It says everything about Liam Henderson that he signed up for one-to-one sessions with me this summer because he wanted to get as fit as possible to make a push to get into the Celtic team; he knew it was going to be a big season for him.
I am a realist: I told him he is going to have to go a bit to get in the team before Scotty Brown, Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong – you are talking about players worth multi-millions.
Even if he decides to play wide, Scott Sinclair is Brendan Rodgers’ boy. And then there’s Patrick Roberts, who they say is worth £25 million. Where does Liam fit into that Celtic team?
Brendan said to him that if he were building his team around winning the Premiership Liam would play every week. But he is building it around trying to be as competitive as he can be in the Champions League. Which is fair enough.
I just hope Celtic aren’t pricing him out of the market; there was talk they wanted £2 million in the last transfer window. When they lowered the asking price on the final day it was too late.
I’d love to think the club closest to my heart might have him back – Hibs. Neil Lennon mentioned this week they’d have tried to do a deal had John McGinn left.
They are obviously different players; John is an integral part at Hibs. Would Liam fill the John void? Probably not. But he’s every bit as talented as John. I don’t know which one I’d pick if you gave me the option; that’s how highly I rate Liam.
John can dominate the game physically while Liam probably needs the ball at his feet in order to dictate things. They are both talented young players, which is what we want in the country. I am probably a bit closer to Liam than John. But they both asked me for advice when I was at Easter Road.
Anyone can see that at this moment John is enhancing his reputation while Liam is sitting in the stand watching games. Not being included in the squad for last night’s game against Hamilton Accies, when Brendan confirmed he’d make changes, is a sure sign his time is up at Celtic. I’ve told Liam that his next move is critical for him: Would Hibs be a good fit for him? Of course they would. Neil Lennon knows what he is getting, the Hibs fans know. He would be a fans’ favourite before he has kicked a ball.
But Liam has to be sure it’s the right move for him. And Celtic have to play ball too.
That’s where it becomes a bit disappointing for me. Every club should be permitted to get as much money as they can get for a player.
But when it comes to such a huge institution as Celtic, with an array of talent and bags of money, I’d like to think a talented boy who wants to make the best of himself should be allowed to do so.
Liam would back himself against any of the players in his position at Celtic – as he should. But it is a difficult team to break into. It can become a bit frustrating and you become a bit stale – I experienced this situation under Terry Butcher at Hibs. You can quickly be forgotten about.
You need to stay positive. That’s why Liam has surrounded himself with good people. He travels to training with Scotty every day. The skipper will give him good advice.
Liam needs to be ready to take the next step; I am pretty sure he will be. He has plenty of time. He is young, just 21. His talent is beyond question.
He is getting stronger physically. It’s sometimes taken for granted that when you’re 20 you are already a man; some boys can be. But when you start to play against men every week that’s when you get proper power.
That is happening to Liam now. At Hibs he was skin and bone. But when he came in to do one-to-work with me in the summer I could see his leg muscles are bigger, his calves are bigger.
I have Celtic and Hibs fans at my academy and told them Liam was coming along. A few stayed behind and watched. He put on a great exhibition of his talent. I said to my kids and coaches that if you could buy technique you’d want Liam’s.
I don’t want him to get lost in the system so that when he is in his mid-20s he is still trying to re-start his career at different clubs.
I hope for Liam’s sake and for the sake of young Scottish talent he gets the chance to show how good he is – at a club where he is appreciated.