Teenage kicks – Celtic’s strategic failure to provide a proper pathway for Academy stars

Yesterday we talked about the failure of the Lowland League experiment for the development of Celtic Academy stars and pointed out that while away with Ireland U19s then U21s, Rocco Vata found himself as the player in the squad playing at the lowest level of football in the fifth tier of Scottish football.

UEFA European Under 21 Qualifier Group A, San Marino Stadium, San Marino 22/3/2024 San Marino vs Republic of Ireland Irelands Rocco Vata Rocco Vata 22/3/2024. Photo INPHO/Luca Sighinolfi

And we noted that Celtic’s position in that Lowland League last season illustrates that the Celtic B team is going backwards instead of forward and rather than professional development the Lowland league table (and remember the table never lies) shows a worrying regression.

In the closing months of Ange Postecoglou’s time at Celtic Rocco Vata was training with the first team. Last summer’s influx of project signings meant that incoming manager Brendan Rodgers had to send Vata and Daniel Kelly back to the Celtic B team, to make space for the new signings each to be evaluated and given their chance. That must have been demoralising.

Celtic v Motherwell – Rocco Vata during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Saturday April 22, 2023. Photo Steve Welsh

When football resumed after the short winter break, Celtic played Buckie Thistle at Celtic Park and Vata came off the bench to score. Kelly also played and he got his own first professional goal against Dundee at Celtic Park in the Scottish Premiership. Kelly made a few more appearances but there was nothing much more happening for Rocco Vata, except being back training with the first team.

Roco Vata’s one and only goal for Celtic in a competitive match

After a decade at Celtic, and with a lifetime ambition of wanting to score goals for Celtic, Rocco looks set to put his head before his heart and walk away from the club he supports and his dad played for.

Anthony Joseph at Sky Sports, who has been leading on this transfer story, reports that Rocco will have his medical at Watford today and is close to completing a four year deal that will see him swap the fifth tier of Scottish football for the second tier of English football.

Celtic will be compensated by a £237,000 payment for the Vicarage Road club and Celtic’s woes will be added to when they assess the home players required for the Champions League squad.

Paul McStay

In the days of Billy McNeill as Celtic manager we’d often see Cesar introduce a young player from the bench at Celtic Park when Celtic were comfortably ahead in the game. That was when two subs were allowed, we can now have five yet seldom if ever do we see Celtic Academy players getting a taste of first team action.

Surely there is merit in this as there must be multiple benefits in rewarding the best of our Academy players with a taste of first team football? Maybe back in the early 1980s the likes of Paul McStay and Charlie Nicholas would have ended up at a club like Watford had there not been a proper pathway to the first team open to them at Celtic.

Best of luck to Rocco, he’s no Maestro of Champagne Charlie, but he certainly is capable of having a decent career and there’s an argument that the likes of Yang, Tilio and one or two others didn’t really merit being ahead of him in the queue to satisfy the board’s buy cheap sell on for big bucks policy that gets in the way of Celtic developing our own first team players.

Rocco Vata would have signed a deal at Celtic had the pathway been clearer and that is something Brendan Rodgers must consider going forward. This wasn’t about money, it was about the lack of a pathway and the grim Lowland league alternative. Rocco probably won’t be the one to leave from the current crop of young players who are presented with a poverty of options behind a bloated first team squad and the prospect of playing students from Edinburgh University next season. It’s a shambles.

Sort it out Celtic.

CELTIC FAN SURVEY…Celtic Fan Survey 2024, includes section on increasing Safer Standing

The Celtic best-seller
Visit Celtic Shorts today – we think you’ll like it!

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk


  1. Why does a big successful business like Celtic put up with a huge part of The organisation failing to deliver on its purpose. Year after year. ! Pretty sure if the likes of Kelly and Vata were as good as some suggest then the manager would be playing them. Appreciate that the league set up and B Division are not much good but even given that why are Celtic not running away with it ? fair enough getting middling results if good first team players emerge – but there are none. There are over 25 coaches listed on the website in the academy !!
    Who has appeared since Tierney ? What are these coaches doing with youngsters presumably selected because they have the talent and athletic ability that sets them above their peers ?
    I understand that this would be a problem across the clubs as just enough young Scottish talent is being produced – as our awful international team demonstrates. But it must be up to the bigger clubs in Scotland – led by us as the biggest – to force the changes.

  2. It’s not a problem of Celtic’s making. The SFA have done sfa regarding development of youth players in Scotland. They seem quite happy that the best young players go abroad.