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.
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’ . . .
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.
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.
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.
While the math is still there — barely — for Celtic to pick up 10 in a row, let’s put aside the contortionistic algebra on that one for a moment and take a look at what the next season may have in store for Celtic. To be certain, the team landscape, and the leadership on the field and in the boardroom, will look much different.
John Kennedy’s first start at the helm was an inauspicious 1-0 win over Aberdeen in a hard-fought contest. Would a stellar end to the season earn him the reins of the club for the following year? Not likely, and with all the candidates being bandied about like tennis balls whizzing over the net at Wimbledon, it appears that Kennedy is keeping the seat warm, so to speak, for whomever is coming in.
I’m going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: Next season’s manager will be Steve Clarke.
In an age of COVID — get used to that phrase, because the virus and its effect on society, in general, and football, in particular, changes the entire — spending will be tight. So when watching the budget is a matter of survival, as it is now, the more flashier names on the list that come with a high price tag are out the window. And that’s OK, as Celtic doesn’t have to go far for a replacement.
The hallmark of Scotland national team coach Clarke’s tenure at Kilmarnock was consistently having Killie punching above their weight, so to speak. Evidence of that is the downward spiral toward relegation the club has suffered after his departure. Clarke’s talent for motivation probably could have been used this season, but for next season he would have the bhoys primed and ready.
Should they stay or should they go?
Ideally, everyone should stay. They won’t, of course, but there’s always that hope.
Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer should be paid a king’s ransom to stay. However, there has been a lot of interest regarding Edouard, and lately Arsenal is the latest in a long line of clubs with interest piqued for Eddy, and AC Milan keeps badgering Celtic for Ajer. Clearly, with large clubs come large offers (even in an age of COVID) which might not be resisted.
However, we do have several options on this front. As mentioned ad nauseum in the past on these pages, Celtic has an artesian depth of talent on the bench and in the reserves, so we may be in good shape without having to make expensive signings — Conor Hazard and Stephen Welsh are proof that our Reserves produce excellent players for us as well as for other clubs, in the case of Cameron Harper going to the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, and wherever Karamoko Dembele ends up next season if it isn’t Celtic.
Patryk Klimala should get a good run for the rest of the season to see how he will fare up front, and my sense is that there’s a solid striker there. A tandem of Klimala and either Leigh Griffiths or Albian Ajeti clearly would not be the same as having Odsonne Edouard up front, but it might be adequate while we have goal scorers behind them in the midfield, like Mohammed Elyounoussi.
Bringing back Jonathan Afolabi and Maryan Shved from their loans would be a sensible option, especially since the latter has had his butt kicked by the Mechelin coach which has inspired Shved’s interest in playing again. His performance in Belgium has been fairly remarkable as of late and he may finally be reaching his potential.
The nucleus of a great team is here already, and it’s a tragedy that due to injury or poor game choices, this season has ended up the way it did. But there have been bright spots in the dark season as well: Jonjoe Kenny’s loan spell has been fairly remarkable, as has the play of Ismaila Soro. David Turnbull has proven he is a player to bulid a team around for the future. Add to the mix a fully healthy Mikey Johnston and James Forrest, not to mention a fully healed Christopher Jullien, and the future looks a lot better than it does now.
We won’t have the luxury of seeing everyone on today’s team in the Hoops next season. However, the potential is phenomenally high for next year’s team to put aside the dumpster fire this season has become and return to the top of the table, wire-to-wire.
Meanwhile, on to Tannadice for Sunday’s match against Dundee United. Mon the Hoops!
Despite the fact that there are still PlayStation pundits and armchair gaffers in social media who insist on having some problem or another with Celtic’s performance in the club’s 2-0 win over Ross County on Wednesday, the reality is that the Hoops played a remarkably solid game for 90+ minutes to earn a convincing win.
To be certain, it wasn’t a perfect game. Arguably the score should have been higher, had Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie been more on target with their shots. But I’m willing to give Eddy a break — Edouard was not the same after getting clocked by the referee with a well-placed elbow in the first half; a clear indication that quite possibly Operation Stop-The-10 is alive and well at the lodge.
