It seems that nary a week passes without Kieran Tierney racking up some sort of career milestone. Last night, you could contend that the wunderkind of Scottish football, whose talents have the game’s cognoscenti all a quiver, brought up not one but two more.
The Celtic defender’s headline act may have been becoming the second youngest Scotland captain in more than a century – Tierney, aged 20 and five months, is a mere one month older than Darren Fletcher was when first handed the armband for Scotland in a win over Estonia in May 2004.
That is some headline act, but for his next trick Tierney could also point to a remarkable piece of juggling. The youngster has earned his status as the most exciting player to hail from these borders in more than three decades on his faultless performances at left-back for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Against the Netherlands, interim manager Malky Mackay installed him at centre-back in a four-man defence and so ensured that Tierney added a third position to those he has featured in across the span of his nine-cap Scotland career.
Even if his destiny is being presented as a £40 million signing for one of Europe’s top clubs, it seemed unfair to burden Tierney with an unfamiliar role on the night of his being asked to lead his team – a duty he has only performed twice at club level.
Yet, such is the marvel of this player, whenever you fear too much may be being asked of him, he responds with the sort of performance that suggest there is nothing that appears beyond him.
Tierney recently signed a six-year contract with Celtic, with whom he has intimated his professional ties may be more enduring than any believe possible in this football world where he could probably earn more in a year in England what he would bank in a football lifetime at a team for whom the personal and professional fuse as they never could elsewhere. He is a special case in all respects then, and proved that is breathtakingly so in an on-field sense with the contribution he made at centre-back against the Dutch. Tierney simply never betrayed any apprehension or uncertainty, never looked like a fill-in. Indeed, he appeared more assured than when deployed on the left of a three against England in June. Much more so, in fact, than when he operating at right-back to accommodate Andrew Robertson in the end days of the Gordon Strachan regime, the Liverpool squad man once more in the position he is given no opportunity to play at club level.
Looking as if he is stretching beyond the 5ft 10in officially given as his height, Tierney won aerial duels, showed innate positional sense to win every important block and, most impressively of all, built and made the play from the back. Granted, early on this amounted to the sort of long upfield balls that he wouldn’t dare deliver under club manager Rodgers.
Yet, it wasn’t clatter but craft that informed these 60- yarders because on two occasions in the first 11 minutes he released Matt Phillips with the range and accuracy that underpinned these booming balls. A tactic, clearly, it ought to have yielded the desired result, with the West Bromich Albion forward squandering the precious chances that Tierney’s class opened up for him.
Deep in the second half, Tierney produced another penetrating delivery to allow the just on-field Ryan Fraser to drive into the visitors’ penalty area, with his eventual effort whistling just past the post.
Tierney couldn’t be the man at both ends but he almost was in stepping forward to have a pop from 25-yard that Barcelona keeper Jasper Cillessen was forced to push at full stretch. That effort came four minutes before the loss of a 40th-minute goal that may have spoiled his first outing as Scotland captain but which was not a black mark on his performance.
Tierney held a high enough line to play Ryan Babel offside when he received the ball from which he crossed for Memphis Depay to score. The flag that should have been raised to denote the illegitimacy of the strike did not arrive, but Tierney planted another flag on his ascent to the summit of the game.