“We have a mission of crucial importance that will place you in direct line of the enemy in which we think you can do us proud, private. What do you say?” “I’d be honoured, sir.”
“Great. Only one more thing… you won’t be coming back.”
There was often no way back for 18-year-old Ralston against Neymar, the waspish, brilliant, most expensive player in the world. It was always going to be that way after Celtic’s central defensive issues left manager Brendan Rodgers believing he had to move Mikael Lustig inside from right-back. In so doing, he put the Scottish teenager directly up against the Brazilian, who drives, dances and drifts forward against opponents from a starting position on the left wing.
There were occasions he had Ralston corkscrewing to somehow keep him in his sights, long before the full-back was caught wrong side of the £200 million man as he opened the scoring.
Ralston then seemed to do the right thing by chasing Neymar in-field, only for the former Barcelona man to slip his clutches and provide the back-post header that led to the second. Yet despite that, Ralston’s invidious detail for a first sortie into Europe did not equate to a nightmarish night for him.
With his sideburns, and slightly heavier set physique than we are now used to seeing, Ralston looks straight out of a 1970s Scottish football yearbook. He has that old-fashioned ruggedness and willingness to put his body on the line also befitting of that bygone era. And the emotion. In these respects, he shares much with Kieran Tierney, if lacking the half yard of his left-sided counterpart.
What he also shares is a love for the club he joined at the age of nine. That shone through in an odd moment wherein he elicited the most emphatic roar from a home support that admirably remained behind their team the whole night.
Early in the second period, he galloped downfield and bored into the box before running into traffic. On his way back, he found time to wipe out Thiago Motta and earn himself a booking that, frankly, had been in the post since he twice got up close and personal with Neymar to give away fouls. The obvious thing for Ralston to do after Italian referee Daniele Orsato flashed yellow at him would have been to sheepishly depart the scene and retake his defensive position. Instead, Ralston turned to the North Stand with arms up, exhorting the crowd to make some noise and get involved.
The youngster refused to be cowed, which was the case from the off. He was never reckless in his challenges, but he recognised that he could not stand off Neymar and admire. If that meant unceremoniously steaming ni hard enough to leave the attacker flat on his backside, then that is the way it had to be.
It wasn’t just the Brazilian that received the rugged Ralston treatment, indeed. He flew in to Kylian Mbappe at the touchline to nick the ball from him. It was a superb challenge and one which was acknowledged by his fellow 18-year-old when he patted him warmly.
Ralston will rarely have it so arduous, however many games he plays for Celtic in Europe. It might seem daft to talk about him doing all right when part of a defence that could have shipped a goal count approaching double-figures, but he will have gone to his bed disappointed but not despairing.
He stuck to his impossible job – a mission always destined to end fatally – as he tried in vain to pull off something approaching a great escape.