For close to two decades Celtic youth teams have dominated Scottish development leagues. We invest more in youth football than anyone else, we flood the Scottish leagues with graduates from our academy, and we harvest the occasional gem for the first team.
The current squad has Kieran Tierney, James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Eoghan O’Connell (who I think has a genuine chance) and Liam Henderson, who all made the step-up but for 40 years our record in maturing youth talent has been appalling.
Care to guess the last successful striker Celtic brought through the system?
Clubs who regularly finish behind Celtic in the youth league table produce far more first-team talent, some of whom Celtic pay money to sign later in their careers. What Dundee United, Hibs, Hamilton Accies and others can do, which Celtic have been reluctant to do, it blood young players in the first team early.
Celtic’s reasons for this are valid. They have championships to win every season, and even when that is a formality, dropping points to anyone is cause for a crisis. We do not have the most conducive environment for youthful endeavours.
In recent times we’ve tried to help players bridge the gap between youth football and the Celtic first team by sending them out on loan. Callum McGregor benefited from this but it’s hard to find evidence the strategy is delivering.
Celtic have wanted a ‘colts’ team for 50 years, a place where youthful talent can come up against the harsh environment of fully grown men. I know one chairman of a successful developer of youth players who believes that if they are not thoroughly exposed to ‘real’ football between the ages of 16 and 19 they will be lost to the game by 20.
Frustration at a perceived lack of progress kicks in, then unhelpful habits take over.
No one can say with any great conviction that a colts team will solve anything, but it might. For that reason, it’s worth trying.
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