Kieran Tierney: Why Celtic's fearless young full-back is a wanted lad Europe-wide
Ameen Rabbani runs the rule over the teenage defender who's recently been scouted by Bayern Munich and several of England's top clubs
The 60-second story
Date of birth: June 5, 1997
Place of birth: Douglas, Isle of Man
Club: Celtic (52 appearances, 1 goal)
International: Scotland (2 caps, 0 goals)
It takes just one glance at Kieran Tierney to realise he’s not exactly cut from the same cloth as the typical exciting young prospect courted by Europe’s elite clubs.
He doesn’t have a fancy hairstyle, his arms aren’t covered in tattoos, he wears plain black boots, plays with his shirt tucked in and barely misses a minute on the pitch. There’s a refreshing blend of old-fashioned attitude and modern playing style about the 19-year-old, whose Scottish grit accompanys his guile to make for one impressive young player. What’s more, there’s a clear focus on continuous improvement, which is reflected in his remarkable ascent from playing for Celtic’s U19s to becoming a mainstay in the first team and making his competitive Scotland debut in less than 18 months.
A boyhood Celtic fan, Tierney joined the club’s youth academy at seven, before progressing through the ranks and developing a reputation as a dynamic left-back. In a match for the reserve side in 2014, Tierney alerted many to his quality with a stunning goal from the edge of his own box against Hearts.
He’s had to overcome adversity before receiving all the recognition, however, having suffered a broken leg the day after being named as a first-team substitute in December 2014. He was fit again within four months, though, and made his bow in a home win over Dundee that paid testament to his character and determination.
Tierney scores from (way) inside his own half against Hearts
It’s not just Celtic fans pinning their hopes on Tierney: the struggling Tartan Army are looking to him for inspiration, too. He and Oliver Burke are rightly considered to be the national team’s most valuable jewels who, with time, can inspire Scotland to finally break their hoodoo and qualify for another major tournament.
Why you need to know him
Towards the end of last season, the connection between fans and manager Ronny Deila had all but broken down. If there’s one thing the old boss should be thanked for, though, it’s the belief he showed in Tierney.
The youngster was a perfect fit for the Norwegian’s high-tempo style of play, flying up and down the touchline with tremendous vigour. Deila handed Tierney a somewhat surprising start – just his third appearance in a Hoops jersey – on the opening day of the 2015/16 campaign, and from there the teenager went from strength to strength, making the left-back position his own, displacing the vastly experienced and former SPL Player of the Year Emilio Izaguirre, and being named Players’ and Writers’ Young Player of the Year.
This term, under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers, Tierney has responded to the tougher questions that have been asked of him and flourished under pressure. His displays in top-bracket encounters over the last month in particular have got heads turning: Rangers found his energy and aggression too much to cope with as the Bhoys crushed their rivals 5-1, and he didn't give an inch in his head-to-head clash with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling in the Champions League. Sterling may have scored that night, but Tierney was arguably even more influential with two crucial assists.
The youngster also earned his first competitive international cap recently, playing the full 90 minutes against Slovakia. Despite Scotland being on the receiving end of a heavy defeat, the Celtic full-back emerged from the match with some credit to his name.
As with most full-backs Tierney loves to get forward, but it’s the manner in which he attacks that really makes him stand out. He’s absolutely relentless, marauding into advanced positions at every opportunity and using his searing pace and direct running to make a difference high up the pitch.
Once he’s at the byline or on the edge of the box, his technical attributes take charge; Tierney has the composure to pick out a team-mate with a wicked cross or accurate cut-back, while he also packs a powerful shot that’s been put to good use already this season.
His defensive development is coming along nicely, too. Tierney is a tough tackler and always willing to engage in a physical battle – indicative of his tenacious character – while he's extremely hard to beat in a one-on-one duel.
If there’s one part of Tierney’s game that could improve immediately, it’s his distribution when under pressure from opponents. While fellow Scottish sides are generally happy to sit off Celtic, their European rivals don't hesitate when it comes to houding defenders, and Tierney's been guilty of ceding possession in dangerous areas in the Champions League this year.
Rodgers is convinced Tierney will go far. "I saw in the first two days I was in charge that he will be a top player," the ex-Liverpool boss said. "Having worked with young players – and lots of them – and seen them grow and develop into top stars, there’s no question about that."
Did you know?
Tierney was a ball boy on the night Celtic famously beat Barcelona 2-1 at Parkhead in 2012. Last month, he lined up against Lionel Messi & Co. at the Camp Nou.
What happens next?
The last month has certainly proved to be the toughest of Tierney’s short career, but it’s one he’s passed with flying colours – so much so that clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are said to be keeping a close eye on his progression throughout the course of the campaign. Arsene Wenger is a particularly keen admirer having sent chief scout Steve Rowley to watch the defender on more than one occasion.
Despite the interest, it’s vital that Tierney remains grounded and maintains the consistency that’s made him a fans’ favourite in Glasgow. He made that clear himself when he signed a new contract in the summer. "There was no thought of leaving," he declared. "Last year was a breakthrough season, so I need to prove myself again and hold my place down."
Celtic’s pursuit of the domestic treble and aim of staying in Europe for as long as possible is a good short-term target for his focus. The Hoops have succumbed to the pressure of accepting a hefty fee in the past for young players, and if Tierney were to once again play a major role in a season laden with silverware, it’s hard to imagine them fending off the sharks circling their homegrown talent.
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