No-one who has witnessed Kieran Tierney’s stellar progress for Celtic and Scotland over the past two years would dispute he deserves every penny of the lucrative new six-year contract he signed this week.
Anyone who has even briefly made the 20-year-old’s acquaintance during that period will be equally confident his burgeoning status as one of British football’s brightest young talents will not go to his head. Tierney is the very definition of grounded, as polite and well-mannered off the pitch as he is tenacious and dynamic on it.
He shrugs and smiles self-deprecatingly when asked if he has thought about rewarding himself with a new car or some other material symbol of the enhanced terms he agreed with the Scottish champions.
“Not really,” said Tierney. “As soon as I got my last contract [in the summer of 2016], I bought a house for my mum and dad. That was the one thing I always wanted to do.
“I still live at home with them – I’ll be there for a few years yet. I can’t do anything for myself yet! We still live in Motherwell, a couple of minutes from where we lived before.
“It keeps me grounded in some ways, living under the same roof as your mum and dad. They are still in charge. My mum still tells me off for leaving dishes in my room or not bringing my washing downstairs. I don’t plan on moving out for a good few years yet.
“I try not to get big-headed, so hopefully they don’t have to ever bring me back down to earth. I’ve got them, as well as a lot of good friends, who would tell me if I ever got out of line or too big-time. Most of my friends are apprentices at their various jobs and still living at home.”
Tierney’s appreciation of his good fortune and determination to ensure he continues to maximise his potential as a footballer also stems from periods in Celtic’s academy system when his prospects looked far less rosy.
“There was a time when I wasn’t getting a game here,” he recalled. “At 14 or 15, we went to the school that Celtic send you to. It was at that stage when Scotland youth international recognition starts coming about. I never got picked for Scotland.
“A lot of times when you’re not in the Scotland squad at that age, you’re not really playing club football either. Times like that were very hard. It was getting near the end of the school term and a lot of the lads in our age group had heard about their contracts.
“Me and a couple of others hadn’t. I remember it was me and Aaron Comrie, who is now with St Johnstone and I will hopefully be playing against on Saturday. Neither of us heard anything until very, very late on.
“We got a deal in the end but the others got a longer-term deal. They got three-year deals at the start and we got one year. At times like that, you are looking at other options, whether it is to go away working or try and find another team. So youth football wasn’t all plain sailing for me. For a good few years, I wasn’t getting a game.
“But it made me work harder than ever, just getting that one-year deal. I was more hungry to get a new deal with Celtic, try and get on the same deal as my team-mates and try to get game time.
“It’s harder to get game time at that age if you are not growing fast like the other guys who play your position. But that is why I am so grateful for my family because it is times like that when you really need them and they were great.
“I was doing gym work and football training but it was the way I was doing it. I was making sure that I was trying to run more than anyone else and be the best I could be but at that age there is only a certain amount that you can do otherwise you get wee injuries.
“It probably was a worry, because I was quite slight. People grow between 14 and 16 at different rates and it does seem to be the bigger, more physical players who are in the team. It is not always right but I just knew I had to work hard. I still think even now that I need to work on my upper body strength.”
While it makes Tierney relish his current success at Celtic all the more, he admits he seldom finds the opportunity to reflect on just how far he has come.
“I don’t really have any time – it’s just game after game after game just now,” he added. “It’s high pressure, it’s mentally and physically hard. You don’t get too much time to think about anything other than your next day’s training or game.”
Tierney’s top-level education continued on Tuesday when he jousted impressively with Dutch winger Arjen Robben during Celtic’s 2-1 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich. “We didn’t win so you can’t be too happy but I gave it my all which is all that you can ask,” he said. “I tried to make it hard for him, get close to him and I gave it my best.
“You learn a lot in these games. Even just their fitness – it is hard to keep up to their tempo because they are playing at that tempo every week. For years they have been playing like that and for me being so young, to play against the top players like them in the Champions League will benefit me.”