Liam Scales takes different path to Celtic team: degrees, late developer and Brendan Rodgers headache

Liam Scales has gone from being on the periphery of the Celtic team to playing the Champions League. (Photo: Paul Devlin - SNS Group)
Liam Scales has gone from being on the periphery of the Celtic team to playing the Champions League. (Photo: Paul Devlin - SNS Group)

The Irishman has made the most of this unexpected opportunity, turning in a number of impressive performances, against Rangers in particular, to significantly improve his chances of staying in the team when the cavalry returns from the treatment room.

Scales featured so infrequently in his maiden season with Celtic after signing from Shamrock Rovers in August 2021 that some supporters could be forgiven for not knowing just what to expect when necessity saw the 25 year-old pitched in for a rare start against St Johnstone at the end of last month. He did not let himself down then or in subsequent outings, the perfect example of someone presented with a chance out of the blue and showing they deserved to be performing on such a platform. It has won him new-found affection from the Celtic support but Scales admits he has taken satisfaction from proving wrong those who doubted him.

“It has definitely been unexpected,” he said. “Because of a few injuries, I’ve got a chance in the team. It’s the first time I’ve had a string of games for Celtic so I’ve taken a lot from it. I’m probably proving a few people wrong who maybe thought I couldn’t play here. The background I’ve come from, my career has taken a different path to a lot of other players that Celtic might sign. My intention is to make the manager’s decisions as difficult as possible. I can only look at the next game. As long as I keep performing I’ll give myself a chance.”

That background he speaks of certainly stands out in a modern game populated almost exclusively at the highest level by clones dragged into a professional academy system before they’ve learned how to tie their shoelaces and moulded a certain way, year after year, until they are declared ready for first-team football – or cast aside on the scrapheap.

Scales’ journey has been more idiosyncratic, the sort of heartwarming tale so beloved by comic books back in the day. Combining his Irish and geography degree at University College Dublin (UCD) with turning out for their first team, the defender won the League of Ireland first division title before crossing the capital to sign for Shamrock Rovers.

Back-to-back Premier League titles and a sprinkling of European experience brought him to Celtic’s attention who paid around £500,000 for his signature and a four-year contract. He is proud at having taken a different route to get there and hopes it may inspire others, their dreams dashed by Brexit red tape, to look at doing likewise.

“I’m definitely a late developer,” he admits. “It didn’t happen for me when I was younger. There were team-mates going to the UK at 15 or 16 but a lot of those boys are back home now playing football because it didn’t work out. I just kept playing for my local team before getting in at UCD and taking it from there. Everyone has a different path and this one has worked for me. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

“My education, going away to university, played a big part in my development as a person and a footballer. I was living as an adult from 18, looking after myself, and the education side gives me something to go into afterwards. It proves that there is more than one way to go about it. A lot of Irish kids can’t come to the UK until they are 18. So you are going to see more late developers coming over after 50 or 100 games in the League of Ireland. That’s great. When I was 16 it was before Brexit and it would have been perfectly fine for me to go away but I wasn’t ready. I went the other path and others will now do the same.”

An ancillary benefit of being in the spotlight with Celtic will surely be the arrival of a much sought after international debut. Scales has been capped by the Irish under-21s and been in several full squads without taking to the field but the man from the village of Barndarrig is now on the cusp of realising that lifelong dream. The Republic take on Greece and then Gibraltar next month in the latest round of Euro 2004 qualifiers and Scales is keeping his fingers crossed.

“I hope (to be involved) – I’ll never be shy about that,” he admits. “As a kid that was the one thing I always wanted, a cap for my country. It would be great to get that and playing for Celtic in the Champions League is bound to help. The competition is very high in my position, they’re all good lads and great players. We’re friendly with each other but this is the best level I could be playing at right now. So that should give me a chance at least.

“I’ve been in five camps so far and been involved in a good few matchday squads. The Gibraltar game is a possibility but I’m not the manager. I haven’t heard from anyone at Ireland but they obviously do their analysis and watch games. I’m sure there will be people watching the high-profile matches in particular.”