Long-term contracts in football don’t mean as much as they used to. Modern football being what it is, even when a player signs a new deal with the length of Kieran Tierney’s recent six-year contract, it usually means the club are protecting the value of the star, rather than it being any sort of commitment or expectation they stay for the full duration.
With the Celtic full-back though you get the impression it means more. A lifelong supporter of the club, Tierney has had a magnificent rise from substitute against Dundee in 2015 to a player capable of taking on Europe’s best less than three years later. Along the way he’s become a real fan favourite and someone seen as a leader at the club, despite his tender age, only turning 20 this summer.
His new contract promises to take his Celtic career to another level and is a signal that he plans to be at the club for a long time indeed, despite almost constant speculation that teams from the English Premier League are interested in his services.
For Celtic, it’s vital they keep him for as long as possible. Not just because of his ability as an attacking full-back, but for the beacon he can be as future club captain.
Scott Brown may have a few years left in him yet, but the prospect of him hanging his boots anytime soon is a scary one for Celtic fans. For a long, long time at the Hoops, he’s been an absolutely integral part of any success they have. Even this season, when he’s been absent, Rodgers’ side look a notably worse team for it. Whether that’s because he’s excellent in his midfield role is debatable, but unarguable is the influence he has on his side as captain. Losing that could be a critical blow to Celtic’s ambitions and they need to start thinking about a successor.
Fortunately, the solution is obvious, it has to be Tierney.
Over the past decade, Scott Brown has had quite the journey as a Celtic player. Initially he had hard work to do to win over Celtic fans who perceived his transfer from Hibernian to be too expensive for a player of his calibre. Indeed his first couple of seasons were a rollercoaster on and off the field, with personal tragedies to deal with as well as inconsistent form in the team. His role at Celtic was difficult to define. At Hibs he was a marauding box-to-box midfielder whose pace and ability terrorised the opposition, at the Hoops he was asked to be far more restrained and it took time for him to adjust and fan criticism grew as a result.
It wasn’t until Tony Mowbray made him captain in January 2010 that his true qualities began to come to the fore. While Mowbray’s reign was short lived, his replacement Neil Lennon ignited something in Brown that typifies his Celtic performances to this day; an incredible will to win. Under Lennon, Brown rapidly grew into a fan favourite with his influence clear to see in a team that became difficult to beat at home and abroad.
Injuries were always a problem though and by the time that Lennon and his successor Ronny Deila had departed the club, his future at Celtic was in doubt.
Admitting himself that he thought he might not have long left at the top level before Brendan Rodgers arrived, his new manager instead inspired him to become the example of everything the former Liverpool boss was trying to achieve at the club. He trains harder than ever, he helps with coaching of the U20s, he represents the club in commercial activities and most importantly he managed to solve his fitness woes and became one of the most important players in the starting eleven again. Last season, nobody started more matches than the captain, 54 in total.
Winning 13 trophies, 11 of which have been lifted as captain, he’s gone from unfancied incoming transfer to living legend, with the Hoops usually unrecognisable when he’s not playing. It’s a worry then that he might only have two or three years living up to the standard he has set, a transition Celtic need to think about or risk taking backwards steps.
What does a post-Brown Celtic look like?
The moment that perfectly defines why Kieran Tierney is destined to be the man to lead Celtic into a new era happened back in May of this year. Receiving an elbow to the face in the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen, the youngster had to go to hospital to get stitches, many rationally expecting he’d have to celebrate the resulting win later on. Tierney wouldn’t be stopped though and was driven back to Hampden, where he sprinted through crowds of Aberdeen supporters to rush into the stadium and take his place just in time to lift the trophy, swollen mouth and all, in front of his adoring fans. It’s a passion that simply isn’t normal in football today.
Anyone that watches Celtic closely enough will have noticed that the transition from Brown to Tierney as club captain may actually have already begun. While Brendan Rodgers usually relies on Mikael Lustig to wear the armband in the absence of Brown, this season the young Scotland international has now led the Hoops twice when both have been rested for cup matches, even when other, more senior players have also played.
Tierney’s entire natural game is built around the qualities you need to be a successful Celtic captain; passion, determination, aggression, fearlessness. Nothing has ever fazed the 20-year-old, from his introduction to the team to now he’s taken everything in his stride at every level, even when harsh lessons have been dished out.
While Celtic undoubtedly have a problem looming in Scott Brown’s inevitable retirement, they have the perfect icon in Tierney ready to take up the mantle and create his own legend. He’s already well on his way.