Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows how I feel about the International Break. For the uninitiated, though, let me just repeat that I hate it — while I understand it’s a player’s duty to participate on behalf of their country, the idea that they might come back to their club injured keeps me awake literally for the entire time, especially where the Bhoys are concerned.
Having said this, it’s a sincere source of joy — and restful sleep on the nights before Saturday’s match against Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, — that it appears the Hoops playing abroad, and even those playing for Scotland, will return relatively unscathed to resume the SPFL season for the Green and White.
This is obviously good news.
Travel fatigue aside — and the match sharpness that it removes from those returning from far away lands — the fact that Celtic returns to the pitch as strong as when the team left it is a good sign going forward. And in the advent of returning players like Christopher Jullien and James Forrest, all signs point to a stronger lineup going forward both in the SPFL and Europa realms.
It bodes well for Celtic to kickstart a run from the middle of the table to the top, where we belong.
One more thing
I don’t know how the rumor got started, let alone how it got legs — or how it got wings, for that matter (though I can imagine . . .) — but the latest that’s floating around is energy-drink giant Red Bull aims to either sponsor, or outright buy, Celtic FC.
If Red Bull is choosing to sponsor Celtic, swapping out the problematic Dafabet gambling sponsorship for nothing more innocuous than a corporate presence on the jersey, maybe a stadium name-change, and any other corporate trappings that sponsorship might provide, then I’m pretty much OK with it.
But if Red Bull is talking ownership, then I personally have a problem with that. A corporate takeover — however above-board and noble — flies in the face of the club’s founding, no matter how successful Red Bull’s entries in international football have become.
As an aside, it makes all those jokes about New York Celtic — the New York Red Bulls purloining the likes of Patryk Klimala, Andrew Gutman, and Cameron Harper — a little less funny at this point.
But it’s conjecture at this point — clickbait, to be sure — but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
Saturday at Fir Park, 7 a.m. Pacific time (thank you for the 3 p.m. kickoff, guys!). And if you’re a Celtic fan going to the game, Motherwell FC is holding a food bank collection, so if you can bring something to add, that would be great. Bring a can of beans, or something, for me.
We have said it all along: We wanted to play out the season. With Glasgow’s other club self-destructing in a manner that makes the Hindenburg look like a minor traffic accident, it would have been great to see the Hoops finish 20 or more points ahead of the second place team.
In all probability, that would have been Motherwell.
Yet, alas, we are left with this: Our ninth championship in a row in a truncated season; a season where Celtic won 26 out of the 30 games it played. A season where the Hoops scored 89 goals to opponents’ 19. A gap of 13 points at the top of the table, with Glasgow’s other club finishing the season behind us, with the eternally ironic point total of 67.
That’ll have to do for now, in these very odd times. And it is a victory to be celebrated, cherished, and savoured like the other eight before it as we set our sights to 10.
On this day when we also celebrate the birth of Brother Walfrid, the celebration is doubly important. Celebrate reasonably, and strap in for the 10.
Taking a look at all that’s going on in Scottish football over the last couple of weeks, it appears that distractions are rearing their ugly heads and overwhelming the general public in general, and football fans in particular, in tsunami-sized waves of falsehoods.
Celtic fans tried to kill Alfredo Morelos. No wait, that paper-thin perpetrator under Fredo’s Lamborghini is actually a private investigator hired by Morelos’ pregnant wife to place a tracker on his car to keep tabs on him.
So, let’s deflect.
Sky Sports — let’s turn on the Sarcasmatron™ and see what it calls them . . . it says “a paragon of sport journalism” — produces an interview with a player who can’t understand English, yet he claims there’s racist abuse directed toward him at Celtic Park. But wait: Those subtitles aren’t exactly a match to what he’s saying. In fact, they’re arguably not even close.
The total weight of this disingenuous behaviour could stun a team of oxen.
Thank God for Michael Stewart, who has both the gravitas and the courage to tell the truth, taking to heart the Latin phrase, Fiat justitia ruat caelum — let justice prevail though the heavens fall. To his immense credit, Stewart is doing what journalists should be doing everywhere, but sadly aren’t; especially in Scotland, apparently.
