Stuart McLaren on how he's preparing Celtic Academy talents for first-team demands

By Euan Davidson

March 30, 2022

With much fanfare, Celtic were announced as a part of the MLS Generation Adidas Cup yesterday, and U18 manager Stuart McLaren wants it to start today.

It is, after all, a big deal – Celtic’s Academy talents will be going up against some of the best youth sides in the world. Manchester United, Roma, Porto et al represent a great level to test the Celtic youth sides against. What’s more, the MLS themselves are promoting it to the hilt.

It’s a good scene. Amongst it all, though, new Celtic U18 boss Stuart McLaren said that he’s changed something in the youth set-up to get players ready for the tolls of first-team football.

Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

He’s got a schedule that sees his Celtic side play twice a week.

McLaren, a former A-League talent, said of the new tournament and his rigorous schedule [Celtic FC]: “We’ve played two games a week in the last three weeks, and that was in part done deliberately so that we could get the boys exposed to something like what the demands are.

“First-team level tournament football presents an even greater demand, particularly the format with this one. We will play seven games in eight days, so I think there’s huge benefit with that.

“The priority has to be the performance in the football arena, but this [tournament] is also a huge life experience. Right from all the stresses and strains of travelling to being in a completely different part of the world with a different culture.”

“I’ve been so impressed with Postecoglou” | Johan Mjällby on Celtic, Starfelt & big Ibrox showdown

“I’ve been so impressed with Postecoglou” | Johan Mjällby on Celtic, Starfelt & big Ibrox showdown
67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

Stuart McLaren is setting his Celtic U18 side up for success

Theoretically, the more football you play, the better a footballer you become. Stands to reason, right?

It might not have worked in the case of this writer, but for Celtic Academy talents, surely the more experience they garner, the better-equipped they’ll be for the challenges up ahead.

One major challenge being, of course, this star-studded Adidas and MLS tournament.

The more professional a youth-set up is, though, the more players will become acclimatised to the expectations, both physical and mental, that senior football requires. That, and with better competition, development as a player surely increases in pace.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say the Celtic Academy system has been neglected as such, but these kinds of opportunities and approaches show a change in thinking. To get the best youth talent coming through, they’ve got to be as prepared as possible.

The worst-case scenario is for a player to either see his future elsewhere for his own sake, or that they come up to the senior side and look totally out of place.

This season, we’ve seen B Team and U18 players look more than comfortable with their surroundings. That’s a much better sign than what we might be used to.

So, it’s all progress. And Stuart McLaren clearly understands what’s required to produce talent, and for his job to be a successful one.

Read more: The most consistent Celtic performers in 21-22 have been in the stands