The sale of Adam Brooks yesterday is going to start a lot of chatter all over again about us not providing a path to our young players into the first team squad. Brooks was an excellent prospect, and that he’s gone to Caledonia Thistle shows that he’s got something about him and that a fellow Scottish club was willing to take a shot on him.
The same noise will surround our decision to let Adam Montgomery go down to Fleetwood, albeit only on loan. The future of Mikey Johnston will be decided in the next few weeks; I have to be honest and say I’m not as optimistic as I was.
We get stick for this stuff all the time, from the likes of Ewan Murray and others who accuse us of buying big money players at the expense of our own academy stars. It’s not true. If we want to keep moving forward as a club we need players who are good enough to play first team football. These armchair experts do not know what those inside our club do, the scouts and the coaches and the analysts. If Brooks was in that echelon he’d still be at Celtic.
Do these critics of ours really believe that we would spend big money buying players if there were people in our academy who we thought could make the grade instead?
The handful who are considered good enough find their way to the first team eventually. I would love to think that the next 30 goal Celtic striker is in our youth ranks right now … if he is we’ll know it long before he gets to the first team squad. Everyone will be talking about him.
There is a moment for every young player when their development either accelerates suddenly or stalls completely. There are footballers who make it to that level having done everything right and then find they can’t take the next step. Celtic produces more players who go on to have professional careers than any other club in the country … we don’t get credit for that, only sniped at for not bringing enough of them through to our squad.
So-called “Golden Generations” are rarer than most people are aware. Even clubs which spend absolute fortunes on their academy teams don’t produce more than two or three great players in a decade; it is very rare to get four or five at the same time. The last truly exceptional one in Scottish football was Kieran Tierney. He kept Izaguirre out of the team.
If there was another Tierney, or Forrest or McGregor in the academy we’d see clear-cut proof of it already, right now, and it wouldn’t be in doubt. The guys we let go, they’ve been watched by people at every level of the club and it’s those people, all of them, as a collective, who know when it’s right to cut them loose and let them move on … it’s nothing personal, it’s business, and this business, the football business, is a cold blooded meritocracy.
More even than the quality getting to the top, where are our high-profile mistakes? Even two of the ones people thought were obvious – Barry Hepburn and Liam Morrison – who were guys we didn’t let go, by the way, but left us through choice, aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. Hepburn might have signed a new deal with Bayern II but he’ll spend next season at Queens Park. Morrison is on loan at Wigan. The path to Munich’s first team is not exactly obvious.
Ben Doak is an exceptional talent. Yet he proves our point, not that of the critics. We gave him his debut at 16 and he left because Liverpool wanted him. He’s made five appearances for their first team; the point is, his talent was obvious and Ange Postecoglou had made it clear to him that he was going to be a part of the first team squad before long … the pathway was there for him, his talent had opened the way, and it was up to him if he wanted to walk it.
He chose not to. That may or may not be the right decision, but that Celtic provided him the opportunity is a stonewall and incontrovertible fact, and it’s the proof that these critics of ours do not know what in the Hell they are talking about.
I liked Brooks. He was exceptional in the youth games against the Ibrox B team this season but that’s not a good enough reason to hand him an extended contract. People far more qualified to make this call than me have seen all they needed to see.
We are not a club which spends for the sake of it, and this idea that fans would prefer to see “big name signings” than see a kid through our own academy break through and start doing the business for us betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of football supporters and what really moves them. The media aren’t the fans, they see the game in a different way than we do and most of them long since ceased to understand what they are covering.
Celtic fans would love it if there was a Jota in our academy, or a top defender or high powered midfielder. God, if there was a first team capable 30 goal a season striker we’d be over the moon and he’d be an instant hero upon scoring his first ten of them.
I trust the guys who make these calls. I mourn another young player leaving, but he’s leaving because people who do this for a living thought he’d reached the point where he had to go and play somewhere else because he was not progressing at the right pace to retain him at the club. It’s hard. You might even say that it’s cruel. But that’s football.