Kieran Tierney thrives on pressure of Scotland's must-win game
Kieran Tierney is a teenager immune to pressure. It is part of his daily life at Celtic and now features in his international career with Scotland. A must-win World Cup qualifier at Hampden tomorrow would daunt most 19-year-olds, except this one.
If selected at left-back ahead of Andy Robertson and Lee Wallace, Tierney will be just as composed as his more experienced counterparts. High-octane Champions League ties against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach didn’t faze him, neither did Europa League fixtures against Fenerbahce and Ajax, nor four derbies with Rangers.
His two Scotland caps so far give him a vital insight for tomorrow night, although they came in vastly different circumstances. The player’s debut was a low-key friendly win over Denmark at Hampden 12 months ago, followed up by a punishing night in Trnava as the national team lost 3-0 to Slovakia in last October’s World Cup qualifier.
It has been the proverbial steep learning curve at both club and international level, meaning Tierney is ready for whatever might ensue against Slovenia.
“Celtic is a big pressure club and the experience of playing there for the last two or three seasons, it does stand you in good stead for coming here,” he said. “Obviously this is a big pressure game. Hopefully that experience will count.
“There is so much of it in this squad. Every football club is pressure, and you’ve got people like Darren Fletcher who has played 70-odd times and at the highest level. I’m learning every day from people like him and it’s just great to be around a squad like this.”
His method is to block out the hype surrounding big games and focus purely on what takes place on the field. “I think you need to. If you think too much about it your concentration will go a bit,” he continued. “You just need to play your normal game, not over-think it. You can’t try any more than normal because everyone tries 100 per cent every game anyway. It’s just the same as every other game.”
There is also the freshness of playing international football and taking a break from the unerring juggernaut that is Celtic’s domestic campaign. “Yeah, the international break is good for everyone. It’s great to be called up and be part of the squad so I’m happy about that.
“I made the jump from the Scotland Under-19s last season. I’ve now been in three or four squads, sadly I also had to pull out of a few. I’m getting used to it now. I know everybody and it’s a good team. It’s a good group of boys.”
Even with that familiarity, there is still the natural emotional edge encountered by anyone preparing to represent their country on the biggest stage. Tierney is comforted that so many of his Celtic colleagues are beside him in Gordon Strachan’s national squad.
Scott Brown, Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong, Craig Gordon and James Forrest are all present and correct at the Scotland team hotel in the Renfrewshire countryside. Most, if not all, are expected to be handed important roles in tomorrow’s match after being left out of Wednesday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Canada. Only Griffiths featured as a second-half substitute.
Strachan is keen to harness the relentless winning mentality fostered at Parkhead this season since the arrival of Brendan Rodgers as manager.
“There probably are a little bit of nerves but because there are a few Celtic boys here you can be yourself and you are with them straight away. Everyone is really welcoming,” said Tierney.
“It’s good for Celtic that there are so many international Scottish players. Everyone brings their own bit of positivity to the group and obviously what Celtic have done this season has been great. If we can add any positivity if we get the chance to play, then that’s what we will do.
“I’m not rooming with any of the Celtic boys, though. I’m in with Olly Burke because we made the jump to the first team at the same time. We were in the same Under-19 Euros campaign. Every squad I’ve been with him. He’s good, but I feel comfortable I could share with anyone.”
It is an indictment of Scotland’s international failure for nearly two decades is the fact Tierney has yet to experience watching his country play in a major championship. Born in 1997, he turned one just five days before the opening match of the 1998 World Cup in France - the last time there was a Caledonian presence on the biggest international stage.
Anything other than victory tomorrow will extend that depressing sequence beyond the 20-year mark. “We’d like to change that now and hopefully we can. “Everyone is doing everything we can on the training field, we’re working hard every day. We want to make it right,” said Tierney.
It almost seems unfair to burden one so young with such a huge responsibility. Being a Celtic player teaches you how to handle expectation, though. The Glasgow club’s 25-point advantage at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership indicates they have no issue handling pressure.
“It’s hard because the games are tight. They are hard games. We’re not so far ahead just like that,” insisted Tierney. “We’ve worked hard to get there, it’s not come as easy every team challenges you. I wouldn’t say anything is easy.”
Although not a first-choice at Parkhead this season, Griffiths is arguably Scotland’s most natural finisher and may well be asked to lead the forward line against Slovenia.
“He’s working very hard in training,” said Tierney. “It’s hard work and everyone gets fitter, so fitness won’t be a problem for him. It’s just about when he gets on the park. Hopefully he does really well, as he did against Canada.”