When Kieran Tierney says he “hopes” to be a Celtic player for the rest of the career, there’s no reason not to believe him.
Players lie constantly. “Everyone is right behind the manager.” “All of the boys get along.” “I’ve not ruled out signing a new deal.” But rarely do they lie about wishing to stay with a club for the rest of their career. Or, at least, they shouldn’t. That’s the kind of thing that will come back to bite you if you play a role in the promise failing to come reality. Fans remember these things. Players can have all the money and success, but it still hurts to be hated by a group of people who once adored you, especially if you saw yourself as one of those people.
Tierney will know that. He’s not naive. He says he’s happy to be at Celtic for the rest of his career because that’s how he feels right now. Whether he will still feel like that in the future depends on a number of factors.
Firstly, things change over time.
Remember your first love? At the time you thought it impossible you could ever want anybody else. In some cases it remains true to this day, but not the majority. Familiarity breeds contempt. Even if you stay put and are dead set on doing so, circumstances still alter.
In Tierney’s case, it’s great being a Celtic player at this moment in time. He’s now (presumably) one of the highest earners at a club with 60,000 fans cheering him on every other week, and he gets to play in the Champions League. Most players dream of rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite, Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus etc, but what Tierney’s got is a pretty good surrogate. He still gets to face off against such opponents on a yearly basis and enjoys the comforts of being at home and playing for the team he loves.
Furthermore, he’s got a manager whom he respects and will thoroughly enjoy playing for. Brendan Rodgers thinks the world of his star left-back and there’s no substitute for feeling wanted and appreciated in your work.
But Rodgers won’t be at Celtic for the rest of his career and the club won’t always be at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership. Rangers’ continued floundering means they’ve got a good couple of years (at least) until their position is truly challenged, but football ebbs and flows. Eventually they won’t be at the top of the mountain, even if it’s just for a season or two.
Then there’s the yearly difficulty of getting into the Champions League. The draw has been fairly kind to Celtic over the past couple of years, and it was touch and go in Rodgers’ first season. Making it each and every campaign is going to be a tough ask until the Scottish coefficient rises significantly, with little indication of that happening soon. Even one year missing out would be a big blow to their progress as they aim to build themselves into a team who’ll regularly challenge for a place in the knockout stages.
If progress begins to stall, there’s more chance of Rodgers going elsewhere. A new boss might come in and there may be a clash of personalities. Rodgers may even come back for his favourite.
Then there’s temptation; not just from the lure of big clubs with their seemingly limitless finances, but even from fellow professionals. Tierney will be a fixture in the Scotland squad for the next decade. As he gets older and more cynical (we all do) he may start to pay more attention to what some of his international team-mates are getting paid for playing for the likes of West Brom or Southampton. It’s not a case of needing the money. It’s about professional pride. If he’s one of the best players in - all indications are that he will be for the next decade - and a weaker team-mate is earning more money than him, that’s the sort of thing which begins to grate.
These are all hypothetics. There’s a lot of “ifs” in this article, but that’s the point. Life is all about change.
If Tierney continues to be happy at Celtic then there’s less chance he’ll leave. There’s also Scottish football’s standing in the eyes of English or elite foreign clubs to consider. It’s difficult to imagine the defender, given what he’s said, following the path of the last big-money assets to be sold by Celtic. He likely wouldn’t wish to give up the memorable Champions League nights and Hampden triumphs for mid-table mediocrity, even if it is in The Greatest League In The World (trademark, Sky Sports). It would need to be one of the top clubs. There are a few who are reportedly looking at him now, but there’d have to be assurances that he’s the undoubted first-choice. As great as he’s been, it’s still a crucial stage of his career. Playing time is everything for his development.
Whatever the future brings, his new long-term contract signing was still a wonderful bit of news for the Celtic support. At this moment in time he’s delighted to be with the club. The January window is around the corner and he’s sure to be linked with other teams on a daily basis. His extension should make fans rest much easier. Whether it’s two years, five years, ten years or never, it seems certain Tierney will be sticking around for the time being. And that’s the most important thing.