Kieran Tierney: Scotland and Arsenal's MVP - Man City keeping tabs on 'one of a kind'
In truth, even with the dastardly-double of World Cup hopes being crushed by the 3-1 play-off defeat to Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland dishing out an excruciating 3-0 defeat in the Nations League, reactions have been OTT. Only one constructive consensus can be considered to have emerged: KT is indisputably Scotland’s MVP. Now, for the avoidance of doubt, one matter requires to be tackled in setting out that Kieran Tierney - to give the Arsenal defender his Sunday name - must be acknowledged as his country’s most valuable performer. In no way is this judgement related to the knee surgery that prevented the 25-year-old playing any part in the four games Steve Clarke’s men contested in recent weeks; the other two resulting in pretty straightforward Nations League victories, home then away, to Armenia.
The outstanding talents of Tierney, both of the technical and terrier variety, are now regularly recognised globally. It is no co-incidence that Real Madrid and Barcelona have been credited with interest in the former Celtic man over recent months. Moreover, he is understood to feature on a list of Manchester City possibles for bolstering their left-back options. What makes him so fundamental to his national team’s cause, though, is that this is one of three functions he effectively performs with the lion rampant on his chest. Deployed on the left of the back three, Tierney is simultaneously centre-back, full-back and overlapping full-back when operating in tandem with his Scotland captain Andy Robertson, pushed up on the same flank to accommodate him. And his Liverpool counterpart is first to appreciate Tierney’s multi-faceted contributions. Reflecting on how keenly his absence was felt in the aftermath of Scotland’s World Cup elimination, Robertson conceded: “KT is one of a kind in that position”.
Tierney is one of a kind, full stop. For evidence of that fact you need look no further than the money-no-object Premier League first XI that much-travelled, and now retired, English managerial personality Neil Warnock selected for a news outlet only this week. Out of every player currently operating in the most illustrious domestic set-up in the world game, Tierney was his pick for the left-back slot. It isn’t difficult to see why. The evidence supports the impression that the player has become irreplaceable for country and club. Ahead of their loss to Ukraine, Scotland were on an eight-game unbeaten sequence. The six straight wins in their World Cup qualifying group within that sequence made for their longest run of competitive successes in almost a century. Tierney played in every one.
The contrast in fortunes with and without the defender was almost as marked for Mikel Arteta’s side. Tierney was sidelined with an ankle problem last October. He returned to the Arsenal starting line-up the following month. The London club then put together a stonking run that set them fair for earning a top four place that would have secured a Champions League return. Composed of 10 wins from 14 games, as they broke into the leading quartet their only two defeats across the period with Tierney on the pitch came against Manchester City and Liverpool. A third loss was suffered, away to Everton. However, that 2-1 reverse came in his first game back after the ankle-enforced hiatus. And Arsenal were a goal to the good when Tierney was withdrawn after 65 minutes that afternoon. Their top four challenge faltered only subsequent to his season being ended through feeling a click in his knee as he pushed himself in the gym following his return from Scotland duty in March. Arteta was forced to turn to Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu to fill the Tierney void, but neither could convincingly do so as Arsenal lost five of their closing 10 games to end up finishing fifth.
You might think that the club’s followers would look upon this fraying as ample reason to prize Tierney as a precious asset. Instead, at least among a section of their on-line blowhards, they have exhibited a lamentable attitude towards the frightening drive and dedication that has sometimes appeared to lead the defender’s body to rebel against his pushing it to the very limits. A groundswell has bubbled up that Tierney cannot be relied upon and that Arsenal should no longer attempt to do so. “There is no point in having a Ferrari if you can’t drive it all the time,” a whinger tweeted.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge that there are fitness issues for Tierney to address. A look at his injury history on the website Transfermarkt lays that out in grizzly fashion. Since the breakthrough at boyhood favourites Celtic seven years ago, he has lost 14 months to various ailments. At his enduring love of a team, Tierney was hampered by serious hip problems, ruptured ankle ligaments and tore a groin. He then had three months out with a dislocated shoulder to abridged his first campaign in London that followed his £25m move in the summer of 2019. And in the two campaigns since, different ankle issues have resulted in lengthy spells on the sidelines.
Yet, the words of Martin O’Neill come to mind when pondering how to assess what Tierney gives of himself on the pitch, at no thought for personal cost. At Celtic, Chris Sutton was similarly afflicted because he had only had one mode: full on. The Irishman was asked if it did not trouble him that his rumbustious striker so often had to spend periods on the treatment table. His reply was to the effect that it was better, all ways up, to have a player who could deliver 25 top class performances a season than 50 average ones. For Scotland and Arsenal, Tierney’s on-field presence is a guarantee of excellence otherwise unattainable.
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