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Alex Blinston brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-19 players to watch out for in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Moussa Dembele // Belgium // Celtic // 20 // Striker
Juventus, Roma, Tottenham Hotspur? No, Moussa Dembele headed north of the border this summer in a major coup for Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic. The 20-year-old Belgian was one of the few shining lights in another dismal season for Fulham last season with 15 goals as well as six assists. Dembele is not yet the full package, his game still requires some refinement but he has all the attributes to be an all-round striker. Strong in the air – 2.9 aerial battles won per game last season is a case-in-point – raw pace and intuitive positioning, it is no wonder there was so much interest.
After thriving alongside Ross McCormack at Craven Cottage, there is now the hope that Dembele and Leigh Griffiths can form a similarly potent tandem. His first goal came in the Champions League qualifier against Astana – a 92nd minute penalty winner – and two more followed in the League Cup win over Motherwell. It has been a bright start for Dembele and all the signs are that this is no purple patch as Celtic chase a sixth consecutive title and European success.
Barrie McKay // Scotland // Rangers // 21 // Winger
It is said that the best players perform when the pressure is greatest; when the lights are shining brightest. That is normally a trait that comes with age and experience, however, at 21 Barrie McKay is someone who is showing that he can perform on the biggest stage. Cast your mind back, it’s the Scottish Cup semi-final, Rangers vs Celtic, one of football’s greatest rivalries. It’s 1-1, the ball comes to Barrie McKay, and he jinks past Scott Brown and unleashes a strike in to the top corner. As cliché as it may be, two goalkeepers wouldn’t have stopped what proved to be the winner.
The reason I have gone in to such depth about that goal is it epitomised the strides that McKay had made under Mark Warburton at Ibrox. After breaking in to the side at 2012 McKay had stuttered with relatively unsuccessful loan spells at Greenock Morton and Raith Rovers. McKay could be described as the blueprint winger who can commit defenders and beat men with ease and his goalscoring achievements – nine goals in all competitions last season – are only an added bonus.
McKay now must make another step in his progression in quickly acclimatising to top-flight football. With experienced heads such as Niko Kranjcar, Joey Barton and Kenny Miller around him, McKay will be given freedom by Warburton to be the sides spark and after everything we’ve seen in the last twelve months, he is more than capable of doing just that.
Callum Paterson // Scotland // Hearts // 21 // Right Back
We take the first step out of Glasgow and it is for the Scottish under-21 captain, Callum Paterson. The London-born right-back has had an interesting time at Tynecastle after joining the Edinburgh side at 16 years-old. Paterson first started as a striker, scoring 11 goals in the 2013/14 season but never looked truly comfortable in the role. He has gradually moved back on the teamsheet, moving to right-midfield and now right-back where he has found his niche. With his attacking instincts he is a threat in attack and combines this with terrific work-rate in defence.
After six years in the capital this is looking like Paterson’s final season in the maroon and white. Contract talks have stalled and the likes of Celtic and Bristol City have been linked with the right-back. After a strong return to the top-flight last season with a 3rd placed finish, Paterson and Hearts will face tougher challenges this season with the addition of Rangers. However, in Callum Paterson Hearts have one of Scotland’s brightest prospects who is destined for a big move in the near future.
Kieran Tierney // Scotland // Celtic // 19 // Left Back
I’m attempting to give an even spread to these ten players but it would be negligent to ignore Celtic’s Kieran Tierney. At just 18 years-old, Tierney received his first Scotland call-up, really underlining his miraculous rise. After joining the Celtic academy at seven, Tierney rose through the ranks with a first-team debut coming in April of last year; since then he hasn’t looked back.
One of football’s greatest gifts of the last few decades has been the evolution of the full-back spot with players with the characteristics of wingers plying their trade at the back. Kieran Tierney, however, is a bit of a blast from the past; after all this was a genuine headline ‘Kieran Tierney Confirms He’d Only Tackle His Granny if She Had the Ball’. Well, at least he wouldn’t go in off the ball, so that’s something. Tierney is, however, greatly adapt at bombing forward with great pace and whipping crosses in to the box – only three Celtic players accrued more assists than Tierney (8) last term.
This is the year that may see Tierney make the leap to a real star in this Celtic side, a double edged sword for the green and white half of Glasgow with the likes of Liverpool already rumoured to be circling. In the meantime, Tierney is going to be indispensable to Celtic this season as they face competition from their old foe for the title.
Wes Burns // Wales // Aberdeen // 21 // Striker
Now 21 years-old Burns is now in his fifth loan spell away from Bristol City and it is going to be decisive in regards to his future. The Welsh wide man arrives at Pittodire after little playing time in recent years – 97 appearances in the last four seasons is far from impressive – but all the early signs are the under Derek McInnes he is going to be a key fixture. Burns is a highly talented winger with an eye for goal who boasts absolutely blistering pace to say the least; however, that much desired consistency has proved elusive.
In his short time in red and white he has already caught the eye of McInnes with the Dons boss saying of his performance in the league cup against Ayr, “He was terrific, Wes is exactly the type of player you want to see in an Aberdeen shirt. I said when I signed him our supporters would love him. You could see the positivity and confidence the boy has. When Wes gets into full flow he is so easy on the eye, he just glides past people.”