As a former journalist, I can go on for days here regarding how important Stewart’s statements are and the heroic nature of the stand he is taking, just by merely highlighting the truth. But I will spare you.
But speaking of the Motherwell game . . .
All distractions aside, what I did want to write about today was yesterday’s game at Fir Park, where Celtic got off to its usual meticulous start in the first half, going into the locker room with a meager 1-0 lead, and came out of the gate in the second half like gangbusters, ending the game with a 4-0 score, and a wider goal differential in its seven-point lead in the table.
Rather than do the usual “five takeaways,” I am going to make this brief, sort of.
During the transfer window, we had a flurry of greeters bemoaning the fact that we need [fill-in-the-position-of-your-choice-here] or we are doomed to extinction. This while ignoring that there really was only one blemish on the season so far, on Dec. 29. One misstep that has seen us atop the league virtually all season and accomplishing one of three steps toward the Quadruple Treble so far.
So I am going to assume they will go contentedly silent now. Maybe.
It’s not only the obvious things that set us apart atop the rest of the league, like the tandem of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — twin strikers from separate mothers — working like a well-oiled machine at the front, or how the crowd in the 3-5-2 midfield is seemingly flawless in their ball-handling, moving the ball efficiently up the field. It’s not only Fraser Forster rejecting everything that comes remotely near him in goal.
It’s also in the little things, too: Patryk Klimala and Stephen Welsh both showing promise; the former showing speed and skill in two brief stints at the end of the last two games, and the latter having a good game in his debut. Tom Rogic and Jozo Simunovic getting back up to speed; especially the latter, who has put together back-to-back adequate games as a starter. And then, to add to the returning wounded, Ryan Christie showing some flash in the Motherwell game, starting the Christie to James Forrest to Callum McGregor goal in the second half.
But wait, there’s more. Mohammed Elyounoussi is training and will be back soon, followed by Hatem Elhamed and Jeremie Frimpong. Once we’re back to full strength, we should be unstoppable.
Most importantly, what someone needs to do, or should have done, immediately after the final whistle at Fir Park was to wake up Peter Lawwell and have him sign Forster immediately after the game. For life. Right now. As great as our backups are — and both Scott Bain and Craig Gordon are top-notch, even though we haven’t seen them all season — neither one of them is making these same saves. The Wall is in his own class, in his own league, in his own universe.
Forster needs to be Celtic for life.
The same applies to Edouard as well. Though he’s under contract until the end of the 2021/22 season, he needs to be kept around at all costs. Chris Sutton is absolutely right when he says Edouard is “the closest thing to (Henrik) Larsson I’ve seen in a Celtic jersey.” If anyone on the planet can speak with authority on this topic, it is Sutton.
One more thing
Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien might be getting slagged a bit on their defensive lapses in the Motherwell game, and there is no argument there — Ajer’s missed tackle could have sullied the clean sheet that Celtic came away with had Motherwell scored. But they didn’t. And to their credit, Kris and Chris are always in communication, and you can see them discussing play during the celebration of Edouard’s first goal.
Additionally, Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — clearly have worked hard on consistently being a team of hammer-throwing Steelmen; no secret there. They also happen to be third in the Scottish Premiership table, which makes them first-of-the-also-rans behind Celtic and Glasgow’s other club. They’re third in the table for a reason, and on Wednesday, taking advantage of Celtic’s defensive lapses is probably the main reason why they lead the rest of the pack.
Now, for the rest of the season, let’s focus.
Focus on our positives far, far outweighing our negatives, because they do. Neil Lennon has been nothing short of masterful in handling suitable lineups in the face of multiple injuries. Focus on the two prizes needed to complete the next treble; one cup down, one cup and the league championship to go. Focus on the fact that, despite all these infantile shenanigans going on in Scottish football drawing away everyone’s attention (and we’re not even going close to the disciplinary garbage the SFA is pulling), Celtic is playing its best football in quite some time and, barring any disasters, we should prevail.