As a relatively new Celtic fan — only four seasons still makes me a neophyte in the grand scheme of Hoops history — one of the things that, at least to me, has always ranged from a mild mystery to a downright conundrum is the club’s assigning of player numbers.
This observation first occurred to me while I was still grieving the departure of Mikael Lustig, who had sadly moved on from Celtic to KAA Gent, before ending up now at AIK in Stockholm. His number 23 went immediately to a new acquisition at the time, Boli Bolingoli. I thought it was odd that the number of a beloved Celt would be transferred so quickly, but I guess it is par for the course in the football world.
You move on, and your number is up for grabs, apparently. It’s as simple as that.
Or is it? Is there more to it than meets the eye, a certain metaphysical reason behind a player ending up wearing the number of a legend?
We have a new number 8 who replaces a recently departed number 8 — departed in a football sense, that is. Little has been said about Kyogo Furuhashi inheriting Scott Brown’s number. On the surface there may seem to be few similarities between the two, but if you look back the Hoops legend from Dunfermline and the new kid from Nara may be more alike than meets the eye, primarily and most importantly, both are quick and good with the ball. Also, it can be argued that Brown inherited the number from another Celtic legend, Paul McStay, and Brown admirably filled the legacy of that Hoops great.
We could go on and on about this, because examples here are plentiful: Liel Abada’s number 11 runs through the scenic route of the retraced steps of Scott Sinclair back to Bobby Lennox, while the number 5 has a magical and mystical significance insofar as the last player to wear it, Jozo Simunovic, scored after 67 minutes in a game honouring the greatest number 5 to play in green-and-white, Billy McNeill.
Then there’s the iconic number 7: Last worn with historical significance by the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson, but with a lineage that goes back to the greatest of all Celts, Jimmy Johnstone.
Today, photos of new Celtic acquisition Josip Juranovic have the new player wearing number 88, that of a Celtic historic goal-scoring magician, Gary Hooper. During his time with Celtic, Hooper — who is still playing in Australia — was an exciting player to watch, and it remains to be seen whether the magic of the number rubs off on the Croatian defender joining Celtic from Legia Warsaw.
This magic sometimes transfers — Brown to Furuhashi seems, at least so far, to be proof of that.
But sometimes it doesn’t — Lustig to Bolingoli being Exhibit A here, to say nothing of Albian Ajeti’s number 10, with a pedigree that spans the timeline through Moussa Dembele, Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, John Hartson, Tommy Burns, and Bertie Auld.
You can say it’s only a number, but fate, superstition and the football gods may have other intentions. No one knows for sure.
Nevertheless, on Thursday we have the second leg against Alkmaar Zaanstreek — AZ to the cool kids — away in the Netherlands, bringing with us a 2-o advantage from last week’s Europa League match at Parkhead.
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.
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.
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.
First things first: Jonny Hayes is one of those players that makes a club overwhelmingly better by his mere presence. He’s what we call in the U.S. a “lunchpail player,” the kind of player who, without flash or fanfare, shows up to work, clocks in, and goes above and beyond the job asked of him in any given game.
So when he posted an Instagram message saying that he’s moving on, the Celtic faithful rightfully is mourning his departure and wishing him well in his future endeavours. My wish would have been that his “future endeavours” would have been in green-and-white, but . . . .
“Football at times brings tough decisions,” Hayes writes in his post, “so I’d like to thank you for all the support received along the way!”
Most of the memories relayed on social media involve Hayes’ goal against The Rangers™ earlier this season to put the game out of reach, as the picture speaking a thousand words above outlines. That was completely sublime, of course, but there was so much more to Jonny’s contributions to Celtic since he came to the Hoops from Aberdeen.
Hayes will always be remembered for his leave-it-all-out-on-the-pitch style of play, where he gave his all every game. There’s nothing more you can ask of an athlete, and he always delivered. Solid play against Lazio. A potential goal-saving tackle at Rennes. The list is quite long.
