Kieran Tierney is the best Scottish talent to be produced in a number of years and will break the record for the largest fee received by a Scottish club, just not yet, writes Joel Sked.
For all the talk about the lack of talent being produced in Scotland, Celtic are currently in possession of one of football’s most gifted 19-year-olds.
Coaches, scouts and recruitment analysts putting together algorithms will be hard pressed to find a better full-back under the age of 20 than Kieran Tierney.
Despite little more than 50 first-team matches, the left-back is already a Scottish international and is deservedly attracting attention from the game’s biggest names.
Celtic fans would have woken yesterday morning to speculation linking Tierney with a £10 million move to Manchester United. And they would have been correct in thinking ‘is that all?!’.
When Moussa Dembele has been given a £20 million price-tag, it is only right to question why Tierney has been valued quite so low, even if it’s currently no more than speculation.
This shouldn’t be taken as a slight on Dembele. After all, he is a French under-21 international, who French boss Didier Deschamps has pinpointed as a player who could make the step up to the senior squad this year. Plus, he is a striker, a position which is always likely to inflate transfer fees.
The 20-year-old has scored big goals in big games, as well as displaying a maturity to his all-round game which belies his age. Yet, there are still aspects of his game which will likely deter any vultures sniffing around the striker from stumping up the proposed fee.
Tierney, however, has provided consistent displays of such quality that it would be surprising if he didn’t reach the very highest level. During their embryonic stages players have a number of obstacles still in their way before they can reach their full potential, such as injury, which Tierney is currently having to overcome.
But it is difficult to think of another Scottish talent who has emerged so quickly with so many distinguished displays. From the moment he made his debut under Ronny Deila this was a headstrong defender, who only had one thing on his mind, to play to the best of his ability with no half-measures.
As team mates with more lucrative contracts, bigger reputations and greater experience flopped, Tierney was the constant, driving colleagues, and the team, forward. He displayed traits of a full-back who had more than 300 top-level games under his belt rather than a couple of dozen.
The teenager continued that momentum in to this season. He is a prototype full-back for the modern game, who has characteristics which belong in a different era. It would be surprising if teams from around Europe weren’t keeping tabs on him.
To the naked eye Tierney appears to be no more than a scrawny youngster. However, looks can be very deceiving. He is a powerful athlete capable of covering the left flank, quick to move forward but equally hard-working getting back in to position, retaining the team’s shape. He is fearful in the face of any challenge.
Ever since his debut he has slotted in, got to the job at hand, unfazed, displaying few nerves, if any at all, and made the left-back slot his own.
If that isn’t impressive enough for a player who won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until June, there is his capabilities with the ball. He endears himself to fans with his positivity in possession, keen to get on the ball and progress play. His footballing intellect has only been improved upon this season by Brendan Rodgers’ harnessing his attacking qualities by pushing him further up the field as the coach tweaked the team’s system.
He possesses a wicked cross from different areas of the pitch, and does so with a calmness. Possessing a sharp mind, the left-back analyses the positioning of targets before deciding the appropriate measure needed. Crosses aren’t thrashed at with a ‘hope for the best’ attitude, instead the head is lifted and the ball played accurately and with purpose in to the best area.
With Dembele and Leigh Griffiths keen hunters in the box, waiting for the kill, as well as an an array of midfielders looking to burst in to the box, they have the ideal supplier in Tierney, his favoured cut back is of particular help assistance to the club’s attackers. James Forrest must cast envious glances to his team mate’s end product.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the teenager. Currently going through rehabilitation from damaged angle ligaments, the injury isn’t the first test he has had to overcome. The Champions League campaign was a useful learning curve; his struggles against Lionel Messi during Celtic’s thumping at the Nou Camp a vital lesson. He responded with an assured display as Celtic were involved in one of the games of the season, the draw at home to Manchester City. He belonged at that level.
The recent absence has only emphasised the progression made, and the stature he now carriesn in the team. He has made Emilio Izaguirre no more than a mere squad player. The 2010-2011 player of the season, with 88 Honduran caps, has covered competently for Tierney, but not enough to stop fans pining for the youngster.
Astonishingly, in a recent interview, Tierney talked of the doubts he had about getting kept on by his boyhood heroes when full-time contracts were being handed out. But ever since signing on he has grasped the opportunity, and he will likely be held as an exemplary example to youngsters coming through at Lennoxtown.
There is an innocence to Tierney which appeals to fans who are discontented with the modernity of football. He has talked of having no interest in playing for an English team in the Premier League when growing up. He simply dreamed of playing for Celtic. Then there is the apocryphal tale of Tierney signing a boot deal with a stipulation inserted that he only wears black boots.
During his recovery, Tierney has been able to reconnect with his roots, taking in Celtic games with friends and family. But instead of sitting in the posh seats he has taken up residence among the everyday punters, enjoying the adulation and atmosphere.
This is a player who is clearly at ease with his current situation, not one to get carried away or too euphoric when he sees his name linked with football’s titans. The patience and intelligence shown on the field is replicated off it. He will put Rodgers and the fans at ease because it will be highly unlikely that he will agitate for a move. His attitude is one of his defining characteristics.
Former-Celtic player George McCluskey, who coached Tierney in the club’s under-17s, said as much.
“The biggest thing for me was his attitude,” he told BBC Sportsound. “His attitude was fantastic, he always wanted to improve and he still does to this day.”
He will recognise that he is currently under the stewardship of a manager who will help him improve, a manager who feeds off youthful exuberance and application displayed by Tierney. The teenager is the type of player who Rodgers will look forward to coaching each day, making sure that every ounce of ability is extracted.
Some football players are constantly in a rush. The next move, the next deal. And for Tierney, the trajectory of his career has been steep. From the under-17s to competing in the the Uefa Youth League to a a couple of appearances at the end of the 2014/2015 season to first-team regular. If that wasn’t enough, Scotland caps and Champions League appearances followed. All before turning 20.
Fortunately for Celtic, Tierney is only in a hurry to pull on the hooped shirt again, to play football again. There is no rush for Celtic to sell, especially if figures are comparable to what Crystal Palace paid for average Premier League players James Tomkins and Jeffrey Schlupp.
And for the player himself, he is clearly content in Glasgow and at Celtic. As a fan there is still plenty for him to achieve both domestically and in Europe. In addition, there is a fight for the Scotland left-back spot to win.
By the time Tierney does leave it will be for one of the game’s biggest names. He’ll do so as a Celtic legend, and will most likely have broken the record for the biggest fee received by a Scottish club. He is that good.