- Tactical Analysis
- Scout Reports
- Talent Radar
- The Series
Alex Lynch writes a detailed scout report about Celtic’s young left-back, Kieran Tierney.
Celtic FC are currently the most dominant club in Scotland. They’ve won the league every year since the liquidation of Rangers, and even though their Old Firm rivals will be back next season, the SPFL is Celtic’s to lose. For a club with the history of Celtic, many great players have donned the Hoops’ green and white with names like Henrik Larsson, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone among the most famous Celts. These days, Scotland internationals Leigh Griffiths and Scott Brown anchor the dominant Celts. While those two are great players, Celtic have a star in the making who is bound to become the next Celtic great already in the team. His name is Kieran Tierney, an 18-year-old left back who already plays in the Celtic first team.
Tierney has an interesting story, because he wasn’t born in the nation he represents. He was actually born on the Isle of Man, the city of Douglas to be precise. The island lies in between the islands of Ireland and Britain, and as a infant, Tierney moved to Scotland. He has supported Celtic since he was a young boy, and when he was 7, despite living in Motherwell he signed with Celtic. He’s been with the club ever since, and even with the high amount of competition at a club like Celtic, he was noticed at an early age.
Tierney quickly progressed through the youth ranks with the Hoops, and in 2012 he was a ball boy when Celtic famously beat Barcelona at Celtic park. Having the honor of being at that game drove Tierney to try and get into the Celtic first team. After that, he established himself as an attacking and defensive presence in the Celtic reserves, and he made his debut for the Scotland U-18 team in 2014. He impressed with the junior side, scoring a goal in what ended up being his only cap. After he impressed with the under-18 side, he made his debut for the under-19 side in 2015, as a 17-year-old. He still plays for the U-19 side, and he’s done very well with them as well. After impressing with the youth national sides, Tierney made his official Celtic debut in April of 2015, coming on as a substitute against Dundee FC.
He would then start a match later in the season against St. Johnstone, and Tierney did very well as he played the full 90 minutes. After impressing in his first true test at the senior level, Celtic fans wanted to see more of Tierney this season. That is exactly what has happened, as Tierney beat out regular first team player Emilio Izaguirre as the starting left-back early in the season. Since then, he has taken his chance with both hands, as the youngster has been one of Celtic’s most consistent players in what has been a shaky defense at times. Fans and manager Ronny Deila have praised Tierney for how well he’s done so far, and he’s become an undroppable player for Deila. He’s been so good that he was included in the Marca’s starting 11 for the best young players in Europe. Tierney deserves the recognition he’s getting, because his characteristics show that he is no fluke.
Unlike fellow Scottish left-back Andrew Robertson, Tierney is much more of a two-way left back rather than being attack oriented. This makes him similar to Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal, who are both well rounded full-backs. And while he’s not at the level of those two yet, just like Alba and Monreal, Tierney is a great tackler. When asked about the youngster’s tackling, Celtic captain Scott Brown said he is “hard as nails” and “would tackle his granny”. These quotes from Brown sum up Tierney very well, as he is an aggressive defender who not only likes to tackle, but does so very effectively. The young Scot has only picked up 1 yellow card this season, and he constantly stops opponents on the counter attack against Celtic. Against Aberdeen, he did just that when the Reds were launching a counter attack towards him, as he timed his tackle well and executed it perfectly by stopping the counter attack. He constantly runs down the opposition and tackles the ball away either on his feet or on the ground. His timing in the tackle is rare in the less physical era of football in this day and age. He knows when to slide for the ball, and when to make the standing tackle. This is important for any young defender, especially one who faces a lot of attackers who are on the run like Tierney does. Plays like that are why he’s become such a vital part of Deila’s squad this season.
Another strength that Tierney has is his ability to pass and particularly to cross the ball into the box. Similar to fellow Scot Robertson, when Celtic are attacking and their defensive line is high, the opponent often sees a heavy dose of crosses from Tierney. Most of those crosses are good deliveries, as Tierney has 4 assists this season, and most of them have come from crosses. Against Dundee, Tierney got the ball, ran towards the byline and then fired in a looping cross into a great area, the ball had plenty of power on it, and the defender had a tough time with it. As a result, his clearance was poor, and the second ball was smashed into the back of the net by Celtic. While Tierney didn’t get the assist for this goal, his great cross caused the defense to make the error that led to the goal. Another cross of Tierney’s that led to a goal was against Aberdeen, as Tierney whipped in an impressive cross into the box, which was brought down by Celtic and then they found striker Leigh Griffiths wide open in front of the net, and he scored. The cross by Tierney turned what was a pretty poor Celtic attacking sequence into an easy goal, because once again the defenders couldn’t do anything to stop a high quality cross.
Tierney’s last area of specialty is his physical ability, which is impressive for any defender. He has impressive height, and at 6 feet 2, he’s the height of most centre backs even though he’s a left-back by trade. And while most people would assume his impressive height would slow him down, it doesn’t. Tierney has impressive pace, and he often uses his pace to stay with attacking players, and burst past defenders when he has the ball. His physical ability and stature have helped him adapt to the game at the senior level. With his size and pace, Tierney isn’t at any physical disadvantage despite being only 18-years-old.
While Tierney has a lot of great traits, he still has some weaknesses. His main weakness is his lack of experience. Even though he has impressed, he’s only played 22 matches in all competitions this season. As an 18-year-old, that is a lot of games, but for a player who bigger clubs are bound to look at, he needs more time to mature at Celtic. Playing in Scotland will help his development, and Tierney needs to gain experience to maximize his potential.
Another weakness that Tierney has is his shooting ability. While shooting isn’t a priority for a left-back, many of the world’s best are pretty good at shooting. Full-backs get goalscoring chances throughout the season, and Tierney has yet to score a senior goal for Celtic. Part of this is his unselfish nature, but he also needs to work on his shot. If he can do that, Tierney can become a better offensive full-back. Once he figures out how to get into scoring positions, he’ll be able to cross or shoot from those areas. While this is a weakness of his right now, Tierney has the kind of attitude that will allow him to get better in this area of his game.
Tierney is truly a special talent, and it’s rare to see an 18-year-old in the first team of a club like Celtic. If he can keep improving like he has, he will become a Celtic captain and legend very quickly. He could not only play for the senior national team soon, he could become an undroppable presence for Gordon Strachan’s side as well. For a club like Celtic, despite all of their history, young talents like Tierney haven’t come through the academy in some time. For supporters and for the club, having a player who represents Celtic so well like Tierney is a true blessing. With his potential and love for the club, Celtic could have a truly special defender on their hands with Tierney.
Written by Alex Lynch