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!

Wrapped in Clover (Films)

The Celtic segment of the documentary series “The Fans Who Make Football, ” broadcast on Al Jazeera, pulls you in immediately, right from the start: “Celtic’s home ground is in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded by Irish immigrants. So our story begins in . . . Albania.”

After that lead-in, how could you not want to watch?

Clover Films has done a remarkable job in this documentary series, with each episode appearing a few times a week on Al Jazeera (it is probably available on cable, but I don’t have it, so I watch on aljazeera.com), before becoming available on the documentary section of the Al Jazeera site.

The Celtic story begins in Albania thanks to the current Albanian president, Ilir Meta, being a Celtic fan and how he became one. It then pivots to the worldwide range of support Celtic has garnered over time. Without giving away spoilers, it deals with sectarianism and the symbiosis of football and politics that makes Celtic, well, Celtic.

Two items of special note are Lisbon Lion John Fallon, who recounts probably my all-time favorite Celtic story: Bertie Auld breaking into “The Celtic Song” — with the rest of the team joining in — in the tunnel before the 1967 European Cup match while their Inter Milan counterparts looked on curiously. And the segments in the film about Jay Beatty, whose childhood and adolescence seem intertwined with Celtic, are also very detailed and moving.

Clover Films has done a few documentaries in this series that are worth watching, as in “put down what you’re doing right now and watch this.”

The segment on FC St. Pauli is another gem, outlining the club’s history from one of the Nazi’s darlings in the ’30s to the paragon of antifascism it is today. Like Celtic, it paints a picture of a club with a worldwide reach due to their principles.

In addition, there are several Celtic “Easter eggs” in the FC St. Pauli documentary: Early on, there is a crowd shot where the fans are singing something to the tune of ” ’67 in the Heat of Lisbon,” the head of security in one shot is wearing a St. Pauli CSC cap, there is a group of Scots at the FC St. Pauli game talking about the club’s politics and how it aligns with theirs (and one of them is wearing a Celtic/FCSP scarf), and in the shot of the New York bar of St. Pauli supporters watching the Hamburg Derby where the group is singing “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”

There is one segment about Liverpool FC which shows how the club — and the city — overcame adversity over the years to rise to excellence, going in great detail about both the Thatcher administration’s hostility toward the city as well as the Hillsborough incident which took the lives of 96 fans.

Of special note is the documentary on Indonesia’s PSS Sleman. As Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, it is remarkable that women are in the forefront of the Sleman ultras, not to mention some of the demands they have made to the club to make it more fan-friendly to the point of holding boycotts.

Again, put down what you’re doing right now and watch each of these. You can thank me later.

And thank you, Clover Films, for a remarkable series.

One more thing

There’s been a tsunami of commentary about Neil Lennon’s departure, and rather than contribute a thimble of water in this giant wave, I would only like to add that the most tragic thing about the whole oredeal — yes, even more tragic than losing the 10 — is that Lennon’s career with Celtic might be defined by the dumpster fire this season has become, rather than being defined by his playing career and his successes in getting Celtic a hefty amount of silverware as a manager. I’d like to be wrong about this, and I would thank Lenny for his overall remarkable service to the club.

And personally I’d like to see Steve Clarke get the job once the season ends. Kilmarnock and the Scottish National Team have punched above their weight under his leadership, and it’s something we might need to get the club righted.

Saturday with the Sheep again. Mon the Hoops!

Thank you, Socceroos

The Bhoys in Green playing for their respective countries during the International Break.

International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.

Maybe I’ll sign up for Netflix.

In the past, the International Break has involved watching a lot of YouTube videos of Celtic, like the ’67 European Cup Finals or Henrik Larsson’s Greatest Celtic Hits or All the Celtic Goals by Shunsuke Nakamura (and I never, never get tired of watching his first goal against Rangers where he made Allan McGregor look like an idiot). Now that I have Celtic TV, maybe I can dig around there for some uncovered gems.

Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.

But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.

Tom Rogic, the Wizard of Oz.

I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.

Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]