Who is Kieran Tierney? The best defensive mind in the UK wanted by Man Utd & Arsenal
When Celtic famously lifted the European Cup in 1967, having defeated Inter 2-1 in the final, they did so with a team born entirely within a 30-mile radius of their Parkhead home in the East End of Glasgow.
Full-back Tommy Gemmell got their equalising goal on that balmy evening in Lisbon, firing home from the edge of the box to catapult the Scots to the European title. It was one of 63 goals that he got for the club, and coincidentally that is the shirt number of a young man destined to follow in his path to greatness.
Celtic -2 v Ross County – evens
Kieran Tierney embodies the traditional values of the club, having grown up a fanatical supporter of the club, visiting Parkhead regularly before he even went to school and joining their youth team at age seven.
On Tuesday, he will begin his second Champions League campaign with the Hoops, coming up against the most expensive footballers in the world in the form of Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, but that is unlikely to daunt the 20-year-old.
His gritty attitude is best exemplified by his display in the Scottish Cup final last season. Having suffered a mouth injury during the first half following a clash with Aberdeen’s Jayden Stockley, he was taken to hospital for treatment but, still under the influence of painkillers, raced through the Hampden carpark to make his way to the podium in time for Celtic to be presented with the trophy.
The image of him with his arms outstretched and the cup in one hand is already an indelible one for the historic club.
“Worth a broken jaw,” Tierney posted on social media in the aftermath.
Worth a broken jaw haha pic.twitter.com/mrAyi9fUkA
— Kieran Tierney (@kierantierney1) May 27, 2017
His journey to the first team has been well documented, with clips widely available on YouTube of Shunsuke Nakamura presenting him with a pair of boots as a prize for being the youth team’s best player, his role as a ball boy as Celtic beat Barcelona in 2012, or his father proclaiming him to be the next big thing. At the time it would have been easy to dismiss that as sheer parental bluster, but his dad has been proven right.
Not only is Tierney a regular in Celtic’s starting XI, he is developing into one of the most important players for club and country.
“Tierney is Scotland’s best player now — he is different to anything else we have got,” Stoke’s Charlie Adam told the Daily Record. “He could play for a Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United without a doubt.
“His hunger, desire and quality make him the best we have produced for years.”
Brendan Rodgers has echoed that view: “I saw in the first two days I was in charge that he will be a top player. Having worked with young players — and lots of them — and seen them grow and develop into top stars, there’s no question about that.”
Tierney is not a typical modern-day footballer. He remains a modest and approachable character, universally known around the club as ‘KT’, while his attributes are based around game intelligence and technique as opposed to the raw power of many full-backs.
“He’s got an incredible determination, an old-school determination,” Rodgers said last week. “He lives his life right, he doesn’t drink or do stupid things. He’s in every day training like a dog. He fights, he runs, he’s aggressive. And he’s a lovely boy.
“In modern-day football you have players who love football but don’t necessarily love the club they play for. He’s one of a small band who absolutely loves football — but also loves Celtic. And it’s great to see his development.”
It is testimony to his talents that he has been capped for Scotland on six occasions, yet only two of those have come in his natural left-back role. On three occasions he has played on the opposite side of the defence, helping Gordon Strachan’s men to clean sheets against Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.
He was presented with yet another role to play when the English visited Hampden, deployed as the left-sided centre-back in a five-man defence. It is a position he has also occupied sporadically for Celtic. Standing a shade under 5ft 9in, he should not be able to play that role — yet such is his reading of the game it seems to pose him few problems.
Indeed, so good is he in these domains, he stands a strong claim of having the best footballing mind of any defender in his generation in Britain.
While he may lack the brutish strength or lightning heels of some in his role, he has a tireless engine, possesses a wicked cross and has an eye for a spectacular goal. Although he scored a recent cracker against Kilmarnock in a League Cup tie, that arguably paled into insignificance compared to an effort from barely outside his own box in a reserve team match against Hearts in 2014.
Bayern Munich have been among the clubs to scout Tierney, and perhaps it should come as little surprise that the side that leaned upon Philipp Lahm for so long would take an interest in the Scot, for there are distinct similarities in the two. Both possess the same tactical intelligence and versatility.
Actually prising Tierney away from Parkhead will be no easy task. He is emotionally involved in the club to a degree outside of the norm in today’s game — and that love is reciprocated by the fans. Indeed, the bond is such that there is no guarantee that even the lure of a Manchester United or an Arsenal would be enough to persuade him to leave.
It is a refreshing attitude, and one that, unsurprisingly, has Celtic fans utterly enamoured. It may, however, prevent him from receiving the recognition that he undeniably deserves, much like long-time Parkhead servant Henrik Larsson.
Given his affection for the club, though, one imagines that would suit KT just fine.