Celtic’s loan lesson is straight out of ‘A Bronx Tale’ – Sean Martin

If the movie A Bronx Tale taught us anything – other than reversing your car through the streets of New York is apparently a lot easier than it looks – it’s this: the most sad in life is wasted talent.

This feeling is especially true in football, where potential is so often unfulfilled and where expectations can crush dreams and cause nightmares. It is not easy to “succeed”.

With the news that Celtic winger Adam Montgomery will spend the rest of the season at Aberdeen, the themes of ‘wasted talent’ and not ‘success’ are tacitly understood to be hanging over him.

He doesn’t have to look far to find an example of how atrophy can block even the sharpest talent.

Take Mikey Johnston, for example. He made his debut against St Johnstone in May 2017, when he had just turned 18. Four and a half years later, the winger is approaching his 23rd birthday with just 3,408 minutes of first-team action to his name (the equivalent of 38 games, so a full league season).

Part of the frustration surrounding his injury-plagued career is his undoubted talent. how good it is could to be. The underlying data still hints at it despite the lack of starting opportunities he’s had since returning to fitness this term. It was surprising, and perhaps even frustrating, that the mooted opportunities for a loan move (curiously enough, to Aberdeen as Montgomery was linked with Kilmarnock) ultimately failed to materialise.

The 19-year-old Montgomery, on the other hand, still has plenty of goodwill in the bank after flirting with the first team and doing it in a new position to start. He already has 1,002 minutes on the clock.

With the extra depth Ange Postecoglou now has, it seemed unlikely either player would be able to get any meaningful playing time in the second half of the season.

Going out on loan is a decision that makes sense, even if it’s not the preferred option of the player (he would probably prefer to wear the hoops) or the club (which benefits from academy graduates progressing through the first XI in prestige and, generally, costs saved by not having to recruit externally for the same roles).

But this should not be taken as a negative. Recent recipients of the loan scheme can attest to that – with more than one example in the current Celtic first team.

When Callum McGregor was loaned out to Notts County in the English Premier League, it could normally have been a glimpse of the future for a player in his position, as it is for many Celtic youngsters. But he shone so brightly with the Magpies, and fate made him so determined to make the most of what he had at Parkhead, that he arguably took his chance better than any other case you can. think. He is now a club captain, a veteran of 15 trophies and a mainstay for Scotland to boot.

Although they are gone, the club’s decision to send Ryan Christie and Kristoffer Ajer on loan has also paid off in spectacular fashion.

Christie, in particular, used his loan spell to great effect. While at Aberdeen between January 2017 and the summer of 2018, he beat James Maddison for the AFC Young Player of the Year and won international honors (making his debut, in a nice twist of fate , alongside McGregor in a team containing fellow Celts Craig Gordon and James Forrest in a Scottish team led by Kieran Tierney).

As his Hoops team-mates lashed out at the rest of Scotland, he kept busy improving his game to try and break into the unbreakable on his return to Parkhead. He enjoyed the pressure in the Granite City which – although different from its Glasgow counterpart – is still much more intense than those unfamiliar with the area would think.

The Dons retain a die-hard fan base eager for success and, at the time, that meant ensuring the team made the cuts and remained the second force in Scotland. He also scored that goal at Pittodrie who, for my money, is up there with everything he’s produced for Celtic (high praise indeed considering he’s scored several including in the semi-finals and in the final of the Scottish Cup and League Cup).

Ajer’s time was slightly different. Like Christie, he was not a Celtic academy player but, unlike Christie, he was also unaccustomed to Scottish football and was therefore loaned out to help him progress to the position of centre-back and Scottish football environment in general. He became a mainstay afterwards and joined the English Premier League for between £13.5m and £17.5m last summer.

Stephen Welsh (Morton) is another loanee and has established himself somewhat as a semi-regular on his return, while Anthony Ralston (Queen’s Park, Dundee United and St Johnstone) has done so this season against any waiting.

There is, however, an argument that we can’t help but see it all through the prism of the Celtic first team. It is true, and it is natural to do so. But there are other ways of seeing things.

READ MORE: Celtic’s last demolition derby and the historical parallels that suggest a revolution has begun – Tony Haggerty

First, there’s the obvious potential financial benefit to the club if players on loan do well but not well enough for Celtic’s first team; usually there will be several suitors elsewhere.

The even less discussed view is to remember that there are plenty of players who are loaned out due to limited or no first-team chances who have been at the club throughout their formative years, literally growing up and figuratively in and around the biggest club in the country. The resulting expectation cannot be underestimated.

The success, therefore, of loan moves such as that which will be undertaken by Montgomery need not be judged solely on whether players return and ‘succeed’ in the first team like McGregor, Christie and Ajer, but also how they turn. in general, both as players and (as Ange Postecoglou has pointed out a few times recently) as people.

There are of course many examples of players walking away from the game before it got to that kind of stage, but there are also many examples of young Celts being loaned out before finding their place in the world of football. football with Parkhead.

The likes of Jamie McCart (on loan at Caley Thistle, St Mirren and Alloa, now a two-time Cup-winning defender with St Johnstone) and Stuart Findlay (Morton, Dumbarton and Kilmarnock, now Scotland international and in MLS) show there is life after Celtic even if your loan doesn’t lead to a future in hoops.

Some take even less traveled roads, but the lesson remains the same in that sense.

There’s Jackson Irvine, a bit odd as he joined later than most at Under-19 level, but still… a standout during his loan spell with Ross County, he nonetheless wasn’t going to get the chance. time of day in Celtic first. team and therefore the Staggies took it for a development fee. He once again stood out and made a good fist in England with Burton Albion and Hull City suddenly. He is now a highly respected professional and went to Germany to taste life with St Pauli.

Liam Henderson has a similar story. His loan moves took him to Rosenberg and then Hibs, where he picked up a historic Scottish Cup victory, but ultimately it wasn’t going to be good enough to make Celtic’s first team. He then tried his luck as a player for the team, but eventually opted to join Bari and is now at the fourth club in his Italian adventure.

Point? When it comes to young Celts and academy players, it doesn’t always have to be equally black or white, first-team success or first-team failure.

And you know what? Montgomery has every chance to turn this to his advantage and become the next McGregor, the next Christie or the next Ajer and make that leap from loan fodder to the regular first-team starter.

Time spent playing first-team football at a team like Aberdeen could absolutely be the making of him. But if it turns out he’s not ‘successful’ at Celtic on his return, remember this: that doesn’t mean it’s just another story of wasted talent.

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