve Clarke’s departure from the club. All of which is to say that if he wasn’t coaching the national team — getting the most out of the players and having the Scotland squad punch well above their weight — he’d be a good choice to put Celtic back on track.

Mon the Hoops!

O Captain, My Captain

Though it’s neither the most iconic nor the most important photo in Celtic history, this is my favourite photo of Scott Brown, after winning the league at Rugby Park. And I also feel bad for Greg Taylor, too.

Without anything else to divert my attention — thanks, International Break — I have been mulling the departure of Scott Brown, the only captain I’ve known at Celtic as a fan, while both navigating the five stages of grief and speculating about what this move might mean for Broony, as well as Celtic, in the future.

I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t have any tinfoil hats that fit me well, but after processing the whole departure of the heart and soul of Celtic, I get the sense that Brown will be back: This player-coach stint at Aberdeen is just a warm-up and a “learning the ropes” for a future managerial stint at Parkhead.

It’s just a hunch, but there are precedents at play here.

The great Jock Stein ended his playing days at Celtic and later went on to manage Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian before returning to Celtic and making history. The same for Tommy Burns, who left Celtic for Kilmarnock late in his playing career — serving as a player-coach (sound familiar?) for Killie — before returning to manage the Hoops.

Celtic captains and icons Scott Brown and Billy McNeill.

So while I am brokenhearted at the prospect of next season without Brown, as well as sad at the prospect that he will not get a proper send-off thanks to COVID-19, I do think we have not seen the last of this Celtic legend playing a role for the Bhoys.

And who takes the armband from next season? One popular debate is that it is up for grabs between Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer. Both would excel at the role of captain, but I would give the nod to CalMac — not to take anything away from Ajer, but McGregor has done it numerous times in Brown’s absence and he has a long history as a catalyst to the club’s recent successes; a history I hope continues until he hangs up his boots years from now.

In the meantime, there are bhoys playing for their national teams today — Ajer and Norway are hosting Turkey, and Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell and the Irish are hosting Luxembourg. Mon the Hoops on International Duty!

Miracles on Mondays

Patryk Klimala scored two goals — one arguably stolen from Leigh Griffiths — against Hibernian in the final preseason game for Celtic at Celtic Park on Monday.

There’s a saying here that goes something like this: “There are no miracles on Mondays.” Yet to watch the Celtic-Hibernian preseason match at Paradise on Monday, the Hoops may have proved that wrong. In the second game in as many days at Celtic Park, the kids took over on the pitch and ran amok.

In a good way. In a really good way.

Patryk Klimala? Ready to go. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but in the 2nd half when Celtic went with two strikers up front — Klimala and Leigh Griffiths, sprung from the doghouse and onto the pitch — things happened. Good things. Ver good things, like two unanswered goals.

Ismaila Soro? Game ready. Not only that, he’s SPFL ready as well, passing superbly in the Hibs game while prepared to dish out punishment to the hammerthrowers that populate the Premier League, showing no mercy to both Ross County and Hibernian clods over the last two games.

Luca Connell? Let’s find this kid some playing time. Can he play right back? Center back? Connell was pretty impressive in this game and if this game is any indication, he may be up with the first team sooner moreso than later.

Even Conor Hazard did well enough for 90 minutes, making some quality saves in the game.

The list goes on: Karamoko Dembele, when he wasn’t being planted into the turf by Hibs thugs, shone with his first senior-side goal and a neat assist on Klimala’s goal. Ewan Henderson showed a considerable amount of range, affecting play on both ends of the pitch. Stephen Welsh and Kerr McInroy, the latter who played yesterday, also impressed on Monday.

Of the first-team regulars, Hatem Elhamed appeared to be in his same early-season form as he was last season when he arrived at Celtic. The defensive aptitude that Elhamed, coupled with his occasional play up front — he missed a header in the first half — consistently shows will be key to Celtic’s success once the season starts.

And then there was Griffiths, who seemed to be in good enough shape once he was put in and, arguably, really scored the goal that Klimala put in for the latter’s first of the game.

I don’t know what game captain Olivier Ntcham said in the pregame huddle, but whatever it was, it seemed to have worked.

With the season prepared to start, it appears that Celtic is ready. Until we play Hamilton Accies on Sunday to start the ten-in-a row season, here we go again . . . .