The importance of a Scottish core at Celtic – Local talent and our propensity to ignore it

Living down south as I now do, I must admit, as much as I try to ignore, it the derision aimed at Scottish football not only gets my back up it also gets a rise from me, almost always.

There is a clichéd view of the Scottish game and our players in England and it is one borne in the main of ignorance. Many Arsenal, Villa, Spurs or Chelsea fans will pour scorn on the standard of football north of the border and often pass judgement based on historical prejudices, yet ask them to name the Hibs or Aberdeen striker most wouldn’t have a clue, ask them what they thought on the Sky TV live game the previous weekend and most couldn’t even tell you who played but they’ll still tell you it was garbage.

There are probably reasons based on perception and comparison for this kind of attitude, after all the big TV companies tell them every week that the Premier League is the best league in the world and they lap it up. Meanwhile over the border footballers earn their keep playing the same game but usually on a mere fraction of those plying their trade down south.

Photo: Andrew Milligan

Top flight football in England is awash with money, top facilities to train and of course incredible theatres in which the teams perform, meanwhile in Scotland plastic pitches, training on public parks or performing in run-down grounds give a perception of footballing poverty. It is easy then to excuse the southern perception of football in Scotland being sub-standard if they only ever scratch the surface.

Celtic as we know are in the midst of a rebuild and it is a big one at that. Probably the biggest since Neil Lennon had to turn around the failed Mowbray experiment. As such it is exciting to think of emerging talents from every footballing market imaginable coming to hone their talents at Paradise, leading the club back to an acceptable standard, furnishing their mantelpieces with trophies and medals before earning the club a fortune in transfer fees and sell on clauses. But do we as Celtic fans have a blind spot when it comes to Scottish talent too? Do we purr at the thought of the Croatian under 21 stars emerging from Hajduk Split, or the Australian playmaker earning big bucks in the Chinese Super League? Do we then turn our nose up at talent in the Scottish game and take a similar attitude to our southern neighbours?

Photo: Alan Rennie

Scotland we’re told used to produce footballers but that was in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. We’re told every English team had a Scotsman from Bremner to Dalglish and Hansen and many, many more besides. There is no arguing there has been fallow periods where the production line slowed, indeed the impact of Teachers strikes in the 80’s on developing players did impact on the generations coming through but there is also the cyclical issue of a small country simply having quieter periods of production.

Yet Scotland is still producing talent and right now it is very much doing so again. I work with a Villa fan who thought the signing of John McGinn showed a lack of ambition from his club, he now reminds me almost daily we let one slip through our fingers. Meanwhile Arsenal fans would riot if Kieran Tierney left Arsenal, Liverpool fans would be asking serious questions if Andy Robertson was sold and Southampton fans would be somewhat confuse if Stuart Armstrong was allowed to transfer his magnificent barnet back up the road . Yet when Celtic are linked with Scottish players the hesitancy from that Villa fan is often mirrored by our own support.

The core of Celtic’s invincible squad was made up of a strong Scottish core. Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor, Scott Brown and James Forrest all played as much a part as Dembele, Boyata or Sinclair. Going further back many of us will well remember the impact the unfashionables of the Scottish game had on the Celts when Paul Hartley and Barry Robson arrived and league titles followed, it wasn’t all Nakamura.

As Celtic rebuild now there are talents in the Scottish game. Not only would it be a thought to tap into that market, it seems history would show that foreign talents would flourish alongside home-grown players. Marko Vuskovic looks a great prospect, Aaron Mooy is a top-class midfielder but all would settle in better with a bit of local knowledge alongside them.

Celtic are the biggest club in Scotland and there is not a single player plying their trade in Scottish football that should not first pass through the filter of Celtic before they move on elsewhere, well okay perhaps not from one club.

Aaron Hickey Bologna F.C. lPhoto: Massimo Paolone/LaPresse

I’ve written on here many times over the last 18 months and more about Scottish talent. Some were emerging, such as Aaron Hickey, who now appears to be interesting Napoli having gone to Bologna, he remains a talent with a high ceiling.

