TALK­ING CELTIC

Evening Times - - SPORT - By ALI­SON McCONNELL

INA tucked-away pocket of Len­nox­town, Chris McCart’s of­fice is sma l l and un­re­mark­able. And yet from this quiet hub stems much of what is cur­rent about Celtic.

As Bren­dan Rodgers’ side have em­barked on a 63-game un­beaten do­mes­tic run, the play­ers who emerged into that en­vi­ron­ment from the tute­lage of McCart have been no­table.

The values that have been sown into the phi­los­o­phy of Rodgers’ first-team are ev­i­dent in McCart’s academy with hard-work and a drive for con­tin­ual self-im­prove­ment at the heart of the mantra.

The Park­head side’s head of youth de­vel­op­ment watched with sat­is­fac­tion as three of his pro­tegees turned it on against Bay­ern Mu­nich in the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League a cou­ple of weeks ago with Kieran Tier­ney, James For­rest and Cal­lum Mc­Gre­gor all shin­ing against the Bun­desliga gi­ants.

But what has res­onated more than any­thing this sea­son is a quote Rodgers gave to the writ­ten press a cou­ple of months back.

“One of the best things that I have heard from the man­ager is that no young player should be say­ing they play for Celtic,” said McCart.

“They train with Celtic, that is it. It is so true. It res­onated with ev­ery­one in here what he was say­ing.

“He doesn’t like lazy days. He wants the best and see­ing where your best will take you. We will all make mis­takes, but it is how you learn from them.

“Cer­tainly, that cul­ture of tat­toos, big cars, de­signer toi­let bags, big watches, the bling… it is al­ways go­ing to be an at­trac­tion to any young player.

“We live in a world now where it is about overnight sen­sa­tions, so there is that cul­ture within so­ci­ety as a whole but here we are try­ing to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where it is about work­ing hard and see­ing the re­wards that come from that.”

Rodgers him­self sets his own ex­am­ple.

Lit­tle more than 48 hours be­fore Celtic faced Bay­ern Mu­nich, Rodgers was at Len­nox­town to coach an un­der-14 side.

And as McCart went on to ex­plain, that wasn’t all he was busy with.

“In that same work­ing week he came in and asked to meet with all the coaches,” he said.

“He spoke to every one of them. We put it on dur­ing the day with 99.9 per cent at­ten­dance with coaches who aren’t full-time mak­ing sure that they had a day off work to come in for it.

“That goes from us right down to the guys i n the de­vel­op­ment cen­tres for the kids at five. He in­vited them all to watch train­ing af­ter it, he in­vited them into his of­fice, he talked to ev­ery­one.

“In my role here, I went to Tony Mow­bray, to Neil Len­non, to Ronny Deila – they all gave in-ser­vice ses­sions to the academy. But what I am find­ing now is that it is the man­ager chap­ping at my door and say­ing this is what I want to do, what can do we think about that, where can we im­prove on this.

“He comes and tells us what he is think­ing and there has been a sig­nif­i­cant shift in that he drives my­self.

“It is in­cred­i­ble. He doesn’t want there to feel as though there are bound­aries be­tween youth level and first-team level.

“He wants the un­der-eight coach to feel as im­por­tant as the de­vel­op­ment squad man­ager. He wants ev­ery­one to be part of it.

“When­ever the first-team win any­thing, he thanks ev­ery­one.

“The great­est value he brings is that hu­mil­ity. He is the first­team man­ager who is thought of very highly not just at Celtic and within Scot­tish foot­ball but in the wider foot­ball en­vi­ron­ment too.”

The pho­tographs that adorn McCart’s of­fice wall would not be out of place in a head­mas­ter’s of­fice.

GI­ANT squad pho­tos with lit­tle kids from the un­der-eights all the way up to late teens are grouped to­gether in an­nual team snap­shots, with hooped jer­seys i nstead of the shirts-and-ties.

There is some­thing pas­toral in the schol­arly ap­proach of McCart too.

Over­see­ing his own academy, his re­mit is to grad­u­ate play­ers who are ca­pa­ble of play­ing in the pres­surised en­vi­ron­ment of first-team foot­ball.

In the last decade, 18 of them have fea­tured for Celtic in the Cham­pi­ons League; 55 have de­buted at first-team level, 168 have forged ca­reers else­where with McCart in charge of the most suc­cess­ful academy in Scot­land. But the bar is al­ways be­ing raised.

“We don’t want to de­velop play­ers just to play in Scot­land and the Pre­mier League, we want to be able to pro­duce play­ers ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League,” said McCart.

“To see three of our academy grad­u­ates play and per­form re­ally well against Bay­ern Mu­nich in the com­pe­ti­tion

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