When Odsonne Edouard was replaced shortly before the end of this thumpingly impressive victory for the champions, his manager Neil Lennon went to the big forward and declared – we can only presume – his undying love for him.
The Frenchman scored 11 goals in 13 games at the end of last season, and on the restart of competitive football he looked as fresh as a daisy and as lethal as a dagger to the heart.
His three goals were outstanding, but it wasn’t just that. It never is with Edouard. It was his movement, his physicality, his giant footballing brain that stood out. Again.
Hamilton were the opposition on Sunday but you’d now bet the house on him being able to do it at a much higher level. He’s 22 and, goodness, with every game he looks the part. How long he will look it in a Celtic jersey is always a question that will trouble the Glasgow club’s fans, but they can revel in his presence for now. Maybe there’s another season left in him in Scotland. There can’t be any more than that.
The French magician
In the end, it was a rout, but even though Hamilton were buried under a goals mountain, they still gave a decent account of themselves.
That might seem a peculiar thing to say when you’ve been done 5-1, but the visitors created chances, caused some bother, never gave up. It’s just that they came up against a team that had no right to be this slick this early in the season after more than four months without a game that meant anything.
Just before kick-off, Hamilton head coach Brian Rice was asked about the champions’ flag day and the odd circumstances it was taking place in. “It’s not our flag day,” he shot back, in the manner of a guy who was just about to reinforce a message to his players that they weren’t in Glasgow to worship at the altar of their nine-in-in-row hosts.
Hamilton took their lead from their boss’ fighting talk. After 20 minutes of chances, mostly for Celtic but some reasonable ones for the visitors, the aggression spilled over a touch and there was a price to pay.
When Scott Martin cynically tripped the flying Jeremie Frimpong, there was a bit of a contretemps in midfield. Scott Brown mouthed-off at Martin and Martin replied in kind. Brown pointed at him in the style of a player saying, ‘I’ll be seeing you later’ and Martin did the same. There was only ever going to be one winner there.
Hamilton were competitive, their spirit strong, but two minutes after that mini spat between Brown and Martin, Celtic launched an attack that told us much about why they are champions. Edouard’s opening goal was a peach, a length-of-the field beauty that began with Scott Bain, involved a pair of one-twos culminating with a precise cross from Greg Taylor to Edouard and a tap-in for the striker.
It only took seconds, was done at pace and with every contribution right on the money. If Celtic had scored this type of goal two months into a season when they were up to the speed of league football, you’d have called it excellent. The fact that they did it 20 minutes into their first game of the season was something else entirely.
For a man of 6ft 2in, Edouard has a brilliant knack of making himself invisible in moments like that. As Taylor prepared to play the decisive ball, the Frenchman was surrounded by Hamilton defenders and yet alone in a pocket of space. He pointed to where he wanted Taylor to place the pass and when it arrived he duly planted it into the net.
‘We saw difference between Celtic and Rangers’
One goal became two inside 11 minutes and here we saw a difference between Celtic on Sunday and Rangers on Saturday. Rangers were completely dominant at Pittodrie and yet couldn’t add the second goal their play deserved. Celtic did it with ease.
The argument that their job was simpler because Aberdeen represent a tougher nut to crack than Hamilton is moot. In their penultimate game before lockdown, many of the same Hamilton players went to Ibrox and won.
Edouard’s second and Celtic’s third was another that went 100 yards-plus, from Bain and Christopher Jullien and Brown and Frimpong to Ryan Christie and James Forrest, who set up for Edouard. It wasn’t just the speed of movement that did for Hamilton, it was the speed of thought. It was a goal of high class.
The striker’s third began not quite near their own penalty box but certainly in their own half and it was an exercise in split-second ruthlessness. When Edouard put it away it was his 14th league goal in 14 league games, a return that many a terrific Celtic centre-forward of the last few decades would have been envious of. Patryk Klimala, scorer of a smart fifth, has his template on how it’s done.
Lennon spoke glowingly of Edouard in the aftermath. Once he finished describing how good he currently is and how much better he can become over the next few years, he might have been advised to then tamper with the telecommunications at Celtic Park while driving to Lennoxtown and doing the same.
The last thing Lennon will want is for the phone to start ringing, bringing with it the fear of the Frenchman being lured away in this season of all seasons. When you have a player like Edouard, there are twin emotions – joy of having him and concern of losing him. Celtic will focus on the former for now. They’re up and running. Same as before.