“I’m talking about youngsters and gifted players in their team who can’t dribble or pass it because of the grass.... Christ. [Scotland] haven’t qualified for [a major tournament] in 20-odd years and we’re trying to develop players and a product here to move the game on.”
That formed part of Brendan Rodgers’ withering assessment of the Tynecastle pitch following Celtic’s comfortable 3-1 win over Hearts in May. Unimpressed with the length of the grass the Northern Irishman bemoaned the effect it had on the quality of performance from both sides while making a nod to Scotland’s inability to qualify for tournaments.
It brought about a disbelieving response from Hearts manager Craig Levein. Among the incredulity was a not-so-subtle judgement of Celtic’s own role in the development of young Scottish players.
While the rebuke - and the spat itself - was amusing, Levein was somewhat harsh considering what Rodgers has done for the careers of a host of Scottish players, namely Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and James Forrest. He has also involved the likes of Michael Johnston and Calvin Miller in the first-team and started Anthony Ralston in a Champions League encounter with Paris Saint-Germain.
The angle Levein took was understandable as he looked to protect his club, but it was misjudged. However, a few months later and it is set to take on greater credence with the news Celtic are reportedly on the verge of signing Australian teenage talent Daniel Arzani.
The club have been heavily linked with a long-term loan for the 19-year-old. He is expected to sign for Manchester City from Melbourne City and then make an immediate move to Celtic Park. It comes on the back of Patrick Roberts’ 18-month loan, with City satisfied with the player’s development at the Scottish champions.
It is clear Celtic would be getting a highly promising teenager who has been likened to Australian legend Harry Kewell and seen as the future of the Australian national team. Yet, aside from the recruitment of a precocious talent, where are the benefits for Celtic and their own youth players looking to make a breakthrough?
Well known through the youth ranks for his promise, Arzani only came into the wider football consciousness in Australia earlier this year after a strong second half of the season propelled him into Bert van Marwijk’s squad for the World Cup in Russia. The Iran-born attacker came off the bench in each of Australia’s three games in Russia.
He did enough to excite Socceroo fans with his minutes on the pitch. But, as has been noted by his Melbourne manager Warren Joyce, he is still very much a work in progress. Tactically and physically much work is required and therefore it is easy to see why Manchester City are so keen for him to move to Celtic. He would receive expert coaching from Rodgers, becoming a more rounded individual, while there is no better place to get to grip with the physical demands of first-team football than Scotland.
• READ MORE: Brendan Rodgers: Transfers ‘aren’t my job at Celtic’
In two years’ time Celtic would likely be handing back a much-improved player. But what good is that to the club?
Rodgers admitted to the BBC that transfers weren’t his job but the club know the profile of player they should recruit.
There are two types of signings they should be making. Promising talent who they can mould and down the line sell for a big fee and players who are capable of taking the club to the next level.
Very much a work in development, Arzani is unlikely to come in and transform Celtic to the point they are more competitive in European football - the aim for this season after two domestic trebles. He wasn’t relied on to complete a full game by Van Marwijk or Joyce.
Which contradicts with comments made by Rodgers on Wednesday: “I really don’t want to stockpile players. We have to bring in players that are going to improve the squad, rather than just add to it.”
In addition, rather than reaping the full financial rewards of signing the player, it would make Celtic are a mere staging post.
Perhaps, most importantly, is the message it sends out to the young Scottish talent currently in the first-team squad and those looking to progress through the ranks. Arzani plays as an attacking wide player, and a very exciting one; the way he drives at opponents at pace, jinking in and out, up and over, and around challenges.
It is a position in which Celtic have options and Scottish options at that.
Let’s make this clear. Celtic don’t owe Scottish football anything. Their No.1 priority should be themselves and what is best for the football club. If Scotland and the national team can benefit from success then it is a positive.
However, the club have invested in the likes of Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and Lewis Morgan, while they have aided the development of Michael Johnston to the point he is ready to make that step into first-team football.
With the promise and talent there, where is the need to take a player on loan from a brand, help him improve so he is ready to return to make his name in the English Premier League or more likely flipped for a profit?
It could be said his arrival would increase competition. But with competition already there, when you add in Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, it would simply push one or two players down the pecking order, stunt their development.
There is little doubt Arzani would benefit from a move to Celtic on his way to the Premier League but there is already an abundance of talent there whose progress would be of greater satisfactory and benefit to Celtic.
Rodgers has had his gripe about elements affecting the development of Scottish football. Surely he can recognise the message such a signing sends to his players and Scottish football as a whole in the same week it emerged that there will be no regulation for pitch length.