Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has predicted big things for Kieran Tierney, saying the young defender can go on to be an elite player.
Having been impressed by what he has seen since the players reported back for pre-season training, Rodgers said he still intends to strengthen his squad but used the Scottish teenager as an example of why new additions do not necessarily need to be household names.
“A good player is important. But, I think over time, you have seen that they don’t always have to be a big name,” said the man who will take his players into their first pre-season tussle, against NK Celje, on Thursday. “I have seen that in a few days of Kieran Tierney, who I will tell you now will be a top player. He’s an 19-year-old kid and probably before the start of last season no one will have heard of him. But from my experience of working in England, in the middle section and the top end of the league, this kid will be a top player. Having worked with young players and lots of them, and seen them grow and develop, there’s no question about that.”
Tierney, who broke into the first team in a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur almost two years ago, only made his competitive debut in April 2015. But last season he established himself as a regular starter, forcing everyone to sit up and pay attention. His performances earned him the PFA Scotland and the Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year awards. He was also rewarded with his first international call-up, making his senior Scotland debut in a friendly victory over Denmark in March.
As far as Rodgers is concerned the achievements are unlikely to stop there, with the former Liverpool manager pinpointing so many positive attributes in the youngster he has inherited and predicting big things for his future. “It’s everything,” said Rodgers. “His attitude, he’s 19 years of age, quicker than I thought. I had only seen him on the telly in highlights and clips but when you see him close up, he’s a super athlete, strong, quick, balanced, aggressive, wonderful left foot, will get better, still has bits to improve, defends, hard to beat, wants to go forward, good size, and personality.”
Tierney has said he is happy to stay at the club he grew up supporting, having signed a four-year deal in August last year. The club have been looking at offering the promising left-back deal an even better deal to reflect the advances he has made in the past season, in helping Celtic to their fifth successive league title. They had been waiting for Ronny Deila’s replacement to make his own judgments but Rodgers has made it clear that he will happily rubber-stamp that project.
“Listen, the club are well under way with that,” said Rodgers. “They have spoken behind the scenes and I am sure that will take place. The kid will be a top player. He needs to be where he is now. He’s at a top club. If you’re an 19-year-old player and you’re playing for Glasgow Celtic and you’re playing in the way that we will go to work, it’s the ideal place for him to be. What then happens in two, three, four years, whatever, we will see. But at this moment in time he’s best suited at this club and he’s very happy to be here in the conversations I’ve had. He’s a wonderful talent.”
The emergence of Tierney serves as a reminder of the talent that still exists north of the Border, according to Rodgers, who remembers the likes of Dunfermline boss Allan Johnston as a 13-year-old starlet.
“He would probably never remember it, but I remember being at Manchester United as a young player when he was there. He was 13 years of age and now he’s like me – old and starting to lose the hair a wee bit!
“But, I grew up seeing top Scottish players. I remember that down the years, and then being at a club like Liverpool where they had a wonderful tradition of Scottish players. So the talent is there. But socially things have changed now as well – it’s different because of that. There is no doubt the country has talent. It is just about honing it and making it work.
“You have an outstanding national team manager in Gordon Strachan, who can develop players he has coached with Mark McGhee. These are guys who will give them every chance to develop and Kieran Tierney is the perfect example of that. I look at the other guys as well. Some of the young kids in the training sessions, with their intensity and tempo, dealt with it really well. And that’s in sessions I put on at the very top level of the game. It is still very early and it’s not all about the talent. You also have to have the personality to succeed. That will determine whether your talent is wasted or not.”