Celtic Academy players keep leaving, and fans need answers

By Euan Davidson

February 4, 2021

What’s happening with the Celtic Academy?

It’s a question you could ask about so many elements of the club this season. On the pitch and off it, the club’s stock has fallen dramatically in 20-21. Last year, it was European football after Christmas, and a title. This year… well, you know the story.

It’s not been good.

But a particularly worrying trend has emerged from Celtic Park over recent months. With Cameron Harper set to leave for the MLS, the Bhoys are going to lose another talented youngster from the academy ranks. Equally, Davie Hay’s grandson is casting glances elsewhere, while his goalkeeping colleague Liam Hughes has already left.

Karamoko Dembélé’s contract situation is worrying, and Armstrong Okoflex is yet to agree a new deal [Transfermarkt]. This has become an incredibly concerning pattern for Celtic’s future.

Fine, in terms of the Scottish Premiership, Celtic can afford to bring players in. It’s not like we’re Hamilton or Dundee United, clubs who are constantly bringing youth prospects into the first-team. There’s a drip feed of young talent who make incremental appearances over time. That’s just the way of it.

Still, fans would much rather Celtic held on to their promising talents. Having watched Harper and Okoflex make their debuts this year, it’s sad to watch one agree a deal elsewhere, with the other becoming a free agent soon.

Celtic U20 Head Coach Tommy McIntyre / (Photo by Ross MacDonald – SNS GroupSNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic Academy problem: who’s to blame?

It’d be harsh to blame Neil Lennon for this.

Brendan Rodgers wasn’t exactly prolific at bringing through youngsters. Granted, he helped Kieran Tierney blossom into a fantastic player, but Ronny Deila gave KT his debut. Jack Aitchison, Lewis Henderson and others managed some first-team minutes, but there was little to suggest a strong focus on youth players.

So the idea that Lennon is personally prohibiting academy graduates, and forcing them to sign elsewhere, is misguided. There are several other things you can point at Lennon for, this probably isn’t one of them.

Are the board the issue? Ultimately, they’re the ones who sign off on contract agreements. If Tommy McIntyre has expressed a desire to keep certain players beyond their current deals, surely Lawwell or Bankier have a role to play.

If you were being cynical, you could suggest that wages are better elsewhere. You could argue that with the first sign of interest, our young players are turning down contracts with an eye on more money at a bigger club.

But is that really the case? Is Cameron Harper really going to earn more in the MLS [Daily Record]? With the wage structures mandated by the league, there’s a ceiling on what players can earn. It seems unlikely that money was the motivating factor, here.

Whatever the case may be, Celtic are facing a talent drain and the next generation looks fragile. Angelini and Hughes are both hotly-tipped goalkeeping prospects, while there’s genuine excitement about Cameron Harper in America. Okoflex has looked impressive in reserve team football, while Karamoko Dembélé has proved he can excite in the first team.

Add in Liam Morrison and Josh Adam’s departures over the last year, and it looks even worse. There’s a problem with the Celtic Academy, and it needs sorted out.

In other news: it’s possible to ignore controversy-seeking pundits.