Whilst I have, at times, expressed a great deal of frustration at the Strategy, as it existed before Brendan Rodgers arrived at the club, there is one period during it I’ve never been in doubt about, and which pleased me enormously. It was the period when we signed the best young players in Scotland; Leigh Griffiths, Gary Mackay Steven, Scott Allan, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie. That was the right thing to do.
I daresay Leigh needs no big introduction, no discussion of what he brings to the side. The only argument with him is over whether he should start alongside Dembele every week or not, and that’s a debate we’ll be having for many months. The manager doesn’t think he can play them both; he’s wrong, but we’re going to get good results regardless and Leigh’s game time won’t be limited as there will be plenty of matches – and goals – to come.
Scott Allan and Gary Mackay Steven have failed to click, the first because of limited first team opportunities and the second for reasons I can’t even fathom. I never understood why we signed Scott, and I consider it a real personal tragedy for him that he joined a club where the manager clearly had no plan for him and where that manager’s successor loaned him to a club who aren’t giving him any more time on the pitch than we did.
Scott Allan will be a very good player somewhere, but I was never convinced that it would be here, at Celtic.
I hope for big things for this kid; he deserves them.
To the others, those still at Celtic, nights like this are going to give them their chance.
Gary Mackay Steven won’t be playing because he’s still injured, which is a real shame. He’s an extremely good footballer, in a position we struggled to fill, a kid with all the talent in the world. I couldn’t even imagine him being a failure at Celtic Park, it was simply inconceivable to me.
His injury means Brendan hasn’t even had a chance to see him play. I can’t help but believe he could yet be a star in this team, particularly with the way we’re playing football. He turned down a chance to go back to Dundee Utd on loan because he believes he can make it here. I think he’s right.
But he has a lot of questions to answer to prove it.
There are no such questions over Stuart Armstrong, who I genuinely believe will be the long term replacement for Brown or Bitton, and who’ll go on to captain our club and his country with true distinction. Played through the middle there is no better player in his position in Scotland. I’ve been a fan for years, long before he pulled on the Hoops. His was a signing I was excited about and still am. Nights like tonight are his opportunity to cement a place in the team, with performance no manager anywhere would ignore.
Which brings me to Ryan Christie. If Stuart Armstrong is the best player in his position in Scotland then I would argue that this kid is the most naturally talented young footballer in the country with the exception, perhaps – and only perhaps – of Moussa Dembele himself. You can’t watch Ryan Christie in full flow and doubt that he’s got incredible potential. This kid, let’s not forget, was an established first team regular at Inverness whilst still in his teens.
He was always going to find the step up difficult, especially now with so many fantastic players vying for the same position. He can play wide – where Forrest and Sinclair have cemented their places to the extent Patrick Roberts can’t get in the team – or behind the strikers, a slot which Tom Rogic presently marauds in. That’s why his appearances have been limited so far.
But Christie has the talent to unlock the door. Celtic is lucky to have a kid with that much to offer sitting on the bench, but that’s not a place from which he can grow and become a better player. He needs time on the park for that, and that’s where tonight offers him an opportunity if the manager selects him from the start.
This is an important night for our Young Scots and for others who were already here like Liam Henderson, who I expect to see start this one.
They need to grab it with both hands and show the manager why they deserve his consideration as more than just rotation options.