Stephen Halliday: Celtic’s Kieran Tierney must let his head rule his heart

To stay or to go? Kieran Tierney faces the same dilemma as Charlie Nicholas, but his head must rule his heart. Picture: SNS.
To stay or to go? Kieran Tierney faces the same dilemma as Charlie Nicholas, but his head must rule his heart. Picture: SNS.
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The angst among Celtic supporters facing the prospect of Kieran Tierney’s departure from the club this summer is understandable.

The sale of a top performer is an especially bitter pill to swallow for fans when the player in question is regarded as very much “one of your own”.

The connection between Tierney and the most devoted followers of the Scottish champions is both strong and authentic. Unlike many others, whenever Tierney kisses the badge it is done with 
sincerity and a genuine love for the club he has supported since childhood.

But regardless of his emotional attachment to Celtic, the 22-year-old will have a cold-eyed decision to make if Arsenal or Napoli step up their interest in him and come anywhere close to meeting the £25 million valuation on his head.

The situation is reminiscent of the one faced by another darling of the Celtic fans more than 30 years ago. He may ruffle their feathers
on occasion as a media pundit these days, but it is impossible to overstate just how popular Charlie
Nicholas was among those who populated the old Jungle stand at Celtic Park.

In the summer of 1983, still only 21 and having just completed a spectacular third season in the Celtic first team in which he scored 48 goals in 53 appearances, Nicholas was courted by leading clubs in England and Italy.

His decision to leave Celtic – like Tierney, he was a bona fide boyhood fan who came through the club’s youth system – was not made easily. His choice of Arsenal, rejecting the opportunity to join a then dominant and successful 
Liverpool side, surprised many.

But even at a tender age, Nicholas was making sure his head ruled his heart. It wasn’t only the emotional wrench of leaving Celtic he had to set aside, he spurned Liverpool’s advances as he did not see a clear pathway to regular first-team football at Anfield where his own erstwhile Celtic idol, Kenny Dalglish, had formed a deadly strike pairing with Ian Rush.

Many Celtic fans were irked by the timing of Nicholas’ departure, feeling he could have remained in the green and white hoops for at least another couple of seasons before fulfilling his professional desire to sample life in England’s top flight.

But Nicholas had become acutely aware of the potential fragility of a footballer’s career, having been sidelined for six months by a broken leg in Celtic’s title-winning 1981-82 campaign. There were no guarantees that he would ever again be as hot a property in the eyes of major clubs as he was in that close season of 1983.

For Tierney, currently completing his recovery from the double hernia operation necessary after injuries interrupted his contributions to Celtic’s treble treble winning season, similar considerations now confront him.

Could he realistically turn down the chance to join one of the biggest clubs in the richest league of them all, providing him with both life-changing financial circumstances and the stage to prove himself as one of the best left-backs in the world? Having seen Scotland captain Andrew Robertson do exactly that with his exceptional rate of development since joining Liverpool, Tierney will certainly see the attraction of 
following suit.

Tierney could still continue to flourish and improve as a Celtic player, of course, and the prospect of remaining a member of the team hunting down the record-breaking feat of ten titles in a row will be a powerful attraction for someone so steeped in the club’s raison d’etre. But to stretch himself even further and truly maximise his enormous potential, matching himself against the best on a weekly basis in the English Premier League has to be regarded as the logical choice.