Celtic manager Ronny Deila believes his precocious full-back Kieran Tierney is ready to be fast-tracked into the senior Scotland squad.
The 18-year-old has seized the first-team opportunity presented to him by Deila for the Scottish champions this season in eye-catching style, producing a series of fine performances to effectively oust the vastly more experienced Emilio Izaguirre as Celtic’s first choice left-back.
He has the mentality of a player from 20 years ago and is an example to all the youngsters about how you go about thingsRonny Deila
Tierney, born in the Isle of Man but raised in Wishaw, has yet to be named in an under-21 squad by Scotland and is currently representing the country at under-19 level.
But Deila, who has hailed Tierney as a shining example to other young Scottish players of what attributes and attitude are required to succeed, insists the teenager he calls “KT” could handle promotion to Gordon Strachan’s squad for the 2018 World Cup qualifying preparatory matches against Czech Republic and Denmark in March.
“KT has played against Fenerbahce and other good teams for us in Europe this season,” said Deila. “He is ready for the international team. He shows every day that he has a very high level. It’s not up to me if he plays for Scotland, but I would have no problem putting him into any Champions League or Europa League game.
“The positive of being a young player at Celtic is you can judge yourself against some of the best players in Scotland, who maybe have 50 caps for their countries. If you can handle that, like KT has, then I don’t think you are so far away from playing for Scotland.
“When you play well for Celtic in Europe, then you have shown you can do it on the international stage. I don’t care if you are 17 or 35, you have to be judged on performance.
“It’s so important that young players look in the mirror and ask themselves ‘where am I right now, where do I want to go and how do I get there?’
“KT is special. He is so determined. He is always the first into training in the morning. He asks the physical department about what programme he should be doing that week. Then he asks the medical department and does everything they ask at 100 per cent.
“Then, when he gets onto the pitch at Lennoxtown, it is like the World Cup final every time he trains. He is just 100 per cent with everything. He just loves playing football and he does all the extra things.
“I know I can talk about him like this, give him all of the positive credit he deserves, and that it won’t go to his head. He knows he has to keep working at things. He has the mentality of a player from 20 years ago and is an example to all the youngsters about how you go about things.”
Deila even sees similarities between Tierney and Martin Odegaard, the 17-year-old Norwegian midfielder he managed at Stromsgodset and who moved to Real Madrid for £8 million last year. “I remember Martin making his debut for us when he was just 14 and he was headline news in every Norwegian paper the next day,” added Deila.
“But that morning, he was first in the gym at 8am. Even now, when he gets to visit home on breaks from Real Madrid, he spends an hour or two extra with the ball in his own time.
“He wants to learn and get better. KT and him are very similar and are examples to follow. Nothing comes for free in football, you have to work really hard.”
Deila is currently pursuing the services of another highly-regarded teenager, Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts.
But he confirmed no loan deal will be completed for the 18-year-old, who joined City from Fulham for £12m last year, unless the English club agree to extend it beyond the end of this season. “We will not take a player on loan to have him only until the summer,” said Deila. “He would have to be something special. If it’s going to be loans, then it has to be longer than just to the summer. It could be for a year or 18 months.
“If not, there is not anything to think about. We have a lot of players already. So we have to think if it is somebody who can make a difference into next season as well.
“We have signed one player [Erik Sviatchenko] already this month and also have Ryan Christie back from his loan at Inverness.
“We will work to see if we can do something more, but it’s not easy. Everyone knows the January window is a tough one, everyone wants to keep their best players for the rest of the season.
“But we will see when the window closes on Monday night what has been done.”