Closer to home we flagged up Ali McCann in April last year, he’s now even better than he was then, has chosen to represent Northern Ireland and is impressing at International level as well as winning two domestic trophies.

We’ve promoted the purchase of Lewis Ferguson at Aberdeen to the point I’m even boring myself, and this year we’ve flagged up talent under our noses such as Jason Kerr at St Johnstone now interesting Bournemouth, Josh Doig of Hibs who has been scouted by Manchester City as well as Kevin Nisbet at Hibs who just keeps improving with every incremental step his career takes.

Photo: Jane Barlow

There was and is more. Lewis Smith at Hamilton Accies a player who needs to take the next step up, Ryan Porteous at Hibs would need some mental discipline coached into his game to his game but has all the attributes needed to be a top class centre half and there’s one who already got away but one we need to keep a close eye on nonetheless, as Allan Campbell moved when out of contract at Motherwell to Luton Town and will go much higher than that in time.

Celtic can’t of course sign all those players and there are professionals assessing players much more skilled than I in judging the merits and expected development potential in Scottish footballers, but Celtic do best with a Scottish core and many of these players could well come in and develop further with coaching, European exposure and being surrounded by international players with a winning mentality. They would also supplement the kind of signings that will excite the fans like Vuskovic and Mooy. Add to that they are already proven at a domestic level as the best of their club sides.

Local knowledge is often derided and as a support perhaps we also fall into the trap of discounting Scottish based talents simply due to the clubs they play for much like our English neighbours, but how many of us have watched these players play much more often than Sportscene highlights or when they play against Celtic, yet still pass negative judgement?

Photo: Andrew Milligan

It is always exciting to be linked with talented young players from abroad and of course it is essential Celtic do shop in such markets, but it’s getting harder to do so. As big English sides thumb their noses at talent north of the border, we have a huge advantage as the biggest club in Scotland to offer the best of young Scottish based players a pathway to a huge football club, the opportunity to win trophies, European competition and of course the Ange Postecoglou revolution. There can and will also be just as much sell on value as any player from France or Croatia if we cultivate those players further.

There is a lot of good talent emerging in Scottish football, many of whom have already at a young age had a great deal of first team exposure. As a support and as a club it’s time we paid attention and afforded them the respect their talents have earned. If any leave Scotland before arriving at Celtic it shouldn’t be down to ignorance of their abilities or our propensity to ignore it.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.


  1. We should have got Ryan gauld deal signed and sealed six months ago. We are always dilly dallying when it comes to sign players, especially from Scottish clubs as we try to get them on the cheap and they end up going elsewhere. We also lose young talent every year by not giving them game time. We all think this is going to change with the new manager and executive but I don’t think so as the incompetent boardroom is still there.

  2. Martin Leadbetter on

    What a first class article – couldn’t agree more – been saying the same thing for a long time. We think someone from Ecuador or Uruguay or Africa will turn out to be world beaters but won’t look ay guys playing in Edinburgh and Perth. Hickey was an obvious talent we had already let slip from our youth system – like McGinn, Robertson and McCart. Even the big Livi striker (‘Jet’) – ex Arsenal hotshot , would have been cheap and score goals for us – or at least offer another option. I’d be delighted of in the next fortnight we signed Kerr, Doig, Nisbet and Ferguson – plus Shaun Rooney for the right back area.

  3. David Potter on

    Spot on, Niall! I am fed up with all the foreign disappointments that we have had over the past 2 years – guys that can perhaps play well elsewhere, but can’t play for Celtic, mainly because they don’t UNDERSTAND Celtic or Scotland. At least Scottish players (and I am not talking here only about “Celtic minded” players necessarily, understand what Celtic means. But then again, you have the likes of Kieran Tierney who definitely DID understand what Celtic meant – but yet turned his back on us. Surely money doesn’t mean as much as all that?
    But this does not make me waver one iota from my conviction that ATTITUDE is as important as ability. You have to WANT to play for Celtic!