Last week, I wrote about Liel Abada and how it was Celtic who would decide what became of him and where his future would ultimately lie.
We aren’t going to simply jettison a player because we’re being pushed in that direction, no matter where it comes from. We have to maintain our strength in the face of some of the most scandalous pressure ever brought to bear on us and on one of our players.
I hoped Liel Abada himself would be up to it.
Now, I cannot blame him if he’s feeling it. I cannot hold it against a kid his age if he’s simply not coping well with the awesome weight on his shoulders.
But the club has done all that it can for him, even now allowing him a leave of absence. When that leave is over, we are entitled to his best. We are entitled to feel that having supported and trusted him, that having given him our backing, that we are now entitled to the same.
Put frankly, Liel Abada owes us a debt and if he wants to be remembered here for something other than the soap opera that’s unfolding, he will have to find it in himself to play through the pressure. My sympathy for him does not need to be re-stated.
I completely understand his position. But we need our best footballers on the pitch. We’re in a title race here which has huge implications for this club in the short to medium term. It’s all hands-on deck.
Obviously at a time like this you do want to be understanding and considerate towards what someone else is going through. But let’s be honest here; Abada isn’t the first player to be playing in a faraway land when his people are at war.
Ukrainian players have been living with that reality for two years now.
There are African players all over the continent whose nations have been going through trauma and turmoil for even longer than that.
Furthermore, although Israel was the victim of a shocking act of terrorism on 7 October, they are the aggressors now, blitzing their way through Gaza and ratcheting up an ever-increasing body count.
He may have friends and family in the armed forces, I don’t know, but since they are in body armour and driving tanks or dropping bombs from planes the worst most of them might one day face is a place in the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
So, I find the idea that he needs coddling to be a little absurd.
Where are the boos around the grounds of Scotland whenever he’s on the ball? They don’t come from Celtic fans, that’s for sure, and I’ve not heard them from other supporters either.
You want to know who carries a heavy burden because of where he’s from and what he represents? James McClean, who has been playing through abuse from every quarter – the media, rival supporters, rival players and even some of us his own fans – for more than a decade; he simply shuts it off and gets on with his job playing football.
We cannot ask everyone to be like James McClean – it takes a special kind of fortitude and courage to do what he does – but the least we can expect from players is that they can knuckle down when the going gets tough. Every player gets stick from the stands. Not every player collapses in a heap because they disagree with what’s on a banner, and although said banner was repellent it does not reflect the views or values of the vast majority of our supporters.
If Abada finds Celtic to be an uncomfortable place to be I would suggest he’s allowing the views of a handful of nutjobs to influence his outlook, nutjobs not only in our stands but in the right-wing community in his country at home.
But if I were him, I wouldn’t think that getting out of Celtic is necessarily going to fix that; in case he’s not twigged yet, his country was recently in the International Court accused of “acts of genocide”, so Israel is not the most popular nation on the planet right now, and if he quits Celtic because our fans are pro-Palestinian, he’s in for a shock when he sees how many supporters across Europe are.
A friend of mine suggested that we could have sold him to a team in Turkey, as their window was last to close; that would have been interesting, since their country is the first (and so far only) nation to actually arrest an Israeli footballer for a “hate crime” because he publicly supported the Gaza offensive.
Their government has made their disgust a matter of the public record and the handful of Israeli players there are not finding life particularly easy.
They aren’t finding life particularly easy anywhere.
It’s not just the stands which are filled with pro-Palestinian sentiment.
The dressing rooms of Europe are too, and if the Israeli lobby which is banging the drum for him to get out of this club succeeds, they are sending him out there as a poster boy for their politics, and that’s not going to do him the least bit of good.
Abada needs to get his head screwed on and starting making a contribution to the club again. There’s nothing else for it, and suggestions from the likes of Michael Gannon that we should be willing to cut our losses and accept a modest transfer fee in the summer are patently ridiculous.
Gannon’s entire piece, actually, deserves special contempt.
“This is a young lad in a foreign country, while his homeland is involved in an horrific conflict,” he wrote today in The Record. “And when this kid goes to his work, there are people there with flags of the nation who are at war with his.”
Perhaps Gannon hasn’t noticed, but the Palestinians aren’t the ones waging war. When Abada goes to work, as he puts it, there are people in the stands with flags representing the country some in Israeli, including at the senior levels of government, want to wipe off the map.
This is not a war. It never has been. It is a one-sided slaughter.
It is what we gamers call a “curb stomp battle”, with the side with all the high-tech weaponry indiscriminately massacring the other. Gannon’s comments are not just intellectually dishonest they are grotesquely offensive.
And if that’s how Abada sees this then he needs to go and watch some of the footage of Palestinian kids being dug out of the rubble. If someone can show me the corresponding scenes in Tel Aviv then I might be inclined to agree with Gannon’s risible contention.
“Abada’s big pal Nir Bitton departed a while ago and the former hero – who gave nine years of trophy laden service to the club – ended up getting abused on social media by the same fans who used to love him,” he writes. Which again, is a gross distortion of the facts.
Bitton made the calamitous mistake of attacking our whole club for the actions of a handful of fans, which simply was not on and is what led directly to the attacks on him.
This blog also pointed out the hypocrisy of Bitton’s position as he’s now at a team with one of the most openly discriminatory and racist supports in the whole of Europe. Their abuse of Arab footballers included driving a couple out of their own club.
Abada, whatever anyone might allege, is certainly not being pushed out of Celtic.
Gannon’s entire piece is a mind-bending series of atrocious statements; “Abada is under enough pressure from his homeland and must have felt he can’t be seen to be pandering or playing along with the people who have voiced such loud support for the state who attacked his own.”
The “state” of Palestine did no such thing.
Gannon can hardly write about football in complete sentences, so he ought to have steered well clear of geopolitics, where his colossal ignorance is breathtakingly on display here … he’s just one of a number of our idiotic hacks who without possessing the least knowledge of what they are talking about has attempted to navigate this minefield and only shown off their own stupidity.
The simple fact is that if Abada’s head has been turned it’s because he has allowed it to be. Celtic is not a racist club. We are not an anti-semitic club. If he has been convinced that we are then he is more pliable than I at first believed him to be.
It is not just false, it is a lie.
The Celtic fans have not turned on him. They have embraced him and taken his struggles to heart. We have been supportive, and the suggestion that we’ve done anything else is objectionable. The club itself has bent over backwards to give him all the support it can.
I understand the position he is in, but if he allows himself to be influenced by the views of hard line elements back home who, in my view, are simply using him as a pawn in a much bigger game then that’s his lookout.
But none of us should have to, or be willing, to see Celtic branded an intolerant club or our fan-base as a whole being painted in this ghastly light.
It bears no resemblance to reality and if Abada is daft enough to mistake it as such then he needs a swift re-education. In the meantime, he’s part of our squad and we are entitled to expect that when he’s back at work he puts in a shift.
His position is not unique. Players from hot-spots all over the world know how it feels to be playing whilst war is raging back home.
If Abada feels under pressure it is up to him to resist that and to give back to Celtic what this club has given him. A little bit of loyalty, and a commitment to do his best.
And I hope we get that.