Celtic’s commitment to developing Academy players into first-teamers

Scottish champions Celtic have a genuine commitment to developing their academy players into first-teamers; we caught up with the club’s International Soccer Academy Manager to find out more…

Last May Celtic youngster Jack Aitchison became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer at 16 years and 71 days old after netting in the 7-1 romp over Motherwell in the final game of the season.

Aitchison, now 17, has gone on to make six senior appearances this season, scoring three times and he is just one of a long list of youngsters, past and present, who have graduated through the club’s St Ninian’s Academy and into the first XI.

In fact Willie McNab took great pride in telling us: “18 Academy players since 2001/02 that have now made their debut in the Champions League.”

Willie, who will be joining us in Boston on April 28, 29 to lead two coach education sessions, remembers the day when Aitchison scored.

“We were playing down at Annan with the U15s that day; Jack is just a year older than these kids and we were all listening on our phones and watching Twitter and we heard he had come on,” he said

“And then we heard he had scored. It was unbelievable, there was big cheer that went up in the changing room.

“You just need to look at Jack and Kieran Tierney, Liam Henderson, Callum McGregor and James Forrest, who have all been here since they were young kids. They are a fabulous example.”

READ MORE: Six tips for soccer coaches…

Willie, who is also part of Celtic’s U15s set-up, told us he had recently caught up with Tierney – another Hoops graduate who has already faced Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

“I actually managed to speak to Kieran last week and although he is only a young lad himself he was giving some great advice to some of the younger lads coming through.

“He was telling them how he started just kicking a ball against a wall to practice his touch and working on his left foot, right foot.

“It is inspirational for the younger guys coming through. I work with the Under-15s and it’s aspirational and inspirational to look at someone like Kieran and what it could mean in a few years time if you are willing to work hard and live the right life off the pitch as well as on it.

“It is great to see so many young players getting their opportunity and it bodes well for the future.”

Willie recently went through six of his best tips for coaches and he says he regularly keeps abreast of coaching techniques from other soccer coaches and from other sports to keep ahead of the game.

“There was a basketball coach speaking recently about players taking responsibility for themselves and working hard and we actually showed the players before we went on the pitch last night,” he said.

“We played them the clip and then waited until after the session and it was about it being a team effort and not just about the individual and how they are always developing.

“The kids I have are just a couple of years away from potentially having a professional contract and being in and around the first team and it is becoming real for them.

“But they are still kids and developing and we have to give them that environment where they can still make mistakes and that it is okay to mistakes, but still get them ready for the chance when it comes along.”

Celtic Academy ethos

The ethos at Celtic’s Academy, set out by Chris McCart, is to “strive to develop first team regulars who are capable of performing in the Champions League for Celtic” and Willie told us that working at the highest level possible is uppermost in the coaches’ thoughts.

“The ethos set by Chris McCart is trying to develop players that can play at the highest level possible, be that in the Champions League or for their country and we’re hoping for Scotland because we have predominantly Scottish players in the Academy.

“We are under no illusions as coaches that is the level we are striving for and we know not every kid will hit those heights and maybe they will find a level elsewhere.

“I think it is now 18 youth Academy players since 2001/02 that have now made their debut in the Champions League. It’s an excellent record. Three of them did it this season – Kiernan Tierney, Liam Henderson and Callum McGregor.

“Tierney made his debut in the Nou Camp against Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. I was talking to him the other day about it and he said it was just ‘unbelievable’ and in the second game against Man City where he scored he had a real battle with Raheem Sterling and that is the level we want the boys to get to.

“We do understand though that they develop at different rates and not all of then will make that level but if you shoot for that level, both on and off the pitch then it gives them the best opportunity to have a career within the game.”

 We asked Willie at what age do the academy players start thinking about tactics.

“The technical basis is really important. We make sure a player can receive the ball, pass the ball, run with the ball, but there is also the tactical element too,” he added.

“That becomes really important especially when they start playing 11 a side. Our Under 12s now are starting to learn that side of the game about balance and not attacking with too many players and making sure you are not leaving yourself open to a counter-attack.

