Earlier in the week, I read an excellent article on the career slide of young Tony Watt, an article that had particular provenance in the same few days that another young Academy prospect – Calvin Miller – finally made his long awaited debut in our side.
The article itself was well written, and mourned the attitude issues that have turned a very talented footballer into another of the game’s cautionary tales. And whilst the article suggested that Watt may yet fulfil his enormous potential, it also suggested that the time for him to do so is running out. Indeed, according to the writer one player he described as “senior” within the Parkhead dressing room had said, on the day Watt departed Celtic, that he would be “driving a bus in ten years.”
I get in trouble for this a lot; when I wrote that Kris Boyd would be “stacking shelves” if not for professional football I wasn’t having a dig against those who do. I’ve stacked shelves. I’ve worked in warehouses. Done removals. I even spent a summer working in a fish processing plant, and it was every bit as daunting as it sounds. I spent seven years in the Parks Department, raking leaves in the rain. I am a trade unionist my whole life, and as I meant no disrespect to the guys and girls who do that stuff (where would any of us be without them?) I am sure the “senior Celtic player” meant no disrespect to bus drivers … he should have been more artful about it, perhaps, but what he was saying is simple enough I guess.
Watt lacks the temperament to make it in the sport.
He’s hanging in there, currently at Hearts. But the article, and that comment, are warning shots across the bow of any young player, and Islam Feruz and Liam Miller are two other cases in point; all the talent in the world isn’t enough without the application to make of it everything you can. These guys lack something that can’t be taught any more than that last second decision making that turns a game in an instant can.
The article, which appeared in The Guardian, was written by Ewan Murray and had been posted on the morning of our game against Barcelona at Celtic Park. I had stumbled across it and had found it interesting, and illuminating. Then I read the comments.
Some of them, from people who clearly had an axe to grind, blamed Celtic for “ruining” a fine talent. I was frankly baffled by that, but even more so when I read some other comments which had accused of “squandering” other young Scottish players over the years. The tenor of some of those posts convinced me that they weren’t exactly Celtic minded, but the suggestion nagged at me nonetheless. Could it be true? Had we really helped wreck a “golden generation”?
The easy answer is no. The suggestion is utter nonsense.
This is one of those idiotic, unsupportable, notions that lives in the minds of fans of clubs outside of Glasgow. I’ve not done similar research into what’s happened over at Ibrox – although I suspect the idea would be dismissed much as it is here – but at Celtic Park it is simply not true to say that we have wasted a generation of Scottish players, mainly, according to the comments, by signing them from their clubs and leaving them to rot on the bench.
I went back to 1994 – 22 years back – to see what the truth of this is.
From 1994 – 1997, the Tommy Burns years, we signed a very small number of players from Scottish clubs; David Hannah, Morten Weighorst, Jackie McNamara, John Hughes, Phil O’Donnell and Tosh McKinlay. Of those guys, Morton was not Scottish and we hardly left him to rot on the bench, as the naysayers would claim.
David Hannah was a strange one. He was signed as Tommy’s time was coming to an end, and he was tried in various positions which weren’t in his preferred midfield. Wim, in fact, liked him at right back for a wee while. But it wasn’t to last. He played 28 games in three years and was returned to the club we signed him from; Dundee Utd.
We didn’t waste David Hannah. He arrived at our club during a time of tumult and revolution. He had three managers in his three year spell; this was hardly the calm a young player needed to settle and bed into the team. It was never going to work.
Big John Hughes was signed as stop-gap in central defence, for one season. He played 30 odd games that year and did exactly what he was brought in for, including scoring with a header at Ibrox (late in the day nonetheless; a silencer!). On no account was he “wasted.”
Neither Jackie nor Tosh was wasted at Celtic either. Both were at the club for a good while (Jackie was a veteran of several high profile campaigns, even under O’Neill). Phil was a different matter; he would have been a stalwart of many a Celtic team; our fans loved him, for a start. But he had many injury issues at our club which ate into his game time. When he did play he often looked fit and off-form. He left with Simon Donnelly on freedom of contract.
Under Wim we signed one player from a Scottish club, Darren Jackson of Hibs. He developed a medical condition (water on the brain) which kept him out for a full three months, just after he’d signed. He never scaled the heights but he was never really expected to. He played 29 league games, and scored just 3 goals.
So, that brings us to Jo Venglos and John Barnes, under whom we signed exactly no players from Scottish clubs at all. Wow.
Whilst caretaker manager, Kenny Dalglish signed Paul Shields from Raith Rovers. Did we waste his talent? I don’t know. Did he have any? He never hit the heights at Parkhead (making one appearance from the bench) and never hit them anywhere else either.
Amidst the glittering array of talent, Martin O’Neill signed some duds. And yes, some of them were from Scottish clubs. In fact, he signed a host of players from domestic teams in his time in charge and some were baffling beyond all reason.
From Livingston, he purchased Sanchez Broto and David Fernandez. One of those signings panned out; Broto was a very good stop gap keeper when required. Fernandez, who cost us a cool £1 million, had shown flashes of football genius whilst at Livi. At Celtic Park the only magic seemed to be that which he had used to get the move.
