Kieran Tierney has taken huge strides forward as a Celtic player this season but insists he is happy to pace himself in making his way towards the senior Scotland squad.
The 18-year-old left-back is among a crop of younger players Scotland manager Gordon Strachan is considering for inclusion in the two separate squads he will name next week for the challenge matches against Czech Republic and Denmark at the end of this month.
Tierney, who has yet to even win his first under-21 cap, has already been championed for a full international call-up by his club manager Ronny Deila. But, while the Isle of Man-born player is flattered to be mentioned as a candidate for Strachan’s squad, he would be content for the moment to remain in the Scotland under-19 side bidding to reach this summer’s European Championship finals in Germany.
To get there, Scot Gemmill’s squad must top their elite qualifying group which takes place in Croatia this month and sees them play the hosts, Belgium and Bulgaria. Tierney shone for the under-19s when they won their first qualifying round group in Republic of Ireland in November.
“I’d be okay with it if I was picked for the 19s again,” he said. “It’s just great to be mentioned in connection with the senior international team. For an 18-year-old, that’s amazing, but I’m not thinking too much about that yet.
“Scotland obviously have Andy Robertson at left-back and it just depends what they think would be better experience for me – playing in the Euro qualifiers for the under-19s or spending time with the senior squad and maybe being on the bench for their games.”
Tierney has now firmly established himself as Celtic’s first choice left-back, ousting the more experienced Emilio Izaguirre from the role since breaking into Deila’s side in October.
Tenacious defensively and imaginative in attack, Tierney has impressed consistently. The teenager’s only difficulty in his first few months of first-team action was coping with the physical demands posed as he often struggled to complete 90 minutes.
But he has fully addressed that problem since the turn of the year and is now fully integrated as a senior squad player for the Scottish champions both on and off the pitch.
“I’ve started the last seven games for the first time and played the full 90 minutes in all of them,” he reflected. “I used to worry about my fitness, because it was hard for me at the end of games. I was getting cramp after 70 minutes which was frustrating but I knew, as the coaches did, that I would get my fitness and strength up eventually.
“I feel stronger within myself now. At the end of games, I still feel I can sprint down the line and overlap, so that’s pleasing.
“When you first go to train with the first team, you have to get up to their standard. You can run as much as you want, but you’ve got to be able to play and pass the ball to the same standard as them, so that was the biggest test at first.
“I’ve now been in the first-team dressing room at the training ground for about a month. The coaches came to the decision I was ready to go there on a permanent basis and I was obviously delighted at that.
“It’s a small thing but it’s significant. It means I’m with the first team all of the time now. I feel more involved in everything and I’m probably a lot closer to the senior players now. I speak to them more than I would if I was in the youth squad’s changing room and we text each other now.
“They are treating me as a fellow first-team player but then they’ve always done that since I got into the team. They’ve always been good with me and not treated me like a young boy.”
Tierney says no-one has provided him with more help and encouragement than Izaguirre, the man he has dislodged from the first-team starting line-up.
“We still have the same relationship that we did last season and the season before that when I was in the development squad and learning from him,” added Tierney.
“We train together and after training we’ll stay back to do crossing together. We don’t dislike each other or have anything against each other, we’re actually one of the closest in the changing room.
“That says a lot about Emilio because every player wants to play and we’re both working hard for the same place in the team.
“He’s definitely been one of the most encouraging of the players. When I was just starting to train with the first team last season he took me under his wing, gave me a lot of tips and worked a lot with me on crossing. All that helped me progress.”
Izaguirre has been linked with a move away from Celtic this summer as he bids to protect his place in the Honduras squad for their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I hope he stays,” said Tierney. “He’s a great player, a great guy and has been a good servant to the club. I’m sure that’ll continue because he’s a top professional.
“I can understand if he’s not playing that he may look elsewhere. Every player wants to play, especially when you’re a bit older because it’s easier for a younger player to mind less if you’re in and out the side. But he’ll want to be playing because he’ll want to keep getting picked for his national team.”