Looking ahead to next season

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.

New manager

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!

Now, that’s more like it

Well, that’s better: There are few things better than a 4-0 drubbing of Kilmarnock to lift the spirits and put a spring in your step on the way to Saturday’s match at Celtic Park against Motherhell . . . sorry, Motherwell.

Of particular note in Tuesday’s game — outshining Scott Brown’s remarkable header, as well as both Odsonne Edouard and Albian Ajeti finally finding their groove — was the play of transfer acquisition Jonjoe Kenny and Celtic Reserves promotee Stephen Welsh. Kenny, an unknown factor going into the game, showed great potential for the full 90, while Welsh continues to improve as he gains playing time with the first team.

Welsh even acquired a unique nickname, courtesy of The Celtic Star’s Sandman, who rates players on a game-by-game basis, and whose ratings should be part of your post-game experience whether on The Celtic Noise forum or from The Star.

Rather than bemoan the fact that the Celts should have been playing like this months ago, as some are, I will take this victory and move on to Saturday. Hopefully they can do the same to Motherwell at Celtic Park.

But wait, there’s more . . .

While Kenny was the only move to Celtic FC over the transfer window, with a couple of key players leaving and woefully mentioned in previous posts, the Celtic FC Women’s team was active in the transfer window, losing three players but gaining four others.

Stanford’s Mariah Lee joins the Ghirls in Green.

Of special note to us in California is the Ghirls in Green’s acquisition of former Stanford University forward Mariah Lee. Lee, formerly of the Seattle-based OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League (and a club, formerly called Seattle Reign, which is now under the umbrella of Olympique Lyonnaise . . . pun completely intended), made her own mark for the Stanford Cardinal, and was a teammate during her college days of current U.S. Women’s Team phenom Catarina Macario.

Fun fact: Lee is a concert violinist.

Green joins Jacynta Galabadaarchchi, Izzy Atkinson, and Anna Filbey on the Celtic Women’s team. Australian Galabadaarchchi joins Celtic from Napoli, Ireland’s Atkinson joins Celtic from Shelbourne in Dublin, and Wales’ Filbey comes to Celtic via Tottenham Hotspur.

Welcome to the Hoops, Ghirls!

Oh My (Woeful) Days!

Originally, I had planned another topic today, but then I got the news with my coffee this morning that Jeremie Frimpong is now off to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, a league where he doesn’t have to deal with hammerthrowing nobodies like Hibernian’s Alex Gogic and Kilmarnock’s Alan Power.

Jeremie Frimpong may have fewer days like this in the Bundesliga playing for Bayer Leverkusen.

And while an £11.5 million payday is nothing to sniff at — much of that maybe ending up with Man City — Frimpong’s departure is yet another sad note to a woeful season for the Bhoys. However, while I will miss Frimpong’s positive attitude and speed down the line, it permits me to wrap this into the intended topic of today, which is how youth is not being served at Celtic.

Every transfer window, the clubs and fans alike go window shopping for high-pricetag players when, for all intents and purposes, most — if not all — of the solutions to our needs are ready and able to go from the Reserves. The Colts are stacked with talent that can serve the first team well — Conor Hazard is already Exhibit A here, and Stephen Welsh has already made his mark on the first team and should play more going forward — and why we don’t utilize them is a mystery.

It’s more than a mystery, though. It’s a tragedy.

And herein lies what I was going to write about before the 20-year-old Frimpong’s departure proved the point I had planned to make. Yesterday, the ’67 Hail Hail podcast nailed it on their broadcast dealing with why Celtic youth may be on the road and not returning home.

So let’s take a look at some of those Reserves that should be up on the first team and who sadly may not be because they’ll be off playing somewhere else.

Karamoko Dembele

Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably not.

One of the more frustrating aspects of this is that Karamoko Dembele can make an impact for Celtic given the chance. The thing is, he hasn’t been given that chance. Those handful of times he has played for the Hoops, he has shone. Now it looks like after his contract is up around summertime, reports have him off to France, either to Lille or Nantes. Now that Frimpong is gone, Dembele would be a great addition to replace the departing Dutchman’s speed on the wing, but it looks like we may not get a chance to see that.

Cameron Harper: A New York Red Bull next season?

Cameron Harper

Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully, but maybe not.