Aberdeen gave Celtic their greatest challenge in recent years – even though they finished 15 points adrift – and the addition of Burns looks like it will only bolster the ranks. If Burns keeps up his impressive early season form he may be able to return to Ashton Gate, or even find a new, permanent, home in Scotland.
Mark O’Hara // Scotland // Dundee // 20 // Midfield
Another player who was on the move this summer was Mark O’Hara. After four years at Rugby Park with Kilmarnock, O’Hara was on the move after Killie’s struggles last season as they finished 11th. Versatility is a trait that many managers yearn for and for the player it can give them much needed playing time but it comes to a point where versatility can hold a player back and it was becoming just that for Mark O’Hara. O’Hara on his arrival at Dundee: “I didn’t want to just be a bit-part player filling in for other people. Hopefully here I can nail down a position.”
Under Paul Hartley at Dundee O’Hara is going to be moved to a more advanced role in midfield, even potentially to a no.10 role. Strong and composed in possession but also with an eye for a tackle it is more likely that the 20-year-old will operate in a no.6 or no.8 role this term as he refines his game in the final third. A top six finish will likely be the aim for Hartley’s men and the addition of Mark O’Hara on a free transfer could prove to be one of the Scottish summer’s shrewdest pieces of business.
Jordan Rossiter // England // Rangers // 19 // Midfield
There are very few things I loathe about the beautiful game but comparisons of young starlets to some of world football’s greatest comes very close to winning the gold medal – just let them make their own career! Jordan Rossiter, as he rose through the Liverpool ranks, was dubbed ‘the next Steven Gerrard’ and with Robbie Fowler leading the charge of drawing comparisons between the two, there was real buzz around Rossiter. However, there was reason for those at Anfield to be very excited about the midfielder.
So when Rangers moved for the 19-year-old for £250,000 it was seen as a real coup; Gers fans were intrigued, while those in Merseyside were left confused at why such a great talent was leaving the club. Already in his short time in light blue Rossiter is proving his worth. In a midfield three with the aforementioned duo of Kranjcar and Barton, the former Red provides defensive steel in front of the defence as well as tremendous passing ability from deep. The England U19 captain is going to be vital to Rangers this term, even at such a tender age, giving Mark Warburton balance in the middle. One of England’s brightest hopefuls is making his own way north of the border and he could really prove to be the one that got away at Anfield.
Liam Lindsay // Scotland // Patrick Thistle // 20 // Defender
Partick Thistle may have finally found some top-flight stability. Alan Arhcibald – after over 350 appearances for the club as a player – guided The Jags back to the top tier back in 2013 and now solidified their spot in the Scottish Premiership. The growth of centre-back Liam Lindsay will, however, be one of the real achievements of his time as Thistle boss. The left-footed 20-year-old has developed in to a fine defender, cutting out the rash tackles and refining his ball playing abilities.
This is going to be a big season for Liam Lindsay with Dan Seaborne, Freddie Frans and Gary Miller all heading for the Firhill exit door this summer. Lindsay is showing great ambition though saying, “I’ve had my first taste and a full season at this level now, and I think it’s time for me to step up and try to be the leader at the back. “I think we have enough quality though and I see no reason why we can’t break into that top half.” After a strong season Lindsay can count himself incredibly unlucky not to force his way in to Scotland’s U21 side, however, if he carries on his impressive form the call-up will inevitably come.
Sam Nicholson // Scotland // Hearts // 21 // Winger
Anyone who has grown up with football has dreamt of playing for their club, they’ve kicked a ball around and bellowed their favourite players name as the ball slams against the wall: this is something that has become a reality for Sam Nicholson. Growing up close to Tynecastle, Nicholson would make the short walk to watch his Jambos, now he is getting bums of the seats he and his brothers used to occupy.
Right-footed, but deployed on the left, Nicholson is a blisteringly quick, dangerous wide man who loves to cut inside. Still only 21 years-old, Nicholson has clocked up a century of appearances for his boyhood club accruing 12 goals and 20 assists in that time. Nicholson is, in many ways, the archetypal young winger; supremely talented but frustratingly inconsistent. If their starlet can find that consistency that has eluded him, this young Hearts side could be set for another successful season.
Liam Polworth // Scotland // Inverness // 21 // Midfielder
If this was a year back it would be unlikely that Liam Polworth would be anywhere near this list. While he sowing glimpses of promise in the Inverness side, he certainly wouldn’t have fallen in to the category of a bright prospect. Now a year on Polworth is one of the first names on the Caley Thistle team sheet.
Able to play right-midfield, the middle or even in an advance role, Polworth is a technically gifted player. He’s registered just seven goals and 10 assists in 83 Inverness appearances but six goals and eight assists came last season: Polworth is player truly on the up. Richie Foran’s Caley Thistle are by no means the biggest club but the aim will be to make the top six cut off this season after narrowly missing out with a 7th placed finish last time out. Polworth is establishing himself as Inverness; star and will look to build on the single U21 cap he earned last season.
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.