As John McGinn completed his move from Hibs to Aston Villa towards the end of the summer 2018 transfer window, fans and media alike were full of praise for a player who had quickly become a favourite and one of the top Scottish Premiership performers and indeed an emerging important presence in the National Team.
One hopes that McGinn can continue to develop, improve and bring relative success to his club side as he did since joining Hibs in 2015 and of course perform at a high level for the National side. This is not always the case with young Scottish talent who embark on journeys down the gold laden pathway to the land of milk and honey that is the moneyed world of English football however. Here, we look at a couple of other highly promising Scottish talents whose careers haven’t quite matched expectation or indeed ambition.
Sticking with the Hibs connection, Scott Allan is one player who is yet to really set the heather alight despite bags of potential and natural ability. Allan broke through into the Dundee United first team a few months before his 20th birthday in the 2011/12 season. After breaking into the first team and impressing with his midfield performances including his energy and passing ability, United offered Allan a new contract which was to replace his existing deal which was due to expire at the end of that season.
Contract negotiations however broke down, with reports circulating that Allan was seeking a vast wage increase up to around £1600 per week – which at that time would have made him the highest earner on the books at Tannadice, notwithstanding his young age and relative inexperience. Whether true, accurate or not, Allan did not agree a new deal at United and subsequently fell out of favour with the club. He then agreed a deal to sign for West Bromwich Albion, after making less than 10 appearances for Dundee United.
Despite the confidence and desire to move south, Allan never actually made a first team appearance for West Brom. Instead he spent the next couple of years floating around on loan deals at Portsmouth, MK Dons and Birmingham without really holding down a first team place and indeed making less than 40 appearances during this time.
Just as it looked as though his career was about to fizzle out before it had really started, Allan secured a move to Hibs in July 2014. In the Scottish Championship at the time, a full season of game time really benefitted a player who was finally able to hold down a first team place, display his ability and importantly bring relative success to his club side. At the end of the season, after a number of superb performances, Allan had won the award for best young player in the league.
The great season at Hibs did not go unnoticed, at the start of the following campaign transfer bids from Rangers and Rotherham followed by Celtic were submitted. A transfer request from the player ultimately helped to grease the wheels for a move to Celtic.
Still technically a Celtic player to date, Allan’s career has again, arguably, stalled. A handful of Celtic appearances as well as relatively unsuccessful loan periods at Rotherham (where he was publically criticised by the manager for being lazy), Dundee and Hibs again where he failed to recapture the form of old, have led to a feeling that a combination of bad decisions or poor advice have led to a player, who possesses clear ability, failing to live up to his undoubted potential.
A product of Aberdeen’s youth system, Chris Maguire made his debut as a 17 year old for the Dons. A couple of seasons of being on the cusp of the first team followed, with a mixture of substitute and starting appearances setting Maguire out as an exciting, albeit backup, attacker. Skilful, quick and with an innate ability at dead ball situations Maguire slowly started to establish himself as a key player in Aberdeen’s squad. His lack of outright potency in front of goal, or any significant physical attributes as a target man meant that at times Maguire was often used as a makeshift winger, a common occurrence in the world of Scottish football at the time where a “false 9” or trequartista wasn’t necessarily part of the vernacular.
After a successful loan spell at Kilmarnock, Maguire returned to Aberdeen where he was able to finally nail down a regular starting spot – where goals and assists followed. Such was his form that Maguire earned call ups to Scotland squads and looked set to fully establish himself.
Maguire had allowed his contract to run down at Aberdeen. Despite the efforts of Craig Brown (Manager at the time) to keep Maguire and suggestions that for a player who was starting and scoring regularly, just breaking into the Scotland set up and seemingly finally in a good place with regard to his career that moving too soon would be a mistake, Maguire elected to join Derby County in 2011.
After only a handful of appearances the next season at Derby, Maguire then moved to Portsmouth on loan in 2012 where again game time was relatively limited. A transfer to Sheffield Wednesday followed, where after a slow start and limited game time, his appearances began to build up. A further loan spell at Coventry followed before a transfer to Rotherham in 2015. Again, game time was hard to come by and Maguire then moved down the league system to Oxford. A relatively successful loan period ended in Maguire signing for Oxford where he managed to nail down a first team spot. Following his time at Oxford, Maguire then moved on for a season at Bury and is now currently at Sunderland.
Potential has quickly evolved into a nomadic football career, moving around from contract to contract. The fledgling Scotland career quickly fizzled out after the playing time reduced and again, it looks as though potential may be unfulfilled.
Perhaps a controversial choice for this list, Tony Watt started out at Airdrie before earning a massive move to Celtic. Most memorably remembered for scoring a winner against Barcelona in the Champions League – possibly an act for which Watt could eat out in Glasgow for the remainder of his life. It is just this however, the promise, expectation and hype of a young Scotsman, plucked from the lower leagues, breaking into the Celtic first team and leading them to victory against the great Barcelona that makes the relative stagnation that has ensued harder to fathom.
Notwithstanding his Champions League exploits, playing time at Celtic was understandably limited at Celtic. Eventually therefore Watt elected to move out on loan – over to Lierse in Belgium. His time at Lierse wasn’t coated in gold, he made a few appearances but his spell there was characterised by a love hate relationship with the management at the club. This included accusations that Watt was lazy as well as other fallings out, but also involved scoring exploits and statements of love between Watt and the club. His time at Lierse did however end on the “hate” end of that spectrum as another argument culminated in Watt being demoted to the “B” team for the remainder of his time there.
The spell at Lierse did not however end the Belgium love affair for Watt, who secured a transfer (value reportedly in excess of £1million) to Standard Liege for the 2014/15 season. After a promising start, as is the theme of this article, playing time petered out and Watt found himself out of the team.
The Belgian connection earned Watt a move to Charlton in 2015 (Belgian connections with the club at the time). This was a good period for Watt, he was playing and scoring and everything looked good. However, the good times didn’t seem to last and eventually Watt fell out of favour at Charlton. The now customary nomadic career followed with loan spells at Cardiff, Blackburn, Hearts and back in Belgium at Leuven followed.
Now at St Johnstone after signing in the summer of 2018, Watt will be hoping he can resurrect a career that offered so much but as has yet delivered so little and will be eager to ensure that his career is not defined by that night against Barca in 2012. While not a bad thing to be remembered for, should he fail to create any more meaningful football memories Watt will go down as another of those with unfulfilled potential and wasted talent.
The above are just some examples of where things have gone wrong for young Scottish hopefuls. There are of course successful examples, like Andy Robertson of Liverpool most recently, and as above one hopes that John McGinn can emulate Robertson and prove to be a success down in England. However, there are a number of examples of where the land of milk and honey hasn’t proven to be just that for some great white hopes of the Scottish game, whether this be down to a lack of humility, believing the hype, bad advice or just bad luck.