Scotland under-17s captain Jack Aitchison has been a pivotal performer as Scot Gemmill’s side have pushed themselves to the brink of another tournament appearance. An Ivorian influence may have been key for the young Celtic striker.
A draw against Switzerland in Paisley this afternoon will guarantee their place in a fourth consecutive under 17s European Championship finals, and confident Aitchison expects the right result to be delivered.
The Scots skipper scored twice last Friday as the young Scots began their elite round group campaign with a 6-1 win over Montenegro. An on-field leader alongside Glenn Middleton – who also netted twice in that first victory, before hitting the winner against Serbia two days later – Aitchison feels better prepared for the international arena than ever before.
And he puts that down to unexpected instruction he has been receiving at Celtic, the club he became the youngest-ever competitive scorer for when netting on the final day of last season. The summer that followed marked Brendan Rodgers’ arrival as manager, which was soon followed by the signing of Kolo Toure. The former Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool defender hasn’t featured regularly for the senior side and has become something of a mentor to Aitchison.
“It’s good to be involved with big names who have done a lot in their football careers,” the teenager said of the 36-year-old Ivorian. “I can make the most of their experience to improve my own game.
“From a defensive point of view, he’s told me where to stand and move. He’s played in some of the biggest games in football with and against some of the biggest names, like Thierry Henry.
“He told me I was one of the best he’d seen so that gives me the belief I can go quite far. He’s great with the younger players. He comes to watch the training and games. Kolo’s had a good career and it says a lot about him that he’s willing to give up his time like that. He’s still the ultimate professional. He’s a very nice guy and I think his son’s in the youth system so he understands it from that perspective as well. He’s bought into the fact we’re all a big family really.”
A strong kinship has been developed among the young Scots by Gemmill, who Aitchison believes has a playing pool that can make a real impression in the 16-team finals in Croatia in May – barring any mishaps today.
“We believe and trust in what Scot Gemmill asks us to do,” said Aitchison. “He’s smart, knows what he’s doing and has experience in these competitions.”
The Celtic striker is hoping he will go into the tournament with a few more senior appearances under his belt. “It would be great to see the boys tie the league up because I think there will be opportunities for the younger boys if we deserve it.”