But what I like to remember Hayes for — and this seems inconsequential to most — is how that brand of play was typified in his throw-in at Hamilton back in February that led eventually to the 2-1 winner by Christopher Jullien. Hayes literally vaulted the signage on the Hamilton sideline, retrieved the ball, quickly threw in to Callum McGregor, who passed it back to Hayes, and then Hayes passed forward to Ryan Christie, who crossed it to Jullien, who put it in the back of the net.
One of the advantages — probably the only advantage — of living 5,000 miles west of Glasgow is that the transfer window closes here before the sun goes down. Having the advantage of still being awake and usually on my third cup of coffee for the day, we will see if Celtic makes any further moves as the clock strikes 12 in Glasgow while striking the bewitching hour of 4 p.m. in California, but by all indications it looks like we’re staying put.
And after seeing the deadline pass, with or without any further additions and without any likely departures, I can go have dinner.
Yes, apparently we stay put, much to the dismay of some greeting fans who insist on Celtic spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave on players just for the sake of signing someone — anyone — to fill in for adequate players who are coming off injuries and soon to return to the pitch.
I’m with Neil Lennon: “We have a good squad, decent depth, and once we get a few injuries back we will be fine.”
Contrary to what the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits might think, Lennon is right. Rather than acting like we’re on the brink of relegation, they might want to look at the bigger picture.
While there was also hair-on-fire panic during the last transfer window, in the end it was one of Celtic’s best in recent history. One can hardly make an argument against the fact that Fraser Forster, Hatem Elhamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi and Jeremie Frimpong have made a significant impact on the club. Even Moritz Bauer and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo — both unfairly criticized by some lately in the questionable objectivity of the Scottish football press, let alone the cesspool known as social media — are decent players who have shown they can contribute.
Leaving out the two new additions (we’ll get to them in a minute), Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffith are turning into a tag-team scoring machine. Greg Taylor rightfully may have bought himself a start in future games with his play against the Aints — sorry, the Saints — on Wednesday. Olivier Ntcham, who many think is packing his bags, is showing no signs of leaving while playing remarkably in the midfield. Scott Brown has been shutting down critics who say he has lost a step by having a banner year that defies his age. Until injured, Ryan Christie was unstoppable. I could go on until you are lulled into a coma of boredom, but the fact remains that the team is solid despite injuries.
But speaking of injuries: Christie? Back. Elhamed? Back soon. Elyounoussi? Back soon, hopefully. Jeremie Frimpong? Also back soon hopefully. All of them are joining Jozo Simunovic and Tom Rogic, now back from long-term injuries and getting back into form for the rest of the season.
So, who climbed in the window during this transfer cycle? Let’s take a look at the pair who joined the club this month.
I have a friend here in the San Lorenzo Valley who is a huge Bayern Munich fan, and he’s pretty much plugged in to European football in general and Polish strikers in particular. He speaks highly of Patryk Klimala, dubbing him “Klimalendowski,” after Bayern’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.
All joking aside, Polish Paddy’s 10 minutes against St. Johnstone did little to show his abilities — and that was outlined in Sandman’s ratings of the St. Johnstone game — but in those 10 minutes, he showed some speed and crossing skills in a cross that, had it not been slightly deflected by a panicked Saints defender, could have been his first assist. In addition, Klimala rejected a ball from the near post in the Saints’ final corner in injury time, saving the clean sheet for the Hoops.
In his introduction at his signing, Klimala said that signing for Celtic is a big step up in his career, and he insisted he is ready to prove his worth. If this brief introduction is an indication of what Klimala can do, then his wide range of talents are a welcome addition to the club.
Incidentally, he takes the number 11, which was worn quite succesfully by the recently departed — OK, a little dramatic, recently departed to Preston North End, that is — Scott Sinclair.
First things first: Apologies to The Proclaimers (and sing along if you know it) . . .
