From the Handbook: Kieran Tierney
This profile was originally published in our digital-only handbook, Scouted Football Handbook Two, which was released in March 2017. A lot has happened since then, with Tierney winning a treble-treble at Celtic before making a milestone move to Arsenal – but here's how it all started.
CAREER IN REVIEW
At Celtic since the age of seven, there is no transfer story to speak of when it comes to Kieran Tierney. The left-back has spent his in entire career at his boyhood club and it was during 2015/16 season that he finally made his breakthrough. 23 appearances in the league last season – all of them starts – and the now 19-year-old Kieran Tierney had established himself as Celtic’s first choice left-back. His infectious approach to the game and passion for Celtic made him an instant fan favourite and he has only improved his reputation since then.
Celtic, unsurprisingly, won the league at a canter and their new full-back revelation played a major part in it. Tierney was named PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year and SFWA Young Player of the Year after an excellent season and it is this double, rather than the league title, that is the greatest testament to his ability.
Winning two caps for the senior national side, Tierney proved last year that he is one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Scottish football in a long while. An ankle ligament injury at the end of the October threatened to undo the full-back’s impressive work, but despite spending the rest of the year on the side-lines, he has slotted straight back into the team in 2017, and in 10 fewer games has already equalled his assists tally from last season (six). His position in Brendan Rodger’s side is almost untouchable.
STYLE OF PLAY
Black boots, low socks: Kieran Tierney is one of the most unassuming footballers one will ever lay their eyes on. Tough in the tackle, the young Scotsman at times appears to be a throwback to simpler times. But no matter how quickly he may have mastered the menial basics of left-full back, Tierney is a relentless attacking outlet whose first thought is always forward.
It seems a full-back will not make it far in the modern game without possessing extreme physical attributes. The holy trinity of pace, power and stamina is arguably one of the most important qualities for most sides, with technique and defensive capabilities often overlooked - at least initially - in favour of athletes. Whilst Tierney may not have the power synonymous with most full-backs, he certainly has the stamina and the speed to compete with the best.
Lightening quick off the mark, Tierney’s acceleration is key to his game. Receiving the ball as close to the touchline as possible, in a Celtic side that has become increasingly technical under Brendan Rodgers, the full-backs operate high up the pitch and act as the main attacking outlet out wide. Tierney proved even before Rodgers’ tenure as Celtic boss that he is more than capable of performing such a role.
Able to breeze past most defenders in a one-on-one situation, Tierney is an exceptional straight-line runner. From touchline to by-line, Tierney enjoys driving towards the final extreme of the pitch before sending in a cross. Accurate and intelligent with his delivery, with consistency to deliver the ball in key areas or even better at the feet of his onrushing teammates, the 19-year-old is especially adept at driving past his opposite number before providing incisive cut backs for strikers clever enough to hold their run.
The only potential weakness in Tierney’s approach is the fairy predictable nature of it. It is one thing to know what someone is doing and another challenge entirely to stop them from doing it though; Arjen Robben is living proof of that. But with regards to Tierney, his effectiveness can be instantly nullified should he face an equally athletic foe. He has shown glimpses of a willingness to develop more offensive threats, but defenders can be almost certain that Tierney will attack the outside of the full-back and drive towards the by-line. When facing more experienced and more talented defenders, Tierney is a far less threatening force. He has the technique and more importantly the time to ensure he does not become entirely one-dimensional.
But focusing on his key defensive strength, again a product of his insane acceleration, Tierney’s intercepting of the ball is already becoming a trademark. Able to punish any lax pass, the left-back is quickest to most loose balls thanks to his ability to reach top speed in an instant. Opposition players must firmly hit their passes or run the risk of Celtic’s flying Scotsman picking it off and claiming possession for himself. He will often steam towards his opponents and if he cannot get the ball before it reaches the desired target, his timing of the tackle - and ferocity of it - is his next best defensive weapon. Excellent in the slide tackle, Tierney’s appetite for the game is evident in his fearless approach to defending.
Not the most imposing footballer at first glance, his relentless running and feral defending paint a completely different picture - an opponent most wingers will not relish the prospect of facing.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
As mentioned at the beginning of the profile, Tierney is undeniably Brendan Rodger’s first-choice left-back. A permanent fixture in Celtic’s side, he has impressed at every opportunity and to be so important to a team at such a young age is testament to his ability and work ethic. Not many sides in European football will be able to provide Tierney with the sheer quantity of minutes as well as the prospect of Champions League football. He is talented, yes, but at 19-years-old, there are obviously still some issues to iron out and the Premier League — his logical next step — may not be the most accommodating environment for his development just yet.
Tierney will likely become Scotland’s first choice left-back in 2017, and although a summer move away from his boyhood club may be too soon, there is no doubt he will garner more interest in his talent and improve his already impressive reputation even further. Domestic trophies are guaranteed this season, even another clean sweep of Scotland’s Young Player of the Year awards looks a certainty. Should Tierney continue his rapid development, however, he may even be awarded more prestigious recognition of his talent. And it would be thoroughly deserved.
He is lightyears ahead of any other full-back in the Scottish Premiership and shining so brightly in every single match he plays is fantastic for his confidence. The only concern is that his affiliation with Celtic may prevent him from seeking new challenges beyond this year, especially as he is already too good for the division.
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