Oli McBurnie’s brief reign as Scotland’s most expensive ever player is over. In the end, a player who doesn’t take himself too seriously was only permitted to introduce himself as the most valuable ever Scot for six whole days.
On the seventh, Kieran Tierney rode in to steal the mantle away, to the relief of those who felt McBurnie, who Sheffield United bought for £20 million from Swansea City, lacked the stellar talent, the X factor, to deserve being mentioned among company that includes the likes of Dave Mackay, Alex Young and Denis Law. The status seems a far more comfortable fit for Tierney, such a decorated and seasoned performer for Celtic, than McBurnie, who is still waiting to score his first Scotland goal and has still to convince he is even international class.
The Celtic left-back continues a tradition stretching back to Mackay and beyond of players leaving Scotland for the promise of more glory and riches in England’s top flight. Alan Hutton was the last Scottish record transfer from a Scottish club, when moving from Rangers to Tottenham Hotspur for just over £9m in 2008. Craig Gordon became Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper when he moved from Hearts to Sunderland for £9m a year earlier.
Mackay left the same club for Spurs for £32,000 in 1959. It made him not only Scotland’s most expensive player, but also the English game’s most expensive half-back.
Former team-mate Alex Young’s £40,000 transfer to Everton a year later meant the Tynecastle club had again reared an exceptional and pricey talent. It took Law’s 1961 move from Manchester City to Torino in 1961 to eclipse this mark, the Italian club paying a then huge sum of £110,000 for him. It was the first time a transfer fee had reached six figures for a British, never mind Scottish, player.
Surprisingly, Tierney is only the second Celtic player after Kenny Dalglish to break the record. Frank McLintock and Jim Baxter later held the title of most expensive Scot in the Sixties, Gordon McQueen and Andy Gray in the Seventies.
In a move that has some similarities with the impact Tierney’s departure has had on Celtic fans, Dalglish left Celtic for Liverpool in 1977 for £440,000. It left younger fans in particular devastated.
Duncan Ferguson is a unique case: the only player to break the record moving from a Scottish club to another Scottish club and the only one to feature on the list twice. He transferred from Dundee United to Rangers for £4m in 1993 before breaking the record again in November 1998 when leaving Everton for Newcastle for £7m.
He is the only player whose sale was linked to the commercial failure of a brand of frozen chip. The food empire of Peter Johnson, Everton’s then owner, had been rocked by the failure of the DJ Puddles snack to tickle the nation’s tastebuds. The venture cost him £10m, hence the need to sell Ferguson – or so it was claimed.
Walter Smith, the Everton manager at the time, wasn’t even aware of the sale, with the confirmation coming during a game against Newcastle at Goodison. Smith threatened to resign afterwards, having only been made aware of what had happened by Ferguson as they passed each other on the stairs after the match.
Everton had won 1-0. “You will struggle to get back into the team after that result,” Smith joked to Ferguson. “You are f*cking right about that – you’ve just sold me to Newcastle,” replied the player, although his dejection was surely eased by knowing he had signed a five-year deal worth nearly £40,000 a week.
At least Tierney has been fully briefed during the long negotiations required to secure his transfer, a move Celtic last night stressed the player had “very much wished to pursue”.