“My heart was broken, my heart was broken, Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .“
While it may be too early to purloin the Hibs’ song for our own purposes, Ismaila Soro arrives to bolster Celtic’s midfield. The Ivorian signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Hoops after a multi-year stint with Israeli club Bnei Yehuda.
The gaffer has high praise for Soro. In a recent interview, Lennon said, “He’ll bring a bit of quality and support in the midfield area. He’s had a good career so far and has played in some tough leagues. He’s come from a team who, while they’re not the top team in Israel, he’s stood out by a distance with his performances there.”
Spending a hot Wednesday morning trying to stay cool here in Central California was made even more difficult — in the best possibly way, mind you — when Celtic turned up the heat on Wednesday evening in Glasgow, when the Bhoys in Green cruised to a 5-0 win over Partick Thistle at Paradise.
Bayo scored, Tom Rogic scored, Olivier Ntcham scored twice and Scott Sinclair came off the bench to score. In his first league game, Jeremie Frimpong gets the Man of the Match. You can read a recap of the game here (and for the legendary Sandman’s report, the PG version, click here), and you can continue to the next paragraph and beyond for five takeaways from Wednesday’s game, like . . .
1. The Wizard goes the distance
Tom Rogic came into the game on Sunday against Kilmarnock, seeing his first action after a long absence due to injury, and was not a factor. Some (not me) said that he looked lethargic, but all I remember from Sunday was gritting my teeth after he was taken down by a hard tackle late in the game.
Well, the Wizard came back for a full 90-minute shift against Partick Thistle and scored at the 46-minute mark. That’s fantastic news for Celtic supporters everywhere, giving Neal Lennon more options at midfield. Hopefully we see more of Rogic during the course of the season.
2. MOTM is not Olivier Ntcham?
Don’t get me wrong: I love this kid. Jeremie Frimpong had a storybook start to his professional career on Wednesday, starting his first game for Celtic and playing remarkably well. But with Olivier Ntcham scoring twice — the second goal a real scorcher, too — doesn’t he at least deserve honorable mention?
OK, I get it. Olivier Ntcham’s snub for MOTM on Wednesday could very well be his punishment for acting like a jerk earlier this season, when he was looking to play elsewhere. Fine. Lesson learned. Now that this is out of our system, we can only hope that he plays every game from here on in like he did on Wednesdsay, and racks up Man of the Match honors going forward.
3. More Hayes, more Sinclair, more subs
If having an overabundance of choices can create headaches for a gaffer, then someone please hand Neil Lennon this bottle of migraine tablets. With all the talent that Celtic has, it has got to be a chore to pick the right lineups and have them firing on all cylinders in every game, let alone knowing when to pull a player and replace him with another (and Lenny addresses this a bit in his post-game interview).
So thank God we’ve got such remarkable talent on the bench. Although Jonny Hayes started on Wednesday — and a successful argument can be made for starting him more often — he is usually a boost off the bench, as he showed against the Rangers at Ibrox a few weeks ago. Scott Sinclair, who lately has been keeping the pine warm (sorry, a baseball expression), showed his talent of games past after coming into the game on Wednesday, and there’s no reason why he can’t be a weapon off the bench, unless of course he finds his form from seasons past and breaks into the starting 11.
4. How about Bayo and Edouard up front?
Now that we’ve gotten a good look at Bayo on Wednesday, could I be the only one who finds the potential of both Bayo and Odsonne Edouard playing up front, at the same time, a source of sheer ecstacy? I mean, seriously — who in the Scottish Premiership could stop this dynamic duo? Oh, and one more thing . . .
5. It’s not ‘Patrick’ Thistle, you idiot!
Just hand me that pointy hat that says “DUNCE” on it and I’ll go ahead and make my way to that seat in the corner of the classroom. For the last few days, in social media and in correspondence, I have to confess that I have been writing “Patrick Thistle” instead of the club’s actual name, which is Partick Thistle. My apologies to the club, and I’ll do my best Emily Litella impersonation: “Never mind.”
[75 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: Low.]