Scotland youngester has shown plenty of promise
There’s a certain affection with which anyone associated with Celtic refers to Kieran Tierney. ‘KT,’ they all call him, almost always followed by a glowing remark of some kind. Indeed, there are few, if any, that are spoken about with such shining sentiment in Scottish football.
That’s partly down to Tierney’s nature as a person, but mainly down to him being the brightest young prospect the Scottish game has seen in a long, long time. And so it’s of little surprise that the teenage left-back has this week been linked with a £10 million move to Manchester United. That is the sort of level his trajectory could take him to.
Scotland has struggled to produce truly top-level players over the past decade or so, with Darren Fletcher the only exception. Even he was a product of Man Utd’s youth academy and not any system north of the border. Tierney, however, has been a Celtic player since the age of seven. He is very much a product of the system.
But while Tierney initially catches the eye as a 19-year-old with close 50 senior appearances, including Champions League games and Scotland caps, to his name already, a more in-depth look at his game reveals his true quality. There is plenty to admire.
Celtic's Kieran Tierney's cross deflects off Manchester City's Raheem Sterling for an own goal during the UEFA Champions League, Group C match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. Picture by Craig Watson PA Wire/PA Images
As is now expected of modern full-backs, Tierney excels in the attacking side of the game, providing Celtic with an outlet down the left side. His positional sense, of where to be at what time, is strong, with his crossing even stronger. For a team that places such an emphasis on headers and the physical presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this is an important trait.
But what makes the teenager so exceptional is that he also relishes the defensive work that so many full-backs now tend to neglect. He’s just as comfortable facing his own goal as he is facing the opposition’s. As Scott Brown once put it, he “would tackle his granny.”
This is surely what makes Tierney so attractive to Jose Mourinho. For all the progress Man Utd have made over the past few weeks their defence remains a concern, with the left-back spot a particular issue. Luke Shaw is expected to be sold, with neither Daley Blind nor Marcos Rojo making the position their own either. Tierney would be the sort of well-rounded solution Mourinho so often opts for.
Not that Celtic will be easy to break down in their resolve to keep Tierney. "All these types of players Kieran, Moussa [Dembele] you see them linked with six, seven clubs so that's part of the game nowadays," Brendan Rodgers said when asked about rumours linking the left back with a move away from Glasgow. "Their concentration is very much here. They've still got a lot of learning and development left in them and they are doing that at one of the great clubs of the world."
Indeed, Moussa Dembele is another who is reported to be on the transfer radar of a number of Premier League clubs, with West Ham making a £20 million offer for the French striker earlier this month. Celtic rejected that offer, which would have made Dembele the most expensive player ever to play in Scotland, illustrating how they are in a position to rebuff such overtures for their best players. It’s for this reason that a £10 million bid for Tierney is unlikely to be unsuccessful, at least in the January window.
Tierney hasn’t play since the October Old Firm derby win over Rangers, sustaining ankle ligament damage, but is now back in training, with Rodgers confirming that the 19-year-old could return to action in the Scottish Cup tie against Albion Rovers on Sunday. "The most important thing for Kieran was getting back fit and for us it is like having a new signing," he said. "He’s back training, he played in a practice game there and he looked fantastic. Now he'll be ready for the second part of the season."
Of course, at just 19, Tierney is far from the finished product, but that’s what makes him such an exciting prospect, even for a club of Man Utd’s size. If he’s this good now how good could he ultimately get? That’s the question worth at least £10 million.