Celtic need to make pathway from Youth Academy to first-team a lot clearer

By David Walton

May 17, 2021

Let’s not kid ourselves, we aren’t getting anywhere near enough from the Celtic Youth Academy, are we?

Over the last couple of years, a host of our top young talents have departed the club for pastures new. This has been a key concern for supporters, who clearly don’t want to see some of our brightest prospects leaving. It goes against everything having a Youth Academy is supposed to be about.

But the evidence of our losses are clear. It started when Liam Morrison swapped Celtic for Bayern Munich. Barry Hepburn soon followed him. Michael Sparkes was the next to leave. Liam Hughes would then sign for Liverpool back in January. And it wasn’t long afterward that Cameron Harper swapped Glasgow for New York.

Even now, there are fears over the long-term futures of some of our starlets. Karamoko Dembele only has another year left on his contract [The Herald]. That’s longer than Armstrong Okoflex, who’s due to leave this summer [Transfermarkt].

With a bit of luck, the Celtic Colts being involved in next season’s Lowland League will help stop the bleeding in this regard. Hopefully, the opportunity to play men’s football whilst under the Celtic umbrella will be enough to entice some of our best youngsters to stay this summer.

"Carl Starfelt to Celtic is a big possibility" | Swedish journalist Anel Avdić

Difficult to see where clear path from Youth Academy to Celtic first-team

But as much as this may play a positive role for us, there is one overriding issue. The fact is there is no clear route into the Celtic first-team, even if you’re playing well at under-20 level or even away on loan.

Too often we see young players come in at the end of the season when the league is won or (in this case) lost. They’ll then perform to an impressive standard only to never be heard from for the next 12 months. Dembele is a prime example. He was wowing Celtic fans since his debut back in May 2019. Fast forward two years and he’s only been given another seven appearances.

He’s been impressive whenever we’ve seen him, yet consistent first-team football is hidden from him. Even Adam Montgomery played a blinder against St Johnstone on Wednesday night. His reward? Dropped for Greg Taylor in a meaningless game against Hibs.

Armstrong Okoflex is one of many talents that aren’t being given opportunities (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Harper didn’t get a sniff after his debut against Hibs, whilst Okoflex produced some decent cameos against Hibs and Livingston before being ousted totally. The problem is it doesn’t seem to matter how much you impress in this Celtic side as a youngster. So long as you’re an academy talent, the club almost seem to be itching not to play you.

It should be the other way around. When there are shoots of promise coming out of an academy player, we should be easing them in. That doesn’t mean play them one week then use them again in eight to 10 months.

The truth is we can’t complain that our best youngsters are leaving when the opportunities feel so bare. When the path to the first-team looks almost non-existent, regardless of how or where you’re performing.

Hopefully, this is something that changes drastically under the new manager.

In other news, 3 Celtic-linked players are due to clash on live TV this week.