Regardless, the fact remains that Celtic controlled all aspects of Wednesday’s game, and we came away with the win and the three points.
David Turnbull, who scored one of the goals, and Ismaila Soro both continue to impress. Soro in particular is showing what a great acquisition he is, with his pinpoint ball distribution and defensive prowess. Playing two forwards up front — finally — proved its worth today with Leigh Griffiths picking up the slack for an uncharacteristically lackluster (and probably groggy) Edouard.
Sunday hero Kris Ajer was taking liberties with the wide berth Ross County was giving him, which is always good to see. Am I the only one who think he looks like a gazelle, striding forward with the ball deep into the opponent’s half when he finds an opening — and even when he doesn’t have one — and creating more havoc than a defender should?
Jeremie Frimpong was outstanding, and while he showed he can leave defenders in the dust, he needs to do it more often instead of being gunshy with his moves. He showed a textbook Oh-My-Days move in whipping around a Ross County defender to deliver a ball to Turnbull’s feet for the first score of the game.
Most heartening in the entire game on Wednesday was when Mikey Johnston came in and showed why he has been missed for quite some time. Though he did not score, he did shake some of the cobwebs off and we saw some of the bobbing and weaving in traffic that we know him for. When he gets back up to speed and James Forrest finally gets back . . . .
We’ve reached a point in the season where we have to be “on” — where there are no more missteps, no more fumbles, no more gaffes — if we are to win the coveted 10-in-a-row . With performances like Wednesday’s, we are in good shape going forward.
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.
Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, attention has now been directed at the now-open summer transfer window, where speculation abounds regarding who Celtic should acquire to assure the 10.
Allow me a radical approach to this window in these special times: Close the window and don’t seek anyone new.
Sure, make the deal with Southampton and sign Fraser Forster; that’s a must. Sign Mohammed Elyounoussi, too, while you’re at it. But Celtic has the nucleus of a great team already in place, and some of the recent additions have yet to see adequate playing time on the pitch to show why they were signed in previous transfer windows.
Don’t forget, too, that we have a reserve team full of talent, some of whom have shown they are first-team ready, like Karamoko Dembele and Jonathan Afolabi.
The hiatus forced upon us thanks to Covid-19 has given those on the club with injuries a chance to heal, so we’re starting the next season with a clean slate where everyone is healthy. So the outlook for the club as we go for 10-in-a-row is remarkably good.
Up front, we’re set with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Celtic front line — and behind them we still have yet to see an unleashed Patryk Klimala or Vakoun Bayo, indicating that maybe — and this is a very big maybe — only if the right striker comes along at the right price, the club might take a punt. But even if that does not happen, Celtic is in good shape up front.
One can make the compelling argument that the current midfield is one of the best in Celtic history. Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham — any club anywhere would want some or all of these players patrolling the center of the pitch. But we also have yet to see Maryan Shved playing to his potential, and we’ve yet to see Ismael Soro at all so far. Don’t forget Tom Rogic was starting to get into a good rhythm until the season was unceremoniously curtailed. And, of course, there’s Mikey Johnston. Yet despite the unfortunate departure of Jonny Hayes, the club is still set in this department.
Meanwhile at the back, many make the argument that we could use a defender or two. Or more, with the main — and in my opinion, misguided — complaint that the tandem of Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are not adequate at right back. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first let’s look who’s still here: Hatem Elhamed, who was awesome early in the season last year, along with Chris and Kris — Jullien and Ajer, respectively. Jeremie Frimpong’s impersonation of Jimmy Johnstone has been stellar this season, until his mugging at Rugby Park by serial hammerthrower Alan Powers. Having Moritz Bauer on the bench does not hurt, either, and Nir Bitton, listed as a midfielder, has been known to play a pretty good defence himself.
Most football clubs would be wise to stand down in the transfer market while the revenue streams in the near future remain, to put it diplomatically, profoundly unsure. Until things return to “normal” — if they ever do — this is the new reality. Prudence dictates that Celtic should be no exception, and to its credit, the Celtic board has put the club in a very sound financial position heading into uncertain times.