SCOTLAND’s young duo always looked always in ease last night after slotting systematically into Ronny Delia’s Celtic for a 3-0 victory at Partick Thistle last night.
Whatever the fortunes of the economics of the actual league or indeed its competitors, there is no doubt that seeing two players from a small provincial side in Dundee United slot in easily into the championship holders was a joy to behold, a rare sight to the provisional past.
(c) BBC Sport
Armstrong and Mackay-Steven, scorers of Celtic’s first two goals at Firhill can try to keep their place in the starting eleven between now and the rest of the season. Other various Scottish players signing for the Old Firm at this time in the past have always had a strong start but slipped through the net largely down to different factors in injuries, economics and foreign players. Past examples have included Stephen Pearson or Gavin Rae at Rangers, both players suffered various injury problems after strong starts in January.
The duo however, stars for Dundee United in their youthful resurgence at Tannadice with the likes of Andrew Robertson and Ryan Gauld, two other players signing at top level European leagues in England and Portugal have an admirable and respectful attitude in a contrasting way to reach the top level.
Judging by Glasgow Celtic’s signings of Scottish players in the past two decades, it has almost been in relation that most Scottish players will have to prove themselves till their late 20’s before signing for a side. However these days the route has become slightly more unconventional and contrasting though the pact of establishment remains the most critical factor. Mackay-Steven at the age of 24 has been linked with various moves in the past including a move to Leeds United in the English Championship and various lower-level, English Premier League clubs. He has the fortune of seeing life on the other side where he found himself working in a bar back in his home-town of Thurso after being released by Liverpool during his teenage years. A trial at Fulham surfaced but was to no avail. This talented blonde winger took a step to Airdrie United in the Scottish Second Division as recently as 2011. Such hard lines are almost a step in the journey for the player who established himself long enough at Tannadice after making his debut as a substitute in a European tie to be considered a commendable player.
Former Hazelhead Academy student, Stuart Armstrong, an original resident of Aberdeen brought shades of another former box to box stalwart, Phil O’Donnell last night. O’Donnell scored at Firhill back in 1994 on his debut for Celtic and remains the last key box-to-box Scottish player signed where his performances for Motherwell had caught the eye. In Armstrong’s case, it is a similar stance and like Mackay-Steven, he breeds of technicality. He slotted in at ease with Stefan Johansen, another youngster to produce an attacking performance of substance.
The duo will have already seen major transitions in one club in their twenties. While most clubs for youngsters starting out are a cosy consensus, there was almost a shift in the way youth was viewed at Tannadice. The youth coach, Steve Campbell was let go and former manager, Peter Houston who was strangely reluctant to give younger players a go was surpassed by Jackie McNamara, a prodigal talent in the early 1990’s signed to Celtic from Dunfermline Athletic.
Delia’s side could possibly be described as the youngest Celtic side since the Lisbon Lions. A desire to buy Scottish is almost in resemblance to Gordon Strachan’s tenure back in the late 2000’s but a change in the market has meant Celtic buying younger players rather than the more established club heads in the past like Paul Hartley, Steven Pressley and Gary Caldwell and equally on lower wages. If economics are to play a part, they look a fast athletic side arguably more so than Neil Lennon’s.
Perhaps the onus test for Delia in what should be described as a tough season because of the competitiveness of the resurgent Aberdeen will be against Inter Milan next Thursday. Both Armstrong and Mackay-Steven have made their case for selection against a league that today is not of the spark as it might have been in the 1990’s.
It is ironic that they are coming up against their 1967 opponents for whom they won the European Cup with such a young side through the similarities end at a second. Yet Inter still boast formidable players, Nemanja Vidic at centre-back will be a hard test for Guidetti and Stokes prospectively after the defender had decided to leave Manchester United. Lukas Podolski is currently on loan from Arsenal and Gary Medel was at Cardiff City last season, a strange contrast to a major world side. There are no major stars however on the contrast much like the traditional element of its Scottish counterpart, but for the form of 21-year old, Mauro Icardi who has already found the net 18 times this season, he will be the biggest threat.
Whenever Mackay-Steven and Armstrong can indeed be more than just January buys to win a championship against a highly competitive Aberdeen side is a long drawn process