LISBON Lion Tommy Gemmell is the latest recruit to the Keiran Tierney Fan Club.
The club’s legendary goalscoring left-back also has words of advice for the 18-year-old defender who has made five first team appearances this season.
Gemmell said: “I spent a fair chunk of my career in the other team’s half because Celtic were such an attack-minded team under Jock Stein, but I never lost sight my first job was to defend.
“Big Jock demanded that we entertain our supporters and was never satisfied with a three or four-goal win if he thought we could hit five or six.
“Yes, Big Jock encouraged me to get up the wing to add my weight to the attack, but I can tell you he would often remind me in no uncertain fashion my main occupation was to take care of business at the back.
“It was okay scoring goals, but if I went missing and left the back door open, there would be hell to pay afterwards.
“From what I’ve seen, Tierney likes to come forward, but, he, too, will realise the main job is to prevent goals at the other end.
“I often saw it as a bonus that I could get the opportunity to go forward. John Clark was such a dependable defender with amazing powers of concentration and anticipation, that you knew he could tidy up things and give you a chance to get back into a defensive position.
“At the moment, Tierney doesn’t have that luxury and, nine times out of 10, will have to cover his own back and make sure he isn’t exposed too far up the field.
“Ronny Deila is still working on a settled back four after losing Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer in the summer. He has spent big money on the Croatian centre-half Jozo Simunovic who looks like being a quality, no-nonsense player in the middle of the rearguard.
“Now, though, he has to get someone in beside him who will complement his strengths. That looks like being Dedryck Boyata, but, remember, both of these guys are new to Celtic, just arriving this season.
“So, everyone along the back line is getting used to each other’s styles. I was more fortunate when I came into the first team back in the early sixties.
“Billy McNeill may have just been a young guy, but he was so good he was already the recognised centre-half. Billy was rarely injured, too, which helped the continuity of the defence.
“Once Ronny Deila’s jigsaw comes together, I’m sure we’ll see a more secure-looking back four at Celtic. Certainly, the loss of seven goals in their three Europa League ties isn’t too clever and could cost the club dear.”
Gemmell also admitted he likes the attitude of Isle of Man-born Tierney. He said: “I keep reading he realises he has a lot to learn and he comes across as being a fairly well-grounded teenager. That will be crucial to his development.
“Once you think you know it all, you are in big trouble. I was still learning even in my thirties at Dundee. Football has always had the habit of throwing up some nasty surprises, irrespective of your age or experience.
“In time, Tierney will learn to make the correct decisions. I always watched to see how things developed around about me. For instance, some teams used to put their winger on me. I had opponents complaining to me during the game that they had to mark me!
“That gave me the leeway to push further upfield, but I was always wary of what was going on behind me. Other managers would go the other way and do their best to keep me out of their team’s half of the field.
“They would push their wingers further up the field and I had to be there to deal with that and then change the pattern and flow of the game by coming forward.
“And, once again, I had players around me I could trust completely. Bertie Auld, more often than not, was in the left-hand side of the midfield and I thought the wee man was a genius. He would come and take a pass, give you the chance to get on the gallop and then send a ball into your tracks. He made life easy for me such was the precision and weight of his passes.
“Again, that is something Tierney will cultivate as he gets to know his team-mates and they get to know him. Things will develop naturally during a game.
“HIs ball in for Leigh Griffiths’ first goal against Aberdeen on Saturday was excellent. I liked the way he measured the cross. He could have gone on a run and simply fired over a ‘hit-and-hope’ effort. But he got his head up, spotted Leigh and curled in a lovely, inviting ball.
“I realise Celtic have struggled a bit at left-back in recent times and Emilio Izaguirre has come in for some criticism, mainly in European games.
“That’s unfortunate and probably why Deila has introduced young Kieran in the first place. The trick now is for the Norwegian to know the games that are best suited for his young player.
“Back in Jock Stein’s day, he would pick and choose when to bring in youngsters. He had the reserve team known as ‘The Quality Street Gang’ and had kids such as Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, George Connelly and Lou Macari knocking at the first team door.
“Jock would look at the opposition, note their strengths and weaknesses and then work out which of the young lads would be best suited for that particular encounter.
“Deila now has young guys such as Tierney, Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Saidy Janko at his disposal.
“Leigh Griffiths, at the age of 25, is now maturing into a striker who knows what his role is all about.
“It’s a question of getting the right mix and the manager is now in his second season in this country and will be getting a feel for the opposition and their playing surfaces.
“Kieran Tierney is certainly an exciting prospect, but he needs time to be nurtured into a quality and consistent left-back. I like what I’ve seen so far, though.”