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Why it has all gone wrong at the Celtic Academy?

On Friday afternoon Celtic announced an impressive upgrade of training facilities at Barrowfield which will be used for the club’s Academy prospects.

A full sized indoor pitch will be the centre-piece of the complex with all of the trimmings in terms of gyms, fitness and medical facilities. It will be a stand-out facility in Scotland, being inside Glasgow rather than out at Lennoxtown it will be far more accessible.

On Friday night Celtic’s B team lost 5-0 to West Ham in the Premier League International Cup, three more outings await in that competition against Chelsea, Brighton and Southampton.

The competition is open to players under-23, an age group that Celtic don’t really have which meant that B team players had to switch from East Kilbride and Albion Rovers to West Ham.

There will be age issues involved but it can’t be denied that the pipeline of players coming through the ranks has come to a halt. Much is made of Callum McGregor but since his breakthrough only Kieran Tierney has come through the ranks although Tony Ralston defied the odds when he went from fifth choice outcast in season 20/21 to very able deputy in two seasons under Ange Postecoglou.

Current B team coaches Stephen McManus and Darren O’Dea developed towards the end of the SPL Reserve League, since that competition ended in 2009 there has been a real issue in producing first team players.

Bluntly put there is no pathway for Academy players to get into the first team, a third season in the Lowland League is throwing good money after bad. No one is going to make it at SPFL Premiership level by playing five levels below. There are far better teams in the West of Scotland League than the Lowland League such as Pollok, Clydebank and Darvel.

English and German clubs are scouting the best Academy players and signing them at the age of 16, the leftovers go into the Lowland League and soul destroying matches against Cumbernauld Colts, Edinburgh University and Caledonian Braves on plastic pitches. Celtic play theor home matches on the Airdrie plastic.

Another issue is insisting that the best Academy players join the St Ninian’s project, on paper it sounds great but the reality is that it further reduces the range of players ready to be offered Professional contracts. Started in 2009 there is nothing to show that it is supplying better prepared players ready for a professional career.

When Celtic entered the Lowland League Rocco Vata and Owen Moffat looked the best prospects, at 16 it was great for Vata, at 19 Moffat was already well behind former Celtic team mate Aaron Hickey who had just moved from Hearts to Bologna.

Predictably none of that squad has moved into the Celtic first team, the prospects for the current squad look bleak.

In his first season in charge Brendan Rodgers gave match time to Ralston, Mikey Johnston, Calvin Miller and Jack Aitchison, it is hard to make a case for anyone in the B team following that route.

The last promising batch of players was the 2000 age group which involved Stephen Welsh, Daniel Church, Ewan Henderson, Kerr McInroy, Aitchison and Robbie Deas.

For a variety of reasons they fell by the wayside, Welsh recently signed a new contract but has never progressed beyond being fourth choice central defender.

Karamoko Dembele’s failure to start a first team match tells a similar story.

There is no obvious solution that the club is missing out on, the link with Admira Wacker is an attempt at a solution but with Matthew Anderson playing two matches and Tobi Oluwayemi back up goalkeeper the early signs aren’t promising.

On Tuesday the UEFA Youth League starts away to Feyenoord followed by matches against Atletico Madrid and Lazio at u-19 level.

That will give a direct comparison with top clubs in leading nations at the same age group- after that returning to plastic pitches against clubs in the fifth/sixth tier of the Scottish game isn’t doing the Academy any favours, regardless of the funds and facilities being invested.

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