“The technical element is hugely important, but when the players get to 13 and upwards the tactical element is also introduced.”


With counter-attacking becoming more popular in the modern game we asked Willie whether the Academy starlets were well versed on how to break quickly and how to stop being caught out by quick-thinking opponents.

“Yes it’s more of a consideration these days. We also say ‘when you are attacking be in a good defensive position’ and so it’s knowing that when you are attacking you are at your most vulnerable.

“If you look at the stats and the technical report from the UEFA Champions League was that a quicker build up is now happening, apart from Barcelona, who are more methodical.

“Goals are being scored within three or four passes now and teams are going at you quickly and if you flood too many men forward, teams will just pick you off.

“If you look at Celtic and they way they play I think we’ve only conceded 22 league goals all season and very few of those, maybe none have been conceded from the counter-attack.

“We make sure that when we have possession for long periods, the door is shut behind you.

“So we say to our kids ‘when you are attacking be in a good defensive position and when you are defending be in a good offensive position’. ‘Be in an area where you can win the ball back and start a quick counter attack.’

“That is the information we are giving to our kids in the U14,” added Willie.

For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.



Six coaching tips from Celtic’s International Soccer Academy Manager

GoPlay Sports caught up with Celtic’s International Soccer Academy Manager and asked him for his six top coaching tips.

We are honored to have partnered with Celtic for the next three years and we will act as the club’s designated United States travel operator for the Academy’s clubs in the US.

And to launch our new link-up Willie McNab will be heading to New Balance headquarters in Boston later this month to host two days of coach education sessions on April 28, 29.

But ahead of the widely-anticipated sessions we had a chat with Willie and asked him what the most important skills for a coach to possess were, regardless of their level.


1. Preparation

Be prepared in everything you do. If you are looking at just one session then know exactly what outcomes and your objectives are in the session and how many players you have so it’s not off the cuff.

2. Clear Vision

Have a clear vision and philosophy of what you want to do. It is so hard to put something in place when you don’t have that philosophy that’s driving what you want to do.

That’s from a personal coaching point of view and from your club too. You need to have a crystal clear vision.

3. Drive

No matter what level you coach at you always need to be watching other sessions and watching other clubs of all levels that can broaden your horizons.
There are also a lot of excellent podcasts and videos out there with guys that are currently in the game that outline current trends.
Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Have an open mind.

4. Humility

Have that respect factor and not only for your players but also from your fellow coaches. It’s something that Brendan Rodgers preaches here at Celtic.
No matter who you are speaking to, whether it is a five-year-old or one of your fellow coaches it’s vital you have that humility.
The head of the Academy Chris McCart has always instilled that and when Brendan Rodgers came in he just reinforced it and when you have got someone like Brendan Rodgers, who has been where he has, coming in and saying the same it just reaffirms the good work that is going on in the Academy.

5. Fully commit

Make sure you fully commit to what you are going to do. I love coaches who have an enthusiasm for the game.
You have to put your heart and soul into it. Players look at the coach to get inspiration from and you can be a role model and a father figure/big brother figure and they will try and model themselves on you, so you have to give off that enthusiasm.

6. Be yourself

Do not copy anyone. Get inspiration from other coaches and look at the top guys like Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers and get ideas, but ultimately be your own person.
Have your own personality and attitude. You don’t need to become a clone of anyone.
For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.

#bedforawayfans initiative shows why terror will never win

Images of opposition football fans standing in unity will be the overriding memory from last night.

Pictures of the stricken Dortmund team bus, with shattered windows and scores of police officers trying to quell the panic were just a side issue; that temporary chaos should and not be the focus of Tuesday’s night’s latest assault on humanity.

When three explosive devices were detonated near the Borussia Dortmund team bus ahead of the night’s Champions League clash with Monaco, the perpetrators aim was to cause carnage, injure and maim innocent citizens. Fortunately only one person was injured – Dortmund player Marc Bartra who suffered a broken wrist – but the abiding memory will be of how the football world closed ranks to condemn another thoughtless act of violence.

