Celtic risk losing their top young talents to England’s elite clubs under new work permit rules.
The new rules, to be implemented as one of the many sweeping employment changes under Brexit, effect football in a direct and stark way.
According to a report by the Independent,
“…the FA hopes that the limit on new signings combined with the inability to sign anyone under the age of 18 from abroad will avoid stockpiling at clubs that blocks the production line of future homegrown talents.”
This means English clubs will no longer look to academies in the likes of France and Spain to find top footballing talent. Of course, “abroad” does not mean Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
A grave concern for Celtic fans
This has a potentially catastrophic impact for clubs like Celtic, who regularly produce first-team talent from the youth set-up.
Already this year, promising talent Josh Adam left Celtic to join Manchester City (Telegraph). In 2019, much-coveted centre-back Liam Morrison joined Bayern München, and has already been compared to Mats Hummels (Bundesliga).
Similarly, Connor McBride departed Celtic for the Blackburn Rovers academy (LancsLive).
If Celtic are forced to follow the same rules, it doesn’t just mean that foreign talent can’t be signed for the first-team. Ultimately, it follows that English clubs will continue to hoover up Scottish talent.
We probably all remember Islam Feruz’s controversial move to Chelsea in 2011. With Karamoko Dembélé’s contract talks stalling at Celtic Park, it’s possible that other much-hyped youngsters will leave Celtic for either a nominal fee, or for nothing.
A Scotland-wide problem
Bear in mind other Scottish clubs who have provided top talent. Dundee United, Hibs and Hearts have seen international players rise through their ranks in recent years.
Andy Robertson is now a Champions’ League winner with Liverpool. John McGinn is a Scotland and Aston Villa regular. Hearts have seen Aaron Hickey leave for Serie A, with other hotly-tipped players in the pipeline.
Despite Scotland’s failure in qualifying for major tournaments over the last 20 years (Euro 2020 excepted), there is no doubt that very handy players are being produced in the country’s academies. Particularly Celtic’s.
Half the issue is, of course, that young players find first-team opportunities easier to come by in Scotland. Kieran Tierney would not have broken through at Arsenal in the same way.
There’s no chance that Harry Cochrane of Hearts would start a Premier League game at 16 years of age.
Scott McTominay is the rare exception at Manchester United. But he’s not guaranteed a start these days.
Necessity; mother of invention
Scottish clubs rely on locally-sourced talent to make up their first-team squads. With elite European clubs acquiring all the young talent across the world, it’s hard for Scottish clubs to compete in the transfer market.
The wages on offer at elite clubs mean that SPFL teams are never going to realistically compete for wonderkids, especially in Europe.
The reality is, then, that Scottish clubs have to look in their academies more than before. With work permit changes in the midst, this could be under real threat in years to come.
In fact, it’s already happening. 10 players from the most recent Scotland U-19s squad play for English clubs (via Transfermarkt).
With the lifestyle and money on offer at English clubs like Fulham, or the coaching opportunities afforded at clubs like Manchester City, it’s little wonder that Scottish youngsters have their eyes fixed outside the SPFL.
Even the chance of trophies and acclaim at Celtic Park might not be enough. Football is, after all, a comparatively short career.
Pay up or put up
If Celtic are to keep their best young talents, it’s likely that the board will have to improve the wage structure in place for players below first-team level.
This brings its own problems. Firstly, it’s expensive. Secondly, too much too young can keep a footballer’s eye off the ball.
The alternative is losing our best players to academies in England. If there was a chance of Premier League football, a fast-track to the national team and a steady wage, it’d be hard to deny anyone that opportunity.
Celtic need to lay the groundwork now, by emphasising the success stories of academy graduates past. Kieran Tierney, for example, made his name as a fan favourite before departing for £25m. Stay for the meantime, the board could say, and reap the benefits of patience.
With Kerr McInroy and American youngster Cameron Harper making match day squads this season, there’s a hope that Celtic can reignite its reputation as a club which gives opportunities for young players to thrive. This needs to continue, otherwise the prospect of staying in Scotland becomes less appealing.
With this work permit legislation, the UK Government have moved the goalposts. Celtic need to react now, or lose out big time.