As a Californian, this one is personal for me. Cameron Harper’s artesian depth of talent, forged in the Southern California football hotbed of Costa Mesa’s Pateadores Soccer Club and refined and sharpened in the Celtic Reserves, is custom-made for Celtic success. While some thought he had a lackluster game against Hibernian a few weeks ago — I didn’t, since he was playing out of position — Harper has all the tools to be a success on the pitch for whichever club he plays for. That, of course, should be Celtic. But interestingly, rumors say the New York Red Bulls of the MLS also think so, and these same rumors have him returning stateside. This would be a two-edged sword for me: The upside is that I would get to see him play in person when the Red Bulls come West, but the downside is that he’d lose the chance to excel as a Celt, showing Glasgow and the world that Americans can play with the best.

Armstrong Okoflex

Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Hopefully.

Like Harper, Armstrong Okoflex has an abundance of talent that has not gone unnoticed elsewhere. Why he wasn’t put on a loan like Jonathan Afolabi — who we’ll get to in a minute — is a head-scratcher, because with regular playing time, Okoflex can be a high-quality player for Celtic. But we may never know because he has already caught the eye, according to reports, of two Serie A clubs in Italy, Torino and Bologna. Understandably, if Okoflex can get regular playing time elsewhere, he’d be foolish not to take it. But it would be detrimental to Celtic to invest all the coaching and training for Okoflex, and the players mentioned above, and not get a quality player in the Hoops for it.

Jonathan Afolabi has made an impact for Dundee FC while on loan to the club from Celtic. Hopefully he can bring that back when rejoining the Hoops.

Jonathan Afolabi

Should he stay? Yes. Will he? Probably.

I always thought that Jonathan Afolabi was a good signing for Celtic, and I thought it was a good idea to get him playing time on loan elsewhere to hone his skills. He has done exactly that on loans first to Dunfermline Athetic early in 2020 and to Dundee FC more recently. Hopefully when he returns to the mother club he will be the quality player we all thought he’d be. For the moment, there is no one actively on the radar pursuing his services, so that’s a good sign he’ll probably stay in the Hoops once he returns.

The moral of the story . . .

It’s pretty clear that Celtic have an overabundance of talent in the Reserves. Why they aren’t being utilized better is a concern, but it’s something that can be corrected going forward. If this season is officially a dumpster-fire throwaway — and I don’t think it is, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is — then perhaps it’s time to give the Colts a run on the first team to get them the playing time they need to flourish.

Meanwhile, it’s Hamilton tomorrow at Paradise.

The Kids Are All Right

I woke up early on Sunday morning because a couple of hours before the historic Celtic match at Hampden, FC St. Pauli played Fortuna Dusseldorf — we won’t go there at this time, except to say it was not pretty — and my mood going into the game with Hearts was not exactly chipper.

Then the starting lineups came out on social media. I expected Scott Brown to start in place of Ismaila Soro, but I kept tripping over the goal choice. Conor Hazard. You want the kid to be between the sticks in what is possibly the most historic game of the 21st century?

Clearly we do. And this is why they pay Neil Lennon, and not me (who would have gone with Scott Bain), the big bucks. Hazard did remarkably well in goal for the Celts, as he has since he has been brought up to the first team.

History: Celtic win the quadruple treble at Hampden on Sunday.

There is a lot to be said for the accomplishment of a quadruple treble, and that will be written by writers and pundits with a lot more experience than me. But something about today’s game spoke volumes to what could be a changing of the guard at Paradise; the historic Celtic game where not only do we acknowledge the tremendous gravity of winning four trebles in a row, but also it was a game where we look back and say that youth was served.

It speaks to an issue that I hope will be explored further in the upcoming weeks as we head into the 2nd half of the season: Bringing up some of the other Celtic Reserves to play on the first team. We all saw today that the dues Hazard paid toiling in the Reserves is now paying dividends for the first team.

Hazard is not alone in that department, and the list of worthy Reserves is long: Armstrong Oko-Flex, Cameron Harper, Karamoko Dembele, Jonathan Afolabi, Scott Robertson, Kerr McInroy, and on and on. Along with Hazard, one other Colt who has made a mark on the first team this season in Stephen Welsh, and each of these aforementioned players listed arguably are in the starting blocks of a successful career for the Hoops.

They’ve all shown what they can do in the Reserves and in loan spells with other clubs. It’s time to put them to work for the Hoops.

Hazard has punched his ticket on the Celtic history express, and hopefully he will translate this huge accomplishment into a successful Celtic career in goal. Seeing his performance in the last several games, no doubt he will. But the quality of his play Hazard has shown he has set the table for others in the Reserves to follow suit.

