Myth about Celtic treatment of Academy players doesn't stand up to scrutiny

By Euan Davidson

December 10, 2021

After last night, there was a lot of room for optimism, especially with regard to how many Celtic academy and Under-22 players made the starting line-up against Real Betis.

Fine, it was a game with relatively low stakes. But it was no flash in the pan either. Celtic had a veritable glut of Academy talent on the pitch. Stephen Welsh, Osaze Urhoghide, Liam Shaw, Adam Montgomery, Ewan Henderson, Mikey Johnston; all made their mark last night.

Yet, after Ewan Henderson’s strike, there were still naysayers.

Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Ewan Murray of the Guardian tweeted:

“Ewan Henderson is a fine young player. But 10 first team games by the age of 21 – and no particular sign of another 10 – isn’t the sign of a progressive development scheme.”

Dan Tuasney on Twitter immediately came to Celtic’s defence. He tweeted:

This got us thinking. Can it really be 17%? Or is it even more?

In Henderson’s case, you could make the argument that his development has been blocked in recent years. Primarily, because it has. It was a genuine shock to see him come on last night. But he did, and to devastating effect, in a sight that would’ve buoyed supporters to no end.

But let’s look at this “progressive development scheme” comment. Because it doesn’t bear any weight under the most basic scrutiny.

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It’s utterly inaccurate to suggest there’s no “progressive development scheme” for Celtic Academy players

Using figures from Transfermarkt, we can see that Celtic talents either bought in or developed by the Academy have seen significant game time. Out of 2,790 available minutes from 31 competitive games this season, the numbers that young players have amassed are quite considerable.

Anthony Ralston, an Academy graduate, has played 2,407 of those minutes. He turned 23 over the course of this season. Stephen Welsh has amassed a surprising 1,512. Adam Montgomery, who featured heavily earlier this season has 811.

Meanwhile, Mikey Johnston has played 344 minutes of competitive football. Dane Murray, 165. Osaze Urhoghide, Liam Shaw and Ewan Henderson all saw their first action for Celtic this season, amassing 90, 65 and 19 minutes respectively.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

All in, it’s actually 24.3%, albeit heavily skewed by Anthony Ralston, Stephen Welsh and Adam Montgomery. Thanks to my Celtic-supporting pal Paul McRobb for that one.

Without sounding too much like D:Ream, things can only get better, too. There’s a real focus on using Academy players to form squads in the future. In Ange’s ideal vision, Celtic Academy talents will make up the majority of first-team line-ups in years to come.

Specifically, he’s outlined a wish to have 6 or so Academy players ready to make the jump each summer. That’s quite a radical departure from times in the recent past. Ange also said there’s restructuring and improvements being made to assert that ideal scenario.

It’s promising stuff. Celtic’s minutes across Academy players and young talent brought to the club compares well with the rest of Europe. The club were in the top 5 of all Europa League teams in terms of homegrown talent in the UEFA squad list [Daily Record].

The example of Ewan Henderson is a frustrating one, sure. In years past, there was little to no sign of Academy players getting significant playing time. The club hung its hat on the rare exceptions; Tierney, McGregor, Forrest.

Now, the outlook is significantly brighter. There’s a clear plan in place.

Read more: “Protect him”; Manager bizarrely defends Butcher after horror tackle on Celtic’s David Turnbull