From Hibs Martin bought Didier Agathe and Ulrich Laursen. He turned Agathe into a flying wing-back for a season, making him seem genuinely capable of great things. They weren’t to be. Laursen was brought in to play left-back instead of at his native central defence. He was a very decent performer most of the time, and famously played in Seville.
He purchased Mo Sylla from St Johnstone, and that was truly baffling although he did have one notoriously majestic display – against Basle in the Champions League qualifier, where he scored a peach – to write about. Nevertheless, he was a disappointing signing.
And of course, none was a Scot.
Martin signed two Scottish players, and both from Scottish clubs, in his tenure; the first was Rab Douglas, from Dundee. We never ruined the former bricklayer’s football career; the miracle was that he ever had one at the highest level and it was Celtic who gave him that. He was responsible for about as many disasters on the field as I can count, but turned in many fine performances as well, if we’re being honest. Ruined him? Not a chance.
The other player was Stephen Pearson, from Motherwell. His career, like that of Phil O’Donnell, was laid low by injuries. We certainly didn’t derail his career in any way, shape or form.
Which brings me to Gordon Strachan, who signed a slew of players from Scottish clubs, including a number of talented local players. Was there waste amongst them?
Let’s take the non-Scot’s first. There were two. Kris Killen and Scott McDonald, one a New Zealander and the other an Aussie. Killen was one of those signings that just doesn’t work out. He was a number of players Gordon signed to replace the likes of Sutton and Hartson, without the requisite funds to bring in a top class replacement.
Scott McDonald was an excellent signing, and scored goals against Rangers and in the Champions League against top teams. I was sad to see him go when he did. By no stretch of the imagination was that a waste, either for him or for us.
And as odd as that is, there was even less waste amongst the Scottish players he brought, save for perhaps two, the first of which was Mark Brown of Inverness, brought in as a backup keeper. He hardly featured and was pretty disappointing on the occasions when he did.
Other than him, there’s only Derek Riordan himself. We’ll get back to him.
The others were successful. All of them. There were Mark Wilson and Barry Robson, from Dundee Utd. There was Paul Hartley and Steven Pressley from Hearts. Finally, from Hibs, there was Gary Caldwell, Riordan himself and our current captain Scott Brown.
No waste there. But one waster.
Derek Riordan is the reason Derek Riordan’s career hit the skids. He suffered from the same affliction as Watt and others before him; he got ideas about being better than he was. More to the point, Derek Riordan couldn’t break away from old haunts and old habits. A mate of mine told me, in the year before he signed for us, that he was wasting his career by hanging out with the boot-boys and the guys from his old neighbourhood. That he didn’t have the professionalism and commitment required to make it big in the game. I thought Celtic might change that, might get him off that course, but sometimes it’s too late for a player.
Tony Mowbray was next up, and he signed two Scottish based players; Zaluska, who was signed to be a backup keeper and proved to be nothing else, and Paul Slane, who we signed as a highly rated kid from Motherwell. He suffered a devastating injury early in his Celtic career and never fully got over it. He was last heard from on Twitter, after a disastrous trip to Amsterdam, about which the less said the better. His career slide was not our fault.
Neil didn’t much go in for domestic based players, but that’s not to say he didn’t sign any. In fact, there were four during his tenure; Charlie Mulgrew, Tony Stokes, Dylan McGeough (after his contract at Rangers expired!) and a certain Tony Watt from Airdrie.
Where did we waste any of those players?
Which brings us to Ronny, and only “proof” however intangible it is, for this theory. Because he did enjoy signing players from Scotland, and one or two were a mystery.
Let’s start with the obvious one; Scott Allan. That’s a signing that was so out of the ordinary and hard to understand that I promised to eat an entire cement mixer of humble pie if it happened. I still to this day don’t know what that was about; sure as Hell, Ronny didn’t fancy him. The same mystery surrounds Nadir Ciftci, who’s signing was every bit as baffling.
I would argue that we didn’t “waste” those players. They were mistakes. Managers and clubs are still entitled to those, right?
Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay Steven were both excellent signings and Armstrong is proving it. I still think his buddy will do well for us, and the manager will have a chance to see him now that he is fit and well again. He has great natural ability, and an eye for goal.
Which leaves only Ryan Christie, and although it’s taken him time to settle the idea that we’ve set his career back at the club is arrant nonsense.
I would also refute that we’ve wasted the talents of the numerous young players who’ve come through our own youth ranks over the years. We’ve given first team football to a number of them that’s beyond counting, and a few have become first team regulars in short order.
But the sad fact is that we haven’t produced enough of the real quality players who would have made our substantial investment in development worthwhile. For all that, a handful have gone on to big, big things and a number beyond counting have gone on to have careers in the game at a host of clubs in Scotland, England and abroad.
This one doesn’t stack up, not even close.
A mere handful of the players we’ve bought from Scottish clubs – and none of them knocked back our money, do you notice that? Motherwell used the cash from the Phil O’Donnell deal to build one of their stands; at today’s prices that would have cost us in excess of £3 million – have wound up sitting on the bench or in the stands after they were purchased, and in the majority of those cases the over-riding factor was injury.
No, this one is for people who talk without thinking, without being in possession of the facts, people who see Celtic as some kind of malign influence on the game. There are a lot of them out there, and not just at Ibrox. In too many parts of the country the impact our club has had on football has been deliberately misrepresented for too long.
This is just one example of that, but an easily disproved one.