It might seem that Kieran Tierney’s rise to prominence has been meteoric. But, a Celtic captain, Scotland regular and £25 million-rated full-back before his 21st birthday, his progress seems positively sedate compared with two players he will line up against on Tuesday night.
Neymar was able to move his family up in the world by buying them a house out of his football earnings before he had turned 15, and the Brazilian always seemed destined to become the commodity he has with his £200m summer move from Barcelona. Meanwhile, his new Paris Saint-Germain team-mate, Kylian Mbappe, is a £166m footballer while still just 18 years old.
The fact Tierney has had to cope with rejection at certain points in his career before becoming a prized property is what, ultimately, his Celtic manager, Brendan Rodgers, believes makes him such a sure-fire top-level performer. “Kieran is a wonderful example of what I would call the silver medallists,” Rodgers said. “Guys like Neymar are the gold medallists, they find their way through, go on and that’s where they always are. But Kieran has always had to fight. He had to fight to get out of the under-17 team up here. But when the time comes, this is a young player who can play in the top four of the Premier League if that’s where he wanted to go.
“He’s got an incredible determination, an old-school determination. He lives his life right, he doesn’t drink or do stupid things. He’s in every day training like a dog. He fights, he runs, he’s aggressive. And he’s a lovely boy. In a year up here I’ve seen him talk to press, make a speech at the football writers’ awards dinner, and he’s got a lovely manner about him. He’s one of these boys who doesn’t know how good he is. But he’s at a top club. In modern-day football you have players who love football but don’t necessarily love the club they play for.
“He’s one of a small band who absolutely loves football – but also loves Celtic. And it’s great to see his development. He’s played right-back for Scotland and did a job. He’s been left-back for Celtic and Scotland, as well as left centre-back in a three for me. If you asked him to play somewhere else, he would. He’s a phenomenal talent who is at a nice point in his career. He’s developing and in no rush for anything other than to play games. Scotland are very lucky to have a player of that quality.”
The qualities of Neymar, meanwhile, were never in doubt. But Rodgers points to the fact that in his youth he wasn’t the only Brazilian that had future greatness thrust upon him as evidence that he has earned his exalted status, and is expected to reach new levels now that he isn’t playing second fiddle to Lionel Messi in the Nou Camp.
“When we were at Chelsea, we were aware of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho together,” the Celtic manager said. “At that time, Pato was the one everyone was talking about. Neymar was one who was in first-teams young but he wanted to stay in Brazil before moving, which was interesting. He’d played a lot of games in Brazil before coming to Europe.
“And he has everything. He’s like a motorbike, he’s so fast and balanced – left foot, right foot. He commits people. The best players go at people, they don’t pass it all the time. I actually love his hunger. He gets himself into bother at times but he had to do it at Barcelona.
“He’s a worker and he’s hungry. He’s come out of the shadows a bit and obviously felt like he wanted to be the main man at PSG. But he’s a massive talent, I’m a big admirer of him.”