News that Marcus Fraser, Joe Chalmers, John Herron and Paul George have signed three year contract extensions was amongst the best news of the year for those that keep an eye on youth matters at Celtic.
Fraser and George have already made first team appearances with the new contracts an indication of how highly rated those players are.
Fortunately they are not the only outstanding players coming through the Celtic Academy with others such as Mikey Miller, Lewis Kidd and Jamie Lindsay also making their mark and earmarked for greater things.
Herron and co have been in the Academy set up for almost as long as Celtic have had an Academy with the new contracts taking the players into their testimonial season’s with Herron first coming to Celtic’s attention as an 8-year-old!
Fraser and Chalmers were soon also on board with George joining up from Ireland at the age of 15 as Celtic intensified the development of young players to give them a competitive edge when they reach the professional ranks rather than attempting to catch up for lost time.
The famous four have been helped greatly by the Next Gen Series which has exposed them to the gulf that exists to Barcelona and re-inforced their belief with well earned wins at home and away to Manchester City.
Matty Hughes captained Celtic to back-to-back doubles before signing for Fleetwood Town and knows better than most the quality that is coming through the ranks at Celtic.
Hughes returned to Glasgow to see the u-19 side go down 3-1 to Barcelona before watching the team come of age with the 4-2 win away to Manchester City. Four months after winning the Glasgow Cup against Rangers at u-17 level Hughes hasn’t been surprised by the development of his successors in the u-19 side.
“Players like Marcus, Joe, Paul and John Herron are all experienced despite their age,” Hughes explained. “They have all played international football for a while and did well in the Next Gen Series, they’ve taken everything in their stride so far in their careers.
“Marcus has played for the first team and nothing fazes him. That crop of players really pushed the u-19′s on last season, they were a big part in our success because they were a good group and we knew they were capable.”
Unfortunately the weather and a 22 match league programme has curtailed the amount of football Celtic’s u-19 side has over the winter period. Hearts are setting the pace in the SPL with Celtic trailing by 13 points and four games while in the SFA Youth Cup Aberdeen provide the opposition for a semi-final place.
Other players such as Jackson Irvine and Tony Watt have been scouted over the last two seasons and hit the ground running while the return of Dylan McGeough has delighting everyone at the club but not as much as the player himself.
With the u-17 side having a 100% record in the Glasgow Cup and a strong batch of internationalists it’s doubtful if Celtic’s youth development has ever been stronger.
If Chalmers, Herron, Fraser, McGeough, Watt, Irvine, George, Callum McGregor and others match their progress of the last twelve months in 2012 there should be plenty of Christmases to enjoy in the year ahead.
CLICK HERE for Marcus Fraser interview
CLICK HERE for Joe Chalmers interview
CLICK HERE for John Herron interview
CLICK HERE for Paul George interview
Wishing every Celtic fan a very Merry Christmas, last weekend Video Celts had it’s 2,000,000 visit of the year, here’s to plenty more and great times ahead