Kieran Tierney, English funny money and a fork in the Celtic Way
Arsenal’s laboured pursuit of Kieran Tierney is already starting to feel like shoving a fridge up a hill.
The North London giants have already seen their advances rejected out of hand and have found another couple of million to add to their derisory first offer.
The Gunners don’t hold the Scottish league in high esteem. If they did, they wouldn’t have baulked at paying over £10million for Victor Wanyama and then Virgil Van Dijk and their recent history would most likely have yielded way more riches, both in terms of silverware and the financial rewards that come with it.
Should Tierney sign for Arsenal and help them into third place in the league, that extra couple of million is already covered, with change to spare. Arsenal banked £30.7million for finishing fifth in the league last year, compared to Chelsea’s £34.6million.
Celtic should tell them in no uncertain terms where to go. If Arsenal are tightening their belt, they should perhaps be looking elsewhere. Or stop dreaming of players they can’t afford, such as £80million-rated Wilfried Zaha, and fork up the asking price for players they can pay for.
Tierney has a price, one that’s too low in my estimation if it’s £25million, but if Arsenal match it he’ll most likely be gone.
It will be a sore one, not least with Celtic about to bid for nine in a row. Fans hold Tierney in the highest esteem. He’s ‘living the dream’, to borrow his own words. And he’s well paid for it, into the bargain.
In return, he’s a player who has always given 100% in every game. He’s a born winner and it was evident that wearing the jersey was a source of great pride.
Footballers normally don’t discharge themselves from hospital after a broken jaw and run through the streets, high on painkillers, through the departing opposition fans to get back to lift the Scottish Cup.
Moments like that made fans take him to their heart. Now, with the prospect of the Bhoy’s Own hero leaving, it stings. How can such a dyed-in-the-wool Celt angle for a move? fans ask.
It’s one of the curses of modern-day football that money dominates much of the conversation, but here we are again, with the value of Tierney to Celtic and the amount of money he can make in England up for discussion.
When Celtic sold Brian McClair to Manchester United in 1987, Alex Ferguson declared, before he’d even kicked a ball in England, that his value had already shot up from the £850k that a cross-border tribunal decided United had to pay. Celtic rightly felt aggrieved and McClair would go on to be one of Ferguson’s best ever signings. A steal, in every sense.
If Tierney follows a similar trajectory to McClair, never mind Andy Robertson or Van Dijk, his value will rocket in a short space of time. By dint of playing a season in England, the Gunners will be looking to double their money.
Arsenal, for all the throwaway cash of the English league, are comparatively feeling the pinch. Failure to qualify for the Champions League three years in a row hasn’t helped and, having watched the sharp money to be made on buying and selling players from Scotland, they’ll no doubt have that at the back of their mind, if not the front.
Robertson isn’t the only one to have seen his value dramatically increase. Moussa Dembele is being quoted as a £50million player a year on from Lyon snapped him up for a bargain £20million. But, just as Celtic might feel short changed, think how Fulham fans regard the situation after we snapped the forward up for half a million.
If Arsenal punt Tierney on after a year, they’ll make good money. If they don’t, they have an excellent player on their books.
The other aspect of the saga is the eye-watering amount of money a player can earn at a club like Arsenal. Tierney signed a contract with Celtic that would make him a millionaire, doing what he dreamed of doing since he was a youngster. But when he signed up with the Stellar Group agency when the ink was barely dry on that six-year deal in October 2017, it would have been with a view to leaving some day.
Tierney had, it would seem, already reached the fork in the road where hard-headed professionalism would come up against his emotional attachment to the club and made his decision.
For Celtic, if there’s no prospect of keeping hold of him, and there have been no indications that there are talks trying to courtesy of a wage hike, it would be best to match the attitude of Tierney and his advisors to get the move done quickly, get the money in, and invest it in the team.
Football can be an emotional business and it’s certainly the case at Celtic, with fans heavily invested in ‘the glory and the dream’, to borrow the title from Pat Woods and Tom Campbell’s excellent book. As such, there’s some fierce debate out there as to whether ‘anyone would move for that kind of money’ (reportedly in the region of £80k a week) on the cusp of a momentous season.
The fact probably none of us will ever have that decision to make. Tierney is already a wealthy young man. It’s unlikely, even if he stays at Celtic, his kids will never want for a four-by-four on their 17th birthday or a private education. If he’s smart, then he’s already well set up for life.
The other side to the argument is that anything can happen in football. As someone who has already had a few hefty injuries this might way on Tierney’s mind more than others.
David Turnbull has recently seen a genuinely life-changing move fall through. His case serves as a good argument for any pro that careers have unexpected twists and turns and KTs agents will have embedded that in his thinking.
As a general point, however, with a salary in the region of a million a year, plus whatever endorsements he might have, he’s already had a life-changing move. A nurse or fireman would have to work the best part of an entire career to pocket what a top paid player at Celtic does.
Arsenal adds multiple levels of lavishness to an already very good life on a top Celtic salary, but it would be crazy to think it’s something to be easily dismissed, regardless of a player’s affection for his club.
Maybe he and the club have known all along that this day would come sooner rather than later, hence the unusually long term ensuring the club would be well compensated when he goes.
There were enough whispers last year to suggest that he was more than happy to sign for Everton. Again, Everton wouldn’t meet Celtic’s valuation and the player stayed. To his credit, he was as wholehearted as ever, although injury limited his appearances in what would be another momentous occasion for the club.
But when he went on megaphone duty, it didn’t resonate as it might have done in previous seasons, when it looked as if he was going to be here hopefully for 9 and then 10 in a row.
Tierney is a player who, in another era, could have gone on to become a genuine club legend. Lou Macari was another, but he had an idea of his value and Celtic couldn’t or wouldn’t match it. He was one of the early ones to largely make a decision to move based on money, in an era where Celtic were effective in using the club’s emotional appeal as a strong bargaining chip.
Macari made the wrong decision to choose Manchester United back then, while Charlie Nicholas would also choose the wrong club by heading to Highbury in 1983.
Whether Tierney’s career flourishes like the Van Dijk and Robertson, or falters like those earlier Celts, time will tell. He may well also cite ‘ambition’ as a reason to move, following a few years of playing the same teams over and over in Scotland.
As Shaun Maloney learned, the size of the wage packet and the chance to play in England’s top flight were no compensation for leaving Celtic and he was soon back.
It’s unlikely if a similarly homesick KT fancied a return that Celtic would be ready, willing and able to buy him back, even in a cut-price deal. And they certainly couldn’t match his wages.
In the world of crazy money, when you’re gone for an ‘elite’ wage packet, you’re most probably gone for good.