Yesterday, when I wrote the article about Tony Watt and his career collapse since leaving Celtic Park, I made sure that I said at the end that if there was some superstar hammering his way through the youth set-up we would surely already know his name.
It’s true and yet it isn’t. I hadn’t heard of Kieran Tierney before he burst into the first team squad, but I’m assured by those who do follow this stuff that he stood out a mile and you have to believe that when you see his career progression.
Over the past couple of months, a few allegedly promising youth players have left our club.
A couple have ended up at Bayern Munich, where they’ll get a sterling football education but not much football, I’d wager. Celtic are being blamed for that as if we’re not doing enough for these kids. This is the country where they abolished the youth league setup to pander, in part, to Ibrox, and yet it’s us who aren’t doing our bit? Come on.
We have graduated as many promising young players into the first team squad over the last few years as any team in the country. But to stay there you have to prove you can hack it, and you have to maintain standards in training and around the club.
We can’t know what goes on at Celtic Park, but I look at the case of Tony Watt as one of those markers for what we need to know.
When he was being “pushed out of the club” as some saw it at the time – and especially when neither Pukki nor Balde looked up to snuff – there was a lot of talk then about how Lennon didn’t value our young footballers.
But Lennon was scathing, at the time, about Watt’s attitude to training and fitness and his general commitment to the sport. In the piece I posted yesterday I linked to an article I’d written three years ago; there’s a quote in that piece from Ewan Murray of The Guardian. He said he spoke to a senior Celtic player of that time about Watt and the player told him “He’ll be driving a bus in ten years.” That says it all to me, and it’s not an uncommon thing.
I worked with a guy once whose son was a bit of a snooker prodigy.
He represented Scotland at youth level, won a few early competitions … he seemed as if he could go on and become a professional. But with anything like that there needs to be an iron will, a dedication that goes beyond wanting to show off a natural talent.
To get where he could have gone would have required constant practice, honing of the skillset, the right mentality, including forgoing all the various options and temptations which are in front of any young person in the modern world.
And that, not any lack of talent with a cue, is why you don’t know his name.
Because he didn’t want it enough, it didn’t become his obsession, his single-minded purpose.
What set Kieran Tierney apart, and you could tell this early, was his laser-beam focus on being one of that handful of talented kids who goes right to the top.
He said as much in that famous interview I mention so often when talking about him.
“Football is my job,” he said and this wasn’t a guy who saw his work as a “punch in and punch out” type of thing … he wanted to be as good at it as he could possibly be and if that meant extra hours in the gym when everyone else was on the golf course so be it.
And not every kid in football has that. Not every promising young player turns out to be a superstar. A lot of people who’ve talked about Watt also talk, in the same way, about Mark Burchill, who scored against Rangers and supposedly bought himself a sports car.
A lot of the angst on social media is because of the kids who’ve gone to Germany; we’re not the only club Bayern have done this to though.
Like a number of other European super-clubs, including Man City, their policy is to snap up as many promising young players from across the continent as they can. These kids are being hoarded, many of them will be on the scrapheap in two years.
The reason this story is doing the rounds right now is because the Scottish press is promoting a story that Blackburn has signed Connor McBride, one of our “youth” strikers. Except he’s 19, and he spent last season on loan in Scottish League 2 … our fourth tier. In sixteen games he scored one goal.
That’s not a striker we were grooming for first team football.
This isn’t some huge loss to us here.
He may have promise, he may have something, but nobody can be sure of that yet … and he’s not shown it before now.
There are rumours, too, about young Dembele being unhappy and wanting more first team football, and for all his talent I am a little bit baffled at anybody who thinks us losing a youth player who’s made a mere handful of first team appearances would be some kind of epochal disaster. We have just won our ninth title in a row … he made no contribution to that success and if he goes, like Feruz did, he’ll make no contribution to our future.
He will have to accomplish something momentous in the sport to make us feel genuinely like we’ve missed out somewhere. Young players getting frustrated about not playing every week is hardly a new development in the game … it’s those who knuckle down, work hard, and make it impossible for the manager to leave them out who go forward.
Look at Frimpong. He was never intended for a first team role this early … he gave the manager a decision to make, and then grabbed the chance with both hands and now it’s like no choice at all. When he plays he lifts the whole side.
We will lose youth players who can’t get into the team … but if they were good enough to be in the team then they would be. If they believed in themselves enough as having that talent they’d stay, they’d work harder, they’d grab the chances when they come.
There are a couple of young players who’ve left Celtic Park in the past decade who have actually gone on to ring the bell elsewhere, and make us notice them … the number of players we graduate through our academy and who actually do have major careers at Celtic Park or elsewhere is vanishingly small and that’s as true of any club as it is with us, or Man City and Bayern and these other sides would not poach the best youths from elsewhere.
This is a science, but it’s not an exact science … there’s no magic formula for getting it right or clubs across the land would be filled with home grown stars.
Our club’s history books will not even mention the names of these guys.
None of them has done a thing for our club which merits all the hysteria over their departures or possible departures. Kieran was a huge loss because he’d already played a huge role. You could see what his absence in the squad meant to it, the hole is still waiting to be properly filled.
We all want to see the next big thing come through the ranks.
Nothing is more pleasurable in football than seeing some kid your club has produced become a hero in the stands, and I lamented that our game doesn’t produce these guys at the back or up front anymore … but we’re the club which will break that cycle and bring those players through.
It will be difficult, because the SFA has made such a mess of youth football reforms that we’re swimming against the tide like never before. In the meantime I’m not going to worry about it.
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