Attacking soft targets appears to be a common theme throughout the world, with so-called Islamic terror groups aiming to cause as much destruction and loss of life as possible with the apparent goal to split and divide communities and to stop people travelling and experiencing other cultures.

As per the famous quote by Benjamin Disraeli: “Travel teaches toleration.”

And on Wednesday all efforts to deny travel and thus halt toleration failed. In Dortmund the latest was not successful and future demonic efforts to attack ‘life’ will continue to fail too.

One person on Twitter encapsulated the mood.

The images and videos of Monaco fans singing and showing their solidarity for their Champions League opponents Dortmund won  – it was a beautiful sight. Within the hour the German hosts had started the ‘bedforawayfans’ initiative which enabled any stranded French fans the opportunity to stay at the houses of their hosts.

It consequently went viral with hundreds of Monaco fans from all backgrounds, who suddenly needed an extra night’s accommodation, sharing pictures and video on social media displaying of their togetherness.

Monaco later offered an allowance of 80 euros for every fan stuck in Germany, but with such generosity from Dortmund fans it was unlikely the club’s offer was taken up by many.

Germany defender Benedikt Howedes, captain of Dortmund’s fierce rivals Schalke, wrote: “Football unites. What a great initiative! #bedforawayfans”

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke urged his players to show their club does not bend to “terror and hatred”.

Watzke said in a statement on the club website: “The BVB family was always especially strong when it had to cope with difficult situations. This is perhaps the most difficult situation that we have faced in the past decades. I am sure that we will show ourselves as a strong and united BVB like never before.

“We do not just play for us today. We play for everyone – no matter whether Borussia, Bayer or Schalke supporters. We want to show that terror and hatred can never dictate our actions. And of course we play for Marc Bartra, who wants to see his team win.

“We ask all BVB fans to support our team today with total energy for 90 minutes. This team had to process the incomprehensible in a short space of time. We should all help you to come to terms with it.

“I just appealed to the team in the changing room to show society that we do not bend before terror.”

Watzke summed up the feelings of the majority as football showed the world that there will only be one winner in the fight against terror.

Matthew Briggs

GoPlay celebrate Celtic link-up with coach education sessions

To celebrate GoPlay Sports’ new partnership with the Celtic Soccer Academy we are holding a series of coach education sessions at the New Balance headquarters in Boston.

We are honored to have partnered with Celtic for the next three years and we will act as the club’s designated United States travel operator for the Academy’s clubs in the US.

And to kick off the relationship International Soccer Academy Manager Willie McNab will be coming to Boston to deliver a coach education session and an on-the-field demonstration later this month.

We caught up with McNab, who has built a fine reputation as a soccer clinician, demonstrating all over the world, including at numerous NSCAA Conventions, to ask him about what he is hoping for from the two-day course.


When and where are the sessions?

I’ll be across in Boston from April 26 to April 30 and the actual dates of the coaching sessions will be April 28 and April 29 at the New Balance headquarters in the city.
The Friday will be a theory based session and on the Saturday will we have the field demonstrations.

What can we expect from the sessions?

I work at the NSCAA Coaching Convention every year and the sessions will be similar to that. At the Conventions though you have such a wide-ranging audience – you have people working at grass-roots level all the way through to the professional level and also it’s about trying to find the right level to pitch at.

The Boston sessions will be to a smaller audience – maybe 60 coaches – rather than up to 2,000 that you can have watching at the Convention.

There will be a more intimate feel to it and I’ll be able to spend more time with the group as a whole and maybe if individuals want to chat I’ll be able to do that in a more relaxed environment.

The Conventions are absolutely brilliant but there are a lot of people there from all over the world offering insights and opinion, whereas these sessions will be focused on Celtic so we can give them some real insight into what we are doing.

Sometimes big venues can be intimidating and if someone has a really good question, they tend not to pose it, they tend to come and ask you one-on-one, so a smaller setting should allow people to ask those questions.

It also gives us the chance to tell people about the 24 partners in North America and we also have three partners in Panama and Venezuela and Costa Rica so it’s about letting coaches know about how partnering with Celtic can benefit them.

