The official rubber stamping today of Lewis Morgan’s long-anticipated £300,000 move to Celtic from St Mirren will represent a piece of business “as good as it could have been” for the Paisley club, according to manager Jack Ross. More than that, though, Ross believes the switch is both good for the 21-year-old, and good for Scottish football.
Few will require convincing that St Mirren are doing well out of the deal. The attacker will be immediately loaned back to Ross’s side as they seek to turn their leading position in the Championship into automatic promotion over the next four months. Meanwhile, the fee is more than any compensation sum that would have been banked had he left under freedom of contract come the summer because he was 16 when he joined St Mirren as a Rangers discard.
However, many will require convincing that the Scotland Under-21 international’s decision to join the country’s dominant club will be good for him, and therefore good for the development of an indigenous talent that Ross lauds to the high heavens.
The naysayers would point to the cautionary tales of others who preceded Morgan. Scott Allan and Gary Mackay-Steven are prime examples of players who could not make the step up to Celtic. Even Jonny Hayes, before his leg break last week, had struggled to make an impact despite arriving at Celtic fresh from being the key performer at the second-best team in the country.
Morgan’s leap is much greater through his career having blossomed in the second tier, but the St Mirren manager despairs over the fact that the national pastime of pessimism appears to have punctured any enthusiasm for a transfer in the pipeline for over a month. And he cites a Celtic success story that he considers relevant to Morgan.
“I have known his decision for a while now and said to him he would probably have to prepare for people asking that question regularly of whether he was good enough,” said Ross. “People will be very strong in their opinion. I would say a couple of things on that.
“If he wasn’t Scottish then some people’s opinion wouldn’t be as strong – because we don’t like to talk up our own. People will also point to some of the players who haven’t progressed there. But there are also examples of players who have – like Stuart Armstrong.
“I can only go on my experience of working with Lewis on a daily basis. He is a very good player. He is not one who has burst on the scene and got the move through fortune. He is good enough to earn this type of move and I genuinely believe he is good enough.
“Part of [the downbeat reaction to the move is] what has happened with the national team and we have a negative attitude about our game. We have good players in this country and we should talk up the talent we have.
“I think lots of people will say, ‘what is the better alternative, going to England?’ Is that the holy grail for us? Or do we get encouraged by a player wanting to stay in our own country and play? I hope everything goes well for him so that people may become more receptive at this type of move.”
In one sense Morgan has passed his first test. As it has become apparent he would be moving to Celtic his performances seem to have gone up a notch with St Mirren. He has produced sparkling goalscoring displays in the past week. A double put Dundee United to the sword, before his goal gave the Paisley club a lead they surrendered in the derby draw against Greenock Morton – a Cappielow encounter in which Ross maintains Morgan coped with being subjected to the “most stick” he has ever heard directed at one player.
“Even in the 14 or 15 months I have worked with Lewis he has grown in that respect,” the St Mirren manager said. “The way he has played recently is the obvious example of how he has improved his mindset. We can see it in games and I see it on a weekly basis. When players were physical with him before in games it probably had more of an impact on him. I think he deals with it better now. He also deals with the pressure of being a top player in this league if you like.
“By his own admission, probably a couple of months ago when he had a lot of things to consider – a lot of decisions to make and options – it affected him a little bit and that was understandable. I think since he has had clarity in his own mind over his final decision he has been back to his best. For me he has probably grown in belief since his future was settled. That stands him in really good stead because he is going to face bigger pressures in his future. Different pressures. But I have absolutely no doubt that, as a young man, he will be capable of dealing with that.”
Ross describes Morgan as “articulate and intelligent”, “as good a young man as you can get in Scottish football” in being both “a terrifically rounded guy who will take it in his stride” and “a straightforward living guy”. What will serve him best of all, though, are the rare abilities he brings to his profession.
“He’s a very talented man,” said Ross. “He’s immensely two-footed to his credit. He has a stronger side but it’s impossible to tell. He can take corners with either foot and that’s a rarity in Scottish or even European football. He’s aerobically fit, great technically and probably moves quicker with the ball than without it.
“I judge players by going through certain attributes and there’s a lot he ticks boxes in. There are ones he’ll have to get better at, little bits of positional stuff. His ruthlessness has improved. By that I mean when he knows he’s got a full-back worried can he go and stick the knife in, hammer home that advantage? In terms of all-round ability he’s certainly one of the best I’ve worked with.”