We’re soon approaching award season and having looked at the candidates for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award last week, now it’s time to examine those most likely to earn a Young Player of the Year nomination.
*Note: players must be 21 or younger when the season starts to qualify*
Ross McCrorie, David Bates, Brandon Barker, Stuart Findlay, Harry Cochrane, Jason Kerr and Jack Baird. In most seasons, these guys would either be in serious contention for a young player of the year nomination. This term they’ll struggle to get a look in.
The competition is just too strong. Typically, if a youngster were to start around half his team’s fixtures with a couple of stand-out performances, that would be enough to put him in the mix. This season it’s only good enough for an honourable mention.
Kieran Tierney (Celtic)
The Celtic left-back is bidding to be the first to win the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year award for the third season running. He’s certainly got a strong chance. While he’s not a runaway leader, the fact that there’s POTY buzz about him should guarantee him at least a nomination in the junior category.
Greg Docherty (Hamilton/Rangers)
The all-action midfielder generated enough buzz as a Hamilton Accies player to be in contention. Having made the switch to Rangers for over half-a-million pounds, he soon forced his way into the Ibrox first-team, meaning he didn’t lose any of the momentum he’d built up while simultaneously raising his profile several notches.
Scott McKenna (Aberdeen)
The Scottish internationalist has arguably been Aberdeen’s best player this term. A nomination for YPOTY would cap off a stunning rise which saw him go from Ayr United’s bench to the national team in the space of just 12 months.
Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic)
Unless something unforeseen happens between now and voting time, Ajer will finish the season widely regarded as the strongest centre-back on the league champions and probable treble-winners. That fact alone should get him a nomination. And, unlike others we’ll get too shortly, his patient ascent into the starting XI this season means voters won’t forget his eligibility for this award.
THE ‘OH, I FORGOT HE COUNTED’ GROUP
Moussa Dembele (Celtic)
If the constant newspaper reports are a true reflection of his celebrity status in world football, he’s the most high profile player in Scottland, so it’s perhaps easy to forget that he’s still only 21. Having netted 13 goals in 32 games and possessing a higher assists per 90 minutes average than any player in the Ladbrokes Premiership, he would certainly merit a place among the final four.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers)
While he does have a tendency to miss sitters, there is absolutely zero doubt that Morelos would be a firm favourite for this award if he were a Scottish striker. There doesn’t necessarily have to be anything sinister about that observation - it’s only natural that we should big up our own talents, considering how starved of success the football nation has been - but it would still be unfair on Morelos if he misses out, especially if he can go on another scoring streak and fire himself to the top of the charts. He’s only two behind Kris Boyd at present.
Cedric Kipre (Motherwell)
When foreign players are signed from outwith Scotland it’s easy to forget just how young they are. In Kipre’s case, it also doesn’t help when you’re built like the side of a house and play with a confidence way beyond your years. This, combined with the general opinion that he’s not been quite as good as Scott McKenna, will likely see him miss out.
Glen Kamara (Dundee)
Again, like Kipre, it’s easy to forget how young Kamara is. It’s also worth pointing out that he’s been unable to replicate his form in the first half of the campaign in 2018 thus far. It’s not necessarily his fault - either the formation or his midfield partner changes every week - but it still means he’ll probably be left off the final ballot.
THE ‘REMEMBER LOWER LEAGUE PLAYERS CAN GET NOMINATED TOO?’ OUTSIDER
Lewis Morgan (St Mirren)
Hearts, Hibs and Rangers have all had players nominated for Young Player of the Year within the last three years despite their clubs sitting in the Championship at the time. Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker got nods in 2015, while Tierney was the only top flight talent among the four nominees for the 2016 gong, with Jason Cummings, John McGinn and Barrie McKay filling out the other spaces. Of course, those teams have a bigger profile than St Mirren and few can argue that more attention was paid to the second tier in each of the previous three seasons than this current one. That being said, the rapid rise of Lewis Morgan has been one of the bigger football stories of the current campaign and his signing for Celtic in January (where he was then loaned back to Paisley) should strengthen his bid further.
Olivier Ntcham (Celtic)
He’s had a promising debut season and his freshness in the eyes of the voters may see him get into the final four ahead of Dembele. But strikers, especially when they score, always grab more attention. Has a tendency to drift out of games completely. He can control matches against tough opponents one week, say Rangers at Ibrox, then barely make an impact the following one, like ten-man Motherwell at Fir Park.
John Souttar (Hearts)
He’s had his best season to date playing alongside Christophe Berra in a notably stingy defence. Like some of the foreign boys, he may be forgotten about come voting time, as it feels like he’s been around forever. Incredibly, he’ll be eligible for next season’s award too.
Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)
The youngster has enjoyed another strong season. Whether he plays at left-back or in centre-midfield he never fails to impress. His play may have been overshadowed by the numerous other talking points to come out of Rugby Park this season: Steve Clarke’s magical powers, Kris Boyd’s Indian summer, and Youssouf Mulumbu being a living god.
Eamonn Brophy (Kilmarnock)
He hasn’t been as consistent as his club-mate across the entire season - not really contributing much until November - though he has found the back of the net eight times and recently played 90 minutes in the 1-0 win at Ibrox. If he goes on a scoring run in the build-up to ballot time then he could play his way in.
Allan Campbell (Motherwell)
He started the season as a scrappy midfielder who would tackle anything. As time as progressed he’s managed to add to his game, becoming an influential player on the attacking end and, at 19-year-old, is a terrific prospect for both the Steelmen and Scotland in the future.
Chris Cadden (Motherwell)
Motherwell fans would tell you he’s not quite reached the heights expected of him this term; advanced statisticians would say he’s one of the best wide players in the country. Either way, his tale isn’t as new and exciting as that of Campbell, his own team-mate, so he’d be lucky to have much of a chance.
Davis Keillor-Dunn (Ross County)
Perhaps the only bright point in an otherwise dreadful season for the Staggies. The left-winger has been the club’s most impressive attacker throughout this campaign as his trickery makes him a constant source of entertainment even when things are at their bleakest.
Before this wraps up, a quick mention on Cochrane and McCrorie. Had either of them played enough games then they’d be among the leading contenders. However, having only played 18 games each, and with the sheer volume of quality this season, they deserve to be well down the list. One of them may sneak a nod, though, as they are two of the most recognisable young Scottish players in the country, and it’s unclear how much research goes into ‘minutes played’ by footballers before they cast their votes.