How will the partnership between Celtic and GoPlay work?

So basically through this new partnership GoPlay will be identifying clubs in the local area to invite them along so we can tell them a bit about what we are doing at the Celtic Academy but also what we are doing in North America with the club partnership programme that we have at the club.

And we’ll also be letting them know about the opportunity they have to travel with GoPlay and the strong relationship we have with them.

The relationship with GoPlay will mean that any clubs who show an interest in coming to Celtic will be offered GoPlay’s expertise in arranging their travel arrangements.
But in addition to that GoPlay have also got some fantastic relationships with some local clubs in Boston but also further afield across America – it’s a win-win situation for both Celtic and GoPlay.

For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.

GoPlay to Sponsor 2017 International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference

GoPlay is extremely excited to announce our sponsorship of The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference at The Sawgrass Grand Hotel, happening June 2-4th 2017.

The conference is organized by founder and director Phil Wheddon, a former Goalkeeper Coach of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams. After attending a Goalkeeping conference in Holland, Phil recognized the need for a similar conference in the United States. When returning from Holland, he began putting together a non-licensing, non-affiliated event specifically for goalkeeper coaches.

The conference will offer some of the best goalkeeper training the world has to offer featuring some of the worlds’ best goalkeeper coaches including:

– Michael Rechner – First Team Goalkeeper Coach, Bundesliga – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Since 2008 Michael has also been the Goalkeeper Coach TSG 1899 Hoffenheim Academy / Coordinator Goalkeeping. In 1999-2004 Michael played professionally in Germany: Hamburger SV, Mannheim, Leipzig.

– Hugo Oliveira – Premier League Hull City Goalkeeper Coach. Former S. L. Benfica and Portuguese National team goalkeeper coach. Worked with talents such as Jan Oblak, Julio Cesar, Ederson Moraes and more.

– Eric Steele – Ex-Derby County, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Manchester United GK Coach. Former FA GK Coach of the year – has coached football greats; Peter Schmeichel, Thomas Sorensen, Joe Hart, Edwin van der Sar and David de Gea.

– Andrew Sparkes – Head of Academy Goalkeeping Swansea City. Previously @newyorkredbulls Head of Academy Goalkeeping | u18 GK Coach @redbullsalzburg

– Lee Kendall – England WNT Goalkeeper Coach Since 2014. Lee works primarily with the senior squad of Goalkeepers, but he also oversees the program from the U15 to Senior International team. As part of the England WNT bronze medal winners in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, Lee helped aid Karen Bardsley performances in the FIFA tournament.

– John Cone, PhD. – Soccer-specific Fitness Specialist and Founder of Fit for 90. John has a PhD in kinesiology and is a former MLS assistant coach and director of sports science.

“The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference is the only conference in the country dedicated to the development of goalkeeper coaches and the goalkeeping position. The IGCC is committed to bringing together the top goalkeeping coaches from around the world to share information and impact the development of goalkeepers worldwide. With that in mind we are thrilled to partner with GoPlay Tours, the industry leader in sports tours both domestically and internationally. As a partner, GoPlay will offer amazing opportunities for attendees to experience the game at the highest levels in unique settings. GoPlay Tours will provide access to coaches and training environments that will give our coaches and their players an insight into the workings and operations of some of the top clubs in the world. GoPlay Tours is, without a doubt, the #1 recommended sports tours company in the country and we are excited to enter into this partnership with them.”

Phil Wheddon, Director and Founder of the International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference

“The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference is a world-class collection of goalkeepers and coaches that gives attendees the chance to learn, network and grow. At GoPlay, our mission is to help players and coaches see the world and reach their full potential as players in the process. We’re absolutely thrilled to support such a world-class organization and partner with such a qualified group of coaches and mentors.”

Brian Ainscough, GoPlay Tours Technical Director

To receive a $200 discount on registration for the conference, use the discount code GOPLAY17 before May 1st.

All of the details around the conference program, accommodations and presenters are available at www.internationalgoalkeepercoaches.com