As recently as the 1970s, Scottish footballers honed their skills and sharpness by playing football in the streets, learning how to release the ball quickly and accurately in order to avoid the boots and elbows of older, heavier rivals.
Daniel Arzani is still a teenager but Celtic’s newest signing is a throwback to those days. The Manchester City winger, signed from Melbourne City last week, has immediately been sent to Scotland on a two-year loan to precipitate his progress.
Arzani was the youngest player at this summer’s World Cup finals, appearing in all three of Australia’s group matches, but his instinctive talent was nurtured in strife-torn Iran.
Born in Khorramabad in the Lorestan Province, he has been kicking a ball – or as close as he could get to one – for as long as he can remember.
“My parents took my brother and me to Australia for a better life when I was six years old,” said the 19-year-old. “Then we moved back for a year when I was ten because my grandmother was ill and we had to take care of her.
“But I learned the game by playing street football in Iran. That was good and I have fond memories of that. We had these small, plastic balloons which were very light so we would burst them and then layer seven or eight of them together and wrap them in electric tape.
“It killed your feet because they were like rocks. We’d put bricks down for goalposts and then move them whenever a car came.
“Footballs were non-existent. Nobody had one because they’re very rare there. Everyone used to make those plastic balls, which you could just buy from the corner shop.
“It improved my touch and toughened me up because there were some big boys in those games and nobody was bothered about hurting you. But that made me the player I am today, playing against bigger opponents.
“That was in Durud and Ahvaz, two of the smaller cities in Iran. We’d just wake up in the morning, have our breakfast and then go straight out to play. You’d get a knock on the door and that would be it.”
Arzani revealed that conversations with international team-mate Tom Rogic and manager Brendan Rodgers convinced him that Parkhead can be a launching pad for his club career.
“Tom’s a close friend of mine so the first thing I did when this came up was get on the phone to him and he had nothing but good things to say about the club,” he said. “In fact, he pointed out that if it wasn’t a great place to be at he wouldn’t have signed his new deal and that was good enough for me.
“When I chatted with the gaffer we didn’t speak too much about football but I got the impression that he was a good person. He was nice and easy to talk to as well as being genuine and I connected with him straight away. It’s important to me that he’s an honest man because communication is key and I’m looking forward to working with him.”