IT PUT a whole new spin on the line about being a keen student of the game to hear Stuart Armstrong discuss how he would unwind at the end of his first full day as a Celtic player.
Essentially, the midfielder is a keen student because of the game. The 22-year-old was “influenced” to take a contract law degree course on the Open University by the “boredom” and “lots of free time” that can be by-products of a professional football career.
Your average footballer would repair to a fancy restaurant for a slap-up meal to celebrate the move the Scotland under-21 international made when he and team-mate Gary Mackay-Steven banked Dundee United £2 million by relocating to Glasgow. Instead, Armstrong spent last night with his head buried in books and hunched over his computer. He didn’t only sail close to deadline with his Celtic switch this week.
“I have a law essay due tomorrow that I have not started,” he said yesterday, as he conducted his first media duties for his new club. “I think you get about a month to submit these things, but I usually leave it until the last minute, that’s my style.
“The essay has to be 2,000 words – for tomorrow. It’s on redundancy. I’ll go from here and start writing. I think it’s important to focus on other things than football sometimes. It’s a good distraction and it’s worthwhile.”
With a healthy salary guaranteed at his new football posting, Armstrong needn’t ever worry about being out of work. He didn’t spend Monday, the final day of the transfer window, fretting about his employment either as Celtic sought to reach the fee that would persuade United to do a deal for the midfielder. “What will be will be,” he said was his thinking. “It transpired it was going to happen so [that was that].”
Associates close to Armstrong were surprised that he committed himself to a further stint in Scotland’s top flight. Much was said about the desired aim of the articulate and thoughtful Highlander being to travel further afield.
His sights were believed to be set on one of two destinations.
Either he would look to secure a move to a club in the English top-flight – as did former team-mate Andrew Robertson with his switch to Hull City in the summer – or go continental, a route taken by another lauded United prospect, Ryan Gauld, who is now based at Sporting Lisbon. Armstrong was supposedly a lover of German football, as well as the English game.
“I think every player has ambitions in England, but I never said England was my sole target,” he said.
“I think it became apparent Celtic were very interested and when a team shows that level of interest and follows up that interest it is very flattering. A massive club like this doing that is very hard to turn down.
“[The German thing] came from a statement that was blown out of proportion in relation to a few pre-season games when we played some German teams. They played nice football and I was just complimenting them on that.”
Compliments of a Teutonic nature were made by his new manager Ronny Deila when he compared Armstrong to World Cup winner Thomas Muller and they had the player wincing yesterday.
“I’m going to have to step up my game on the training ground,” said Armstrong. “He might be disappointed when he gets out there.”
The desperate disappointment of losing Armstrong and Mackay-Steven has certainly knocked the stuffing out of the United faithful after a weekend when they were plumped up by the thought of winning silverware.
Such reveries followed the efforts of the now Celtic pair in helping the Tannadice club reached the League Cup final with a semi-final success over Aberdeen.
Armstrong admitted the Hampden triumph made for a curious note on which to end his United career, not least because his new club will play his old one in that 15 March decider, for which he is now cup-tied, of course.
“It is disappointing after the joy of Aberdeen to get through to the final and to not be a part of that final,” said the midfielder. “It was difficult to leave United given the people I had met along the way and also Jackie McNamara. I had a lot of friends and long-lasting relationships because five-and-a-half years is a long time. But I think I’ll have a lot more opportunities in finals at Celtic. The League Cup final will be quite a strange one for me.”
It might be less strange now for Mackay-Steven. Having already signed a pre-contract agreement with Celtic, he faced the awkward situation of potentially destroying the treble hopes of the team he was destined to join in three months if Celtic had not stumped up the £250,000 fee that resulted in United sanctioning his switch this week.
“After Saturday and beating Aberdeen I put my feet up delighted we had reached the final,” the winger said.
“It was a great feeling being in a cup final and looking forward to the game in Glasgow on Sunday.
“When Celtic won I did think: ‘This could be strange.’
“But that’s football. It can throw up anything. I wouldn’t have done anything different if I had stayed. I would still have been a United player, doing my best.”
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