If you’re like me, you’re still basking in the glow of this monumental feat: the quadruple treble. So while I process this, I may have more to say about this amazing feat itself in an upcoming post.

Unlike me, though, you’re probably not still apologizing to your neighbors for waking them up so early on a Sunday morning — remember, I’m 8 hours behind Glasgow here — with a rousing chorus of “I Just Can’t Get Enough” after Kris Ajer’s final penalty, but that’s another story for another time.

Let’s pick up this momentum Wednesday as we get back to the league games. Mon the Hoops!

Celtic AGM Special, and more

The original plan was to concurrently post my interview with Auldheid at the advent of the AGM here on the pages of this blog. But then I thought, why reinvent the wheel? So I decided instead to urge you to look at The Celtic Star version linked above, rather than reprinting it verbatim here on these pages.

You’re welcome.

Make sure you have a look at the story linked above. The palace intrigue inside the walls of the Celtic boardroom is definitely worthy of a BBC miniseries, at the very least.

And thank you, Auldheid, for taking the time once again this year to do the interview. I would imagine it is a painstaking task to explain the situation to this fan — 5,000 miles away — on a level that can be understood by a five-year-old or a golden retriever. More importantly, thank you for all you do to keep Celtic on the right track and on the level.

My heart was broken . . .

With a hat-tip to both The Proclaimers and Hibernian, one of the more humorous memes to come out of the more than excellent play of Ismaila Soro yesterday against Lille is that an artist will take four pictures of Soro and match them up with the first couple of lines from “Sunshine on Leith.”

Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .

Laughter aside, there were a plethora of positives to come out of the Lille game, and Soro’s play was one of them. While they’re worth their room on this earth, Ewan Henderson and Conor Hazard both showed what Celtic can harvest in the care and feeding of the Reserves team, and it will not be long before both are up with the First Team.

Unfortunately, Cameron Harper didn’t get a chance to join the party on the pitch yesterday, but his time will come. All these youngsters — as well as players like Stephen Welsh, Armstrong Oko-Flex, Karamoko Dembele, and Jonathan Afolabi — have bright futures as first-teamers.

And then there’s David Turnbull, who had what can only be described as a breakout game for the Hoops against Lille. We saw what he could do with Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, and now it looks like he’s earned a spot as a starter. It prompted one Celtic fan on Twitter to post a lyric change to a Christmas favourite: “This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to David Turnbull.”

George Michael couldn’t have said it better.

Saving Private Frimpong

It’s pretty clear that the hammerthrowers — and there are many — who populate the ranks of the Scottish Premiership’s also-rans seem to have a laser-like focus on harming Jeremie Frimpong. As unfortunate as it might be, that seems to be all we can expect from some of the halfwits who have reached the apex of their football careers as goons for all-but-forgettable clubs.

That said, yesterday’s mugging of Frimpong — who ironically was celebrating his 20th birthday yesterday — seemed to be the final straw.

About 11 minutes into the match against Lille yesterday, Jeremie Frimpong was sent crashing over the touchline and into the ad boards. As usual, there was no call on the play.

Seriously, officials, what the hell? All season (and last season, too) this had me seeing red. What I would like to see from SPFL referees — you know, the guys on the pitch less-than-ironically sponsored by Specsavers — is more red, as in red cards on players willfully out to harm the bhoy, and others on the pitch for that matter.

Is that too much to ask?

One more thing

It bears mentioning that while Soro, Turnbull, Henderson, Hazard, et al., all had a great game yesterday, Diego Laxalt has been pretty consistent in the “good” department in his level of play over the last several games. With a Ryan Christie-like depth of nonstop energy, the Uruguayan has fit in perfectly with the Celts so far.

When he first came to the club, I was a little annoyed by fans who made fun of his hair and glasses. I said that if he works out and becomes a mainstay for the club, I would get cornrows — as much as I could on a balding pate — to go with the glasses I have worn pretty much all my life. Now, Diego’s play has me asking my barber how to go about doing this (Step one: Let what hair I have left grow out . . .).

We’ll see how this pans out. Film at 11.

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 . . . .

Focus, focus, focus

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.

To recap:

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.

You’re welcome.

The Dynamic Duo: Leigh Griffiths hugs Odsonne Edouard after Edouard’s opening goal at the 9-minute mark at Fir Park. Celtic went on to beat Motherwell 4-0.

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.

